Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory, 1910s - The Strawn family sold their oranges under the label "Bob White", named after the quail they enjoyed hunting.
Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida; Florida Memory, 1910s

In the late-1800s, the expansion of the railway system into southern Florida opened up the area to new industry and expanded potential business opportunities. Florida was promoted as a paradise on earth, where the “climate cured all aliments and the soil produced wealth with little effort”. The emerging citrus industry helped in the selling of land as settlers caught “orange fever”, assuming they could make good money selling to the northern states.

At the time, Florida was producing over 5 million boxes of citrus, but it all ended when the state was hit with devastating back-to-back freezes. In 1894 and 1895, temperatures throughout the state dropped, leaving many growers to watch as their crops died out. The first freeze occurred on December 20, 1894. Unfortunately, the state experienced a month of warm weather leaving the citrus groves more vulnerable for the second freeze on February 8, 1895. This event paralyzed the citrus industry and it wouldn’t recover from it for a couple more decades.

As the citrus industry moved south following the freezes, the few groves which survived gained widespread notoriety. One of these highly reputable groves was Thomas Strawn’s “Bob White” oranges.

Back in 1882, Theodore Strawn settled down in West Volusia County and began an orange packing operation. Ever though the freezes of 1894-1895 eradicated most of the livelihoods of the farmers nearby, the business continued to prosper. In 1921, the original wooden packing house burned down and it was replaced by a new state-of-the-art steel building with a distinctive saw tooth roof line.

The next few decades were kind to the Strawn family as the business grew. Of the oranges they grew, only the best were given the “Bob White” mark, named after the Northern Bobwhite quails the Strawn family enjoyed hunting. While the “Bob White” oranges were shipped up north, the lower-classed oranges were sold at roadside stands and markets in Florida. It was around this time in 1951, when John Strawn, the grandson of Theodore Strawn, returned from college to oversee a bookkeeper and others who tended the packinghouse’s business affairs.

Sadly, it would all end on the Christmas of 1983. On December 23rd, an intense Arctic high-pressure system moved out of Canada, moving far south within two days. As Christmas morning dawned, temperatures were in the teens, way below the 28 degrees it would take for frost damage to begin in citrus fruit. According to John Strawn, the orange trees were killed down to their stump. Statewide, nearly a quarter of the citrus crops were destroyed and in today’s money, would equate to about $4 billion.

Strawn Citrus Packing House District | Photo © 2009 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Like the freezes of 1894-1895, the industry moved further south to the much warmer climates and the Bob White packing house closed down.

The packinghouse, along with a nearby sawmill and other agricultural buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Over the years, the site has been heavily vandalized by thieves. At first, people went in to steal the copper and anything of value from the structures until it was all gone. That didn’t stop them from returning, looking for anything they can scrap; and if they weren’t there looking to make a buck, they were there to simply destroy.

In 2008, a fire destroyed the machine shop containing various machinery, timber and fuel. Two years later, another fire burned down a 40-foot by 50-foot outbuilding while damaging other structures nearby.

Even in the state it’s in now, it is still of historical significance as it depicts the earliest development of the citrus industry in the state of Florida. Though many show interest in buying the property and restoring the remaining structures, no deals have been made.







25 Comments

  1. Thank you for letting us see this piece of Florida history. The photos are brilliant and the article makes me very aware of the tenuous nature of the agricultural industry. Florida citrus has had so many attacks from Mother Nature that it is a wonder any orchards are left.

  2. The large wooden orange hopper you see in the right of the photo burned down earlier this year. I don’t have much hope this place will be saved before it’s all gone. A real shame. It is right next to a State Park and would have made a great museum for the early citrus industry. It’s very unusual in that it was so compact and even contained a sawmill to cut the wood for the crates on site.

    • I’m sorry for the EXTREMELY late reply but sometimes, comments get past me. I was recently looking at the plant on Google maps and saw the hopper was gone and saw recent photos of the supervisor’s office which is heavily damaged inside. The sawmill is across the street and still intact, harder to get to because it’s entirely surrounded by barbed wire fences.

      • As an update, as of Aug 2012 the property has been sold to Steve Strickland. I checked out the location again at the end of 2012 (literally 12/31) and earlier this month and have found a lot of progress on what seems to be restoration. Strickland apparently wants to conserve it but also plans to turn some of it into a shop for his business. There’s a large clearing south of the former machine shop that is set for his building’s foundation and the rubble from the burned down hopper has been cleared as well. Additionally, the sawmill to the west is a lot easier to get to. Just be careful with the ant piles and rubble and left over wire.

        On a final note, have you checked out the other Strawn property? In addition to the citrus plant, Theodore Strawn and family also owned a large farm area. That area also seems to be abandoned as of the last time I checked it out.

        • Small update. The buildings are being gutted at the moment and items from it are being sold at an antique shop in town. Further down the road, he plans to demolish some of the buildings that are too far gone to be restored.

  3. Does anyone have any ties to Strawn’s family or anyone who used to work there?

    • My grandfather Stanley Blackwelder lived on the edge of one of the groves and in the season he would drive a truck with freshly picked oranges to the packing house. My father which was little at the time would sometimes ride with him and said is was truly something to see when the machine was on. I remember running through the groves, the trees where so huge. We would always climb to the top, that’s where the best tasting ones were.

    • From what I am understanding, yes. however I am still looking into this for confirmation

  4. It has some of the best light ever in this place. With a while wall of north facing windows, mid day light is beautiful inside and perfect for portraits…..which I may or may not have snuck inside to take ;) Its my favorite building around!

  5. Where is the Farm located? Is it still abandoned?

  6. any idea who to contact to get in? I will be in the area next week and do a lot of historical photography in the North East.

  7. Anything new with this location? Is it still standing?

  8. That’s a shame. if you have any interest in photos of the plant taken just before it was purged clean, contact jackie@jackiekramerphotography.com

  9. Is this place still around?

    • Hey Lauren,

      I just drove by this coming back home from Ocala this past weekend. It is still around

  10. It is still there. One smaller building removed, and work is being done to the property as if to level the remaining structure.

  11. planning to try to get out there tomorow, am curious if there is any progress since it was bought or if they have torn it all down.

  12. August 4th , 2016

    I have been there several times in last 12 months and slowly more and more windows have been broken.

    The outlying buildings are for wood storage and workers frequent the pproperty.
    I’m an artistic shooter, I’d post images theres no upload icon.

  13. Where is the old Strawn family cemetery? Back in 1963, an Air Force buddy from that area, took me to a little creek behind the cemetery, and showed me how to find shark teeth in the sandy bottom of the creek. I found enough teeth to almost fill a large coffee can. The teeth were black, and very pretty. I distinctly remember a tall grave marker, with “STRAWN” engraved on it, vertically. If anyone can give me this location, I would greatly appreciate it. I was 23 years old, at the time, 76 now.
    Thanks,
    Marcus
    mhbatte@comcast.net