DEVASTATING GREAT FREEZE OF 1894-95
PUT SQUEEZE ON NEW CITRUS INDUSTRY
What came to be known as the Great Freeze destroyed Florida's citrus crop in the winter of 1894-95 and killed more than 90 percent of Orange County's fruit trees
. It would take 15 years for the industry to recover to the point that the county could ship as much citrus as it had before the freeze.
The Great Freeze - which actually was two freezes on Dec. 29, 1894, and Feb. 7, 1895 - was the most dramatic and devastating blow to Orange County's namesake industry, which has endured numerous ups and downs over the past 130 years.
The county's first settlers found wild oranges growing among the pine forests. These trees probably were planted by Seminoles and even earlier groups of natives, who obtained seeds from sour oranges brought to Florida by the Spanish in the 16th century.
Many early settlers cultivated oranges, eventually breeding sweeter varieties. The industry did not take off on a large scale until 1880, when the arrival of Orange County's first railroad enabled growers to ship their produce to market faster and more easily.
Hundreds of settlers were lured here by the promise of prosperity from growing oranges. Articles in Northern newspapers and magazines written by Orange County newcomers such as George Newell and Will Wallace Harney told how people of modest means could prosper from just a few acres of citrus - if they could afford to wait five to seven years for seedlings to bear fruit.
Those dreams came crashing down during back-to-back freezes in the cruel winter of 1894-95.
The days leading up to the first of the twin freezes gave no indication of the disaster that was to come. Christmas Day 1894 was sunny and beautiful with temperatures in the 80s. Three days later, a cold front from the northwest pushed a strong rainstorm with high winds through the area.
By the next morning, Dec. 29, "cold had settled in to a point where pumps were frozen, water pipes began to burst, foliage blackened and died," Eve Bacon wrote in Orlando: A Centennial History. The temperature dropped to 24 degrees
, killing the season's entire citrus crop while most of it still hung on the trees.
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