Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Indian River Roadside Citrus

I like to drive the "blue highways" whenever I can to look for survivors of the development machine that constantly destroys or remodels anything old in Florida. I was cruising up US 1 in Brevard County, hoping to find mid-century motels or other commercial buildings from the era of the space race. A couple run-down seedy places survived but the best links to the previous century were examples of roadside citrus stands.

First was Harvey's Groves in Rockledge, a sprawling complex that at one time spanned both sides of the highway. Harvey's first opened as a small roadside stand in 1926. According to the Harvey's website, Roy and Blanche Harvey found themselves marooned in Brevard County after their car broke down on the way to Miami. Finding the Indian River area perfect for citrus, the Harveys grew their business by developing award-winning citrus and creating the Florida Gift Fruit Citrus Association.

Harvey's in 1949 from the State Archives of Florida

The Indian River Citrus District is a narrow strip running along the east coast of Florida from Daytona to West Palm Beach. Legal action in the 1930s limited the district to this six county area, as Indian River became a brand associated with premium quality citrus and today 75% of the state's total grapefruit crop originates from the district.

Historic images of Indian River citrus: citrus label, groves and a citrus stand. From the State Archives of Florida

I was pleased to see a great example of programmatic or mimetic architecture from Florida's citrus business in Melbourne. This round orange-shaped building was very likely originally used as a roadside citrus stand. Today, restored by the Melbourne Rotary Club, the iconic building sits on the lot owned by the Disabled American Veterans. Similar structures in California were recently added to the Falling by the Wayside list created by the Society for Commercial Archeology. I know of only one other in Florida near Mt Dora.

Sadly not all survivors form the heydays of Florida citrus are in good shape. The Marion S. Whaley Citrus Packing House in Rockledge, despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, looks to be slowly crumbling into the landscape. Most recently know as the Old Victory Groves Packing House, the large complex built in 1930 is said to be riddled with termites. Like the Bob White Citrus Packing Plant in De Leon Springs, the piece of Florida history will vanish unless action to preserve it takes place soon.

Off the blue highways, on the evil interstates, it is easy to see the contemporary relatives of these citrus stands. Florida Citrus Centers seem to share space with gas stations at all most every exit along 1-75 and I-95. Stocked with all varieties of citrus products from marmalades to candy, these businesses rely heavily on Florida kitsch like fake alligators to lure the roadside visitor into their store. While incredibly tacky, in a way I find it a refreshing adaptation of a grand Florida tradition.


  1. These are nice pictures, Rick. Love the last one with the gator.

  2. my heart just went went pitter-patter = I love the topic!

  3. Thank you posting this blog! I grew up in Rockledge and have long admired these packing houses for their history and design. My wife and I are moving there from New York soon to establish our own theater company. Our ultimate dream is to buy and restore the Marion S. Whaley Citrus Packing House and turn it into a cultural center.

    1. ItsI for sale....gett get ready to demolish it !!!

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