Hernando County used to be known as the ‘Home of the Tangerine.’ The soil in Hernando County is said to be well suited to the growing of tangerines. In addition to tangerines, many other citrus grow well in the county.
Hernando County has a long history with oranges. It is thought that the first commercial oranges in the area were planted by Frederick Lykes in 1851. Other settlers had planted oranges in the area earlier, but are not believed to have attempted commercial planting.
The first bank in Hernando County was the Brooksville State Bank and was established in 1890. The bank was highly reliant on the Citrus. Citrus was the area’s major cash crop and at the time had an estimated 300,000 trees planted in the area. The winter of 1894 to 1895 was very cold and much of the citrus was lost. These losses contributed to the the bank closing in 1897.
A few years after the freeze several small groves were started. In 1905, J. J. Bell established a small orange packing plant. In 1908, Bell and other prominent orange growers decided to establish the Brookville Citrus Growers Association. This association built a packing facility on South Main. The marketing and growing of tangerines in the area was pushed by the association. This association lasted until a big freeze hit in the winter of 1984 to 1985.
Oranges were part of the inspiration for the editor of a daily Czechoslovakian newspaper Joseph Joscak, to start a column that advocated moving to warm Florida which led to the creation of Masaryktown. Many of his readers were working in mines and factories in the north and read his column which extolled the virtues of moving to the warm climate and the farming.
He had a number of interested Czechoslovakians and started to look for a spot to start a farming community. They formed a corporation to invest in land. He had found information about land available near Orlando and Brooksville. The corporation elected a committee of five men to check out the land. The Orlando land was found to be swampy, but the Hernando land they deemed acceptable, in part because there were existing groves in the area. The Hernando Plantation Co. as they named the corporation purchased around 10,000 acres about 10 miles south of Brooksville. This area became Masaryktown.
The orange industry has had a great impact on the county. Local historian Frasier Mountain wrote that a local company developed a “technique of sectionizing orange and grapefruit and canned them in glass mason jars.” He explained further, “They had a production line of probably 50 mostly women of the community on an individual contract for pay, by the bushels of oranges they could get done in a day… It was a very efficient and clean atmosphere… the peelings were sold back to the growers as fertilizer for the groves… Some of the buildings of the firm still exist, long since abandoned… the building (existing) on the corner of Main Street and MLK Avenue, is a 5,000 square foot refrigerated Freezing 15 degree warehouse, used in later years for storage of concentrate and fresh juice… F&M Packing Co, (Florida and Michigan) the Family firm also had a large plant to process Cherries in Michigan, so each plant was in production about 6 months out of the year and the Brayton, (McCool) family and some of the hired help made the trip twice a year becoming local city leaders in both places...Brooksville and Traverse City, MI.”
Citrus also acted as an alluring symbol attracting people to the area. At this point there is very little commercial citrus, Hernando is producing half of the citrus that it produced in 2008-2009.
Even though there has been a drop in commercial production, this is still an excellent place to grow citrus. Oranges require a certain amount of cold to develop full sweetness, but cannot be below freezing for a long time, so the best areas to grow citrus is limited. You can buy trees from Lowes, Home Depot, or Boyette’s Grove and try your hand at growing oranges.