There’s a park in southern California that’s high on my list of places I want to visit someday. This park preserves the story of the citrus industry and its role in the history of California. The park recaptures the time when “Citrus was King” in California, recognizing the importance of agriculture to the state.
It goes all the way back to the Spanish Mission days. The mission padres planted the first varieties on the grounds of Mission San Gabriel around 1803. Later, an emigrant from Kentucky, William Wolfskill, developed more acreage from seedlings he obtained in 1841. In the mid- to-late 1800s, lemon, lime, and orange trees grew in today’s downtown Los Angeles.
The industry got a boost In 1873, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent two small navel orange trees to Riverside resident Eliza Tibbets. Those trees, growing in near perfect soil and weather conditions, produced an especially sweet and flavorful fruit. Word of this far superior orange quickly spread, and a great agricultural industry was born.
In the early 1900s, an effort to promote citrus ranching in the state brought hundreds of would-be citrus barons to California for the “second Gold Rush.” The lush groves of oranges, lemons and grapefruit created California’s image as the Golden State – the land of sunshine and opportunity.
At the park entrance is a big orange – it’s an old-fashioned roadside fruit stand. These stands used to grace many of the highways in the southern half of the state. One of the last stands was on highway 99, north of Madera, where travelers were served fresh fruit and hamburgers up till this century, when new freeway construction closed the old orange stand down for good.
The locus for citrus in the late 1800s and the early 1900s were mainly in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Orange counties. Those groves have been mostly paved over and turned into homes and businesses. However, citrus is still a huge and vitally important crop in the central valley and in Ventura and San Diego counties.
So if you ever find yourself over in Riverside, near the fair grounds, take a little time and go check out one of the few state parks ever devoted to an agricultural commodity. You can Google California Citrus State Park for more information.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.