When we think of potatoes, we often think of Idaho. Years of good marketing have helped us make that connection in our minds. But would you believe that Florida also has a long history of potato farming? It’s true! Potatoes have been an especially popular crop in northeastern Florida around Palatka and Hastings. One community in St. Johns County was so enthusiastic about growing the tasty tuber that it adopted a very potato-ish name, Spuds.
The community was originally called Holy Branch and populated by several families of Minorcans, descendants of workers brought to Florida in the 1700s by a Scotsman, Dr. Andrew Turnbull, to work on his plantation at New Smyrna (details on that here). A post office was first established at Holy Branch in 1886, with Albert I. Rogers as postmaster.
In the 1880s, a railroad line opened between East Palatka and St. Augustine, which helped open up the region for industry and large-scale agriculture. By the early 20th century, truck farming – especially potato farming – was a major industry in the area, and the population had ticked up to about 120. Joseph Minton, who came from one of the more prominent local potato-farming families, applied for a new post office in 1911, and decided to give the community a new name – Spuds.
But potatoes weren’t the only product in town – far from it. While lots of acreage around Spuds had been cleared for truck farming, there was still plenty of virgin yellow pine forest in the area, which made it perfect for the timber and turpentine industries. In fact, there was even a “Spuds Turpentine Company” that operated throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Small aluminum coins the company paid to its employees in lieu of cash (called “scrip”) still pop up in auctions from time to time.
These days, the community of Spuds is little more than a wide spot in the road on State Road 207. A few crumbling remains of the old turpentine operation can still be found out in the woods, as well as fragments of old buildings belonging to some of the early inhabitants. The post office is long gone; residents either get their mail from Hastings or Elkton. Perhaps the one thing that hasn’t changed is the potatoes – there are still several large farms in the area.
What kinds of crops are grown in your corner of Florida, and how has that industry shaped the local history? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below, and share this post with friends and family on social media.