When the Dam Breaks…

The threat of hurricanes and tropical storms is an inescapable part of living in Florida. To experience their wrath is to confront head-on the brutal power of Nature. Ask around, and many Floridians will be able to name the larger ones they’ve witnessed or heard of. Betsy, Donna, Andrew, and Charley usually make the list.

Some of Florida’s most destructive hurricanes, however, hit the state long before the National Weather Service began assigning names to tropical cyclones. One of the deadliest of these remains known to history only as the Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928.
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The Great Freeze

The currently mild winter makes it easy to forget the frigid days that strike Florida from time to time. The winter of 1894-1895, perhaps the most memorable in Florida history, left a lasting impact on one of the state’s most recognizable industries.

Damage to an orange grove: Bartow (December 1894)

Damage to an orange grove: Bartow (1894)

In late December 1894, and then again in early February 1895, temperatures plummeted throughout the state. Orlando recorded 18 degrees on December 29; West Palm Beach reached only 27 on February 9.

Many citrus growers saw their investments crumble as frozen limbs snapped and fruit fell to the ground. Before the Great Freeze, Florida growers produced five million boxes of citrus per year. The industry did not reach this figure again for almost two decades.

Rockledge grove of Alfred Trafford after the freeze (February 1895)

Rockledge grove of Alfred Trafford after the freeze (February 1895)

The citrus industry moved southward after the 1894-95 freezes. Groves that survived the Great Freeze gained widespread notoriety. For example, the town of Keystone City was renamed Frostproof after its trees weathered the freeze. The great freeze forever changed the citrus industry, confining its reach to the southern half of the peninsula.

Visit Florida Memory to learn more about the history of Florida’s citrus industry and the lasting impact of the Great Freeze.