Title: Interview with Whit Bevis (November 17, 1966)
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00006729/00001
 Material Information
Title: Interview with Whit Bevis (November 17, 1966)
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publication Date: November 17, 1966
Spatial Coverage: 12111
St. Lucie County (Fla.) -- History.
Funding: This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00006729
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location: This interview is part of the 'St. Lucie County' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: SL 7

Table of Contents
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St. Lucie Tape #7(
Whit Bevis
November 11, 1966
Page 1

We have with us tonight Mr. Whit Bevis. Mr. Bevis is a native Floridian

born in Jackson County. He's a third generation Floridian. His family

came from North Carolina and Georgia in 1845 and in 1863. He is with

the, he is an inspector with the Department of Agriculture for the

state of Florida. He has been in Fort Pierce twenty seven years and he

has been an inspector for thirty four years, so I'm sure that Mr. Bevis

can tell us a great deal about the crops in Florida. Mr. Bevis:

I haven't got a big speech for you folks

tonight but I think I can tell you a few interesting facts about Florida.

When we speak of crops we think of the things that grow in the ground.

But we have a few crops here in Florida that I shall mention : before I

come to the ones that grow in the ground, real crops. The first crop I'd

like to mention is the tourist crop, which means a wonderful lot to the

economy of the state of Florida. I haven't got a lot of figures. I'm

not going to give you a lot of statistics because those things are not

so interesting sometimes, but I just want to mention that the fact that

the tourist crop means an awful lot to the economy of the state of Florida.

I haven't got any figures about how much money is spent by the tourists

but we used to call them winter visitors but we quit calling them winter

visitors now because they come the year around, It used to be that they

came down during the winter and now they come the year around, so they are

every day, they come every month in the year. So that tourist crop means

a lot to the economy. Another thing I'd like to mention before we get

to the vegetable part of it is the phosphate business of this state. We

produce eighty per cent of the phosphate of the world here in Florida,

and most of that in mined over around Bartow, Mulberry and Fort Meade.

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 2

Any of you folks that have been around over there see these great plants

that cost millions of dollars and that do big business in shipping of

phosphate. Most of it is, a lot of it is exported through

A lot of it goes to the foreign countries to make them their fertilizer.

A lot of it is used in our own country. And then around Quincy we have

the mines, that a lot of we have

mine and that's used quite a bit. And we're getting to be a manufacturing

state. We have a lot of small factories. I don't have any figures about

how many, but we do have a and a vocation. We're getting

a lot of small factories which will mean a lot to the economy of the

state. We are third in the state, in the third state in the Union i n the

production of cattle. A lot of people wouldn't realize that. We're third

also in the raising of race horses. That's soe thing that just developed

in the last few years and located around Ocala. I'll try to tell you where

most of these things take place. Another thing that earns a lot of

money in our state is the fish and oystering business. The fishing business,

of course is a year around business, and all of you that are familiar with

west Florida know that Appalachicolaioysters are very famous. I used

to see signs in these restaurants all over Forida: "We serve Appalachicola

oysters". I don't see them much these days, but that is a big business

around in that section, the shipping of oysters. Of course the shipping

business is year around and it's all around the state, all around the

coast. Now the, when it comes to the vegetable crop we find the

blueberries around west Florida, around Crestview. Somebody developed

a new berry by going into the woods and swamps and gathering the blueberry

and bringing it up and cultivating; it and made quite a success of it already.

They ship quite a few of them around Crestview. Then we have the blackberries

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 3

They recently developed a blackberry around Apopka and Leesburg. It's

much larger than the ordinary wild blackberry that we're all accustomed

to, and I understand that there's a cooperative up there that's expected

to sella hundred dollars worth of blackberries this last summer. I don't

know how successful they were, but that was their plans. Nett we'll mention

cabbage. That's a big crop, grown mostly around Hastings. That don't

mean they don't grow them in other places. But I just mention the places

where most of them are grown. Celery is another important crop in Florida.

And Sanford up here in Seminole county was the center of the celery

growing for many, many years. But I understand now they're growing quite

a bit of it down on the lake. That's an important crop. Radishes, corn,

beans, cucumber, and squash all are grown as we 411 know around the lake.

And any of you folks that haven't been around Lake Ockeechobee and seen

the vast fields of corn and other vegetables there ... ..

The tomato' crop that's grown in Florida is greater than you people here

would imagine. A lot of you would be surprised. To be down here at the VIa ti

height of the season we ship as many as fifty carloads of tomatoes in one

day from the farmers market right here in Fort Pierce. Not everyday,

understand, but at theheight of the season and about half of that crop

goes by railroad and about half by refrigerated trucks. Fifty carloads a

day during the height of the season. And as you know, we have two seasons.

We have a fall season, which has just begun about the middle of the month,

and finishes up about Christmas time. Then we have a spring crop that

we ship again in the spring. It brings a lot of money into the city.

Now while I'm mentioning the vegetable crop, that bring, the vegetable

crop brings more money into the state than the citrus crop. A lot of

people would tell you off hand that the citrus crop brought more money

into the state thanvegetables, but that's a mistake. It doesn't. This

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 4

next two, we get four hundred million dollars a year for our citrus

crop, five hundred million dollars for the vegetable. The next I

should mention is the gladiolus and the flowers that are grown around,

mostly around Stuart, all of you are familiar with the flowers that

are grown around here. Now as for this place we have the country garden

out here, which was really a show place and those of you that haven't

seen it, it's really worth your time. It's operated by Mr. and Mrs.

Hanson, and it's really worth We have tobacco,

another important crop. Now we have two kinds of tobacco grown in Florida.

Since Civil War days they've grown what we call the rabbit tobacco around

Quincy. That is used to make the wrappers for cigars. Around Live Oak

and Lake City they grow what we call the black leaf tobacco. It's grown

out in the sun. The one around Quincy is shade tobacco. And this tobacco

around Quincy, ah, around Live Oak and Lake City is used for making

cigarettes. The cotton crop. The cotton crop is mostly in west Florida,

around Madison and Live Oak they grow what is called long staple cotton,

Vtich is worth about twice as much as ordinary short cotton. And they

used to grow quite a bit of it up around north Florida there. But I

understand it is almost a thing of the past. They have to have a special

gin to gin it, because it had long fibers and it's worth about twice

and they say it's twice as hard to pick as the other cotton is. I was

over in my home county, Jackson county a year or so ago, I have always

seen cotton picked by hand, the colored people especially would go in, pick

be cotton by hand. They use machines now. They go down the row and

pick two rows at a time with the machine instead of picking it by hand

like we used to. The next crop that I'll mention is watermelons. We

ship about twenty five hundred carloads of watermelons out of Florida

every year, every summer. They grow around early. They get

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 5

them out earlier down there because it's belong the frostline. They get

those watermelons planted early and get them out early. The next crop

comes a little further up the state and is shipped mostly around Leesburg.

That seems to be the center of the, they have a watermelon festival

up there every year. So that's an important crop. The next I shall

mention is the oil. A lot of people probably don't know

about that. It's a Chinese plant. It was brought over here a good

many years ago and we find it growing around Monticello. It's a big

operation up there. They grow that oil. They crush those nuts

and make an oil that is used for varnish and paint. And it's an unlimited

market they say for the oil. We even get a lot of it from China

now but it, the oil is a Chinese plant brought over here and

grows very well here. And next we, I'll mention is the pine tree. That's

a big item in the state of Florida, is the growing of the pine. The

government has experimented and found that the pine tree grows better

in south Georgia, south Alabama, and western Florida than anywhere else

in the United States. And they're encouraging people to plant trees.

They'll make a long term loan with a low rate of interest to get people

to put out the trees. And they're going ahead and putting out pine trees

in hundreds and hundreds of acres of them, and you can drive along the

road and see the trees and show you how much growth. A lot of them

tell you how many years they've grown when they're planted. If you have

occasion to go through south Georgia you'll find just a wonderful lot

of young trees all through the southern counties of Georgia. It's a

wonderful product up there. Taylor county, Perry, it will be in the county

sat is the largest producer of in Florida. Taylor county

produces more lumber and turpentine than any other county in

St. Lucie -Tape 4#7

Page 6

the state. Of course other counties produce- quite a bit of it. Pulp

wood of course is a big item. They grow this, cut these pines down

and take them to the mill and make them into paper. They have a paper

mill in Panama City, the Dupont's have one at St. Joe that turn out

these paper products. In fact, we're using crates now to ship our food

in that are made by the St. Joe paper company. Another item of Taylor

County is cyprus lumber. It's not all grown in that county but it's,

there's a big mill there that produces nothing but cyprus timber and

has been for a number of years. It's very important.- And let me go

back now for just a minute. In the tomato business I intended to say

that all of those tomatoes that I mentioned are not grown here in

Fort Pierce. We ship tom toes from here that are grown a hundred miles

away from here over in the other adjoining counties but St. Lucie County

doesn't produce all those tomatoes hut they are just shipped from this

point. So I just overlooked that. The next thing is sugar cane. I

understand that the first successful sugar cane venture was up here

in our adjoining county, at Fellsmere. Before that in 1825, one of

our senators while we were a territory, Senator Leevey had a big plantation

over on the west coast near where Crystal river is now. And I was over

there a few years ago and saw the ruins of the old mill where we produced

sugar and cooked itin those big copper kettles there. Maybe some of you

folks have been over there and seen it. Then the next attempt ot make

to grow suga ane commercially was up here at St. Cloud and it was

done Hamilton Disson. If some of you folks remember when I talked to

you before Hamilton Disson purchased four million acres of land from the

state of Florida in the eighties at twenty five cents an acre. And he

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 7

put up a big sugar mill. up right near what now is St. Cloud. I've

seen the ruins of the old mill there years ago but I guess it's torn

down. They seemed not to have made a success at that. There's two

more crops. I'll finish that, though when I get through with the

sugar cane. The, the most, biggest operator, no doubt is Clewiston down

here on the south part of the lake. All of you probably or a good many

of you probably have been to that platti. If you haven't it's really

worth your time to go to. It takes about six months to grind the

crop of cane that they grow there. Since we are not on very good

terms with Castro there's about six or eight other big companies that

have come down to that section and are growing sugar cane. We you know

Castro took over the sugar plantations that belonged to us American people

down there in Cuba so we let him manage his own affairs and we're going

to grow our own sugar here. There's seven or eight companies besides

I believe it's United States, United Sugar Company, I believe is the name

of the big sugar company in Clewiston. It's been there a good many

years. Any of you folks who haven't been through that plant, it's really

worth your time. We have the avocado or the alligator pear. as they're sometimes

called and they sell allot of them.This, they're grown in the lower part of

the county. The mango, we have several 'different shapes and kinds. We

had a mango show here several years ago and I was surprised at the many

different shapes and sizes and kinds of mango. It was quite interesting.

The citrus crop, which I'll come to a little later, is oranges, grapefruit,

limes, and lemons. And I'd like to mention the fact that down here in

Martin County we have a big planting of lemons. The year before we have

only been able to have the old Ponderosa lemon as we called it. It's

a great big one. The ores that have been planted down here in Martin County

gt. Lucie Tape #7

Page 8

have experimented and put on the market and they're small and they

compete well with the California lemon and the ones we get from

Spain. You know we've always got a lot of our lemons from Spain. So

we'll be able to grow them out here in our own country. As far as I

know there's no lemon grovwein St. Lucie County. I might mention here

that avocado made a journey through the, this section of

t he county and made an estimate and he says that within ten years our

citrus crop will double. Our production will double and we already

have. I don't -lhave any figures about how much citrus we grow here but

if we get out and see these groves that are being put out we know that

in a few years when they come into bearing we will have an-inmmense crop.

In fact we have a big crop already this year. Now so much for that.

And I especially want to talk to you about the citrus crop. The first

commercial citrus in Florida was planted by Dr. Phillippi.

And some of you folks will remember, it was here, I believe it was in

t he September meeting Mr. Allman told us about who Dr. Phillippi was.

He was a doctor in the and he came down here and

first landed at, near Miami, but he evidently wasn't satisfied with that

so he went on around the peninsula and planted a grove in Pinellas County

right near Pinellas Park. We are not able to learn much about this doctor

except that he was a ship's doctor in And he came

down here and put out the first grove about 1825 with slave labor.

And he is credited with putting out the first commercial grove. I don't

know how big it is. But the, some of the trees are still standing and

the Citrus Commission has been asked to fence in some of these trees and

put up a marker there. I don't know whether they did it or not. The

production was small for many years. The production of citrus-in Florida

ST. Lucie Yape #7

Page 9

was small due to the fact there weren't any people here. In 1870,

which is five years after the Civil War we only had one Congressman.

We only had one congressman in 1870 so we didn't have any people, much.

2tin the other big trouble with the citrus industry, there was no

transportation except water transportation. The first railroad was built

into Tampa i n 1890, seventy six years ago. The first railroad was

built through here, I am told in 1894, the first railroad that went through

here. Along about that time we had some roads built from Jacksonville.

From Jacksonville down to Tampa and the one that went into Tampa in

1890 was later expanded on down to as far a Fort Meyer. So there wasn't

any transportation and there wasn't any people, so naturally the citrus

business was small. The first thing that ever happened to the citrus

industry was in 1895. We had what is called the Big Freeze. In winter,

we had a mild winter and everything was put out blooming and in February

we had a freeze and it was really a freeze. I was a small boy at that

time and I remember the first snow I ever saw. But it didn't snow down

here, understand. I was over in west Florida. ANd this killed all the

trees except those that were protected by water. Maybe I better read this

Maybe you can get more out of it:

In 1895 the worst freeze, generally called the Big Freeze hit

the state after a warm winter in February of 1895 and killed practically

all the trees sparing only the groves that had water protection. Many

of the owners left the groves and let them sell for his taxes. You'd

be surprised at the many of them that let the land go, let them sell for

taxes and went back and some of them though were determined and they

cut those trees down to the ground and let them grow up again and make

another crop. BAck in those days we didn't know much about budding and

St. Lucie Tape #7


grafting like we do now> and they were a change from planting seeds,

but a lot of them cut the trees down and if you very often I are, have

seen groves and you all have, too. Instead of one trunk there would

be three, maybe three or four trunks growing up and that result was

caused from trees when they cut thetrees down to the ground and they

came up and made four trunks instead of one. The industry grew rapidly

as1 the roads were built and the prices were good. The crop found

a profitable market throughout tomorrow as only California and Florida

could produce citrus fruit. California tead us in the fruit production

until about fifteen or twenty years ago when we exceeded California. We

are head of California in the production of citrus fruit and have been

for about fifteen or twenty years. I didn't get the exact date of that.

We now ship quite a few grapefruit to California. I rode up a truck to

California this week. You'd be surprised at the fruit that goes from here

to California. A-small part of Texas produces grapefruit. Next to the

big freeze the worst thing that happened to the citrus crop was the

Mediterranean fruit fly. In 1929 we had an infestation of the

Mediterranean fruit fly. And if any of you folks traveled through

Florida at that time you know how they stopped your car and searched

through everything you had. And if you was on the bus they had you

get off the bus. You don't you don't get the bus. And

the government, the State government, the Federal government spent worlds

of money trying to get ride of the fruit fly and I guess they did pretty

well. We've had a few infestations locally, essentially, and we haven't had

to spray here, but we have had the fruit fly in some sections of the

state since then. But we're able to keep it down since then. A small

part of Texas, as I said produces some fruit down on the Rosan River in the

St. Lucie Tape #7

Page 11

southernpart of Texas. They mostly produce grapefruit.

started hollering to pay the people for the fruit and the groves that

were destroyed but the bill never passed. There was a wonderful lot of

fruit that had to be destroyed at that time. We've had the fly in a

few sections of the state since then, butr spraying's able to destroy

it. Spraying was able to destroy the fly. The industry has grown

rapidly and the crop is packed and shipped under the supervision of the

State and Federal government, and of course has been my work for the

past thirty four years. The crop brings four hundred million dollars

and mor than half of the crop goes to the processing plants. And it's

canned juice, frozen juice together. More than half of the crop is used by

the processors. The rest of it is sold in the fresh fruit market, mostly

here and some of it is exported to foreigCn countries. The indications

are that we have the largest citrus crop that we've ever had this year,

and the leaders of the industry are concerned about the price, but the

United States Department of Agriculture has announced lately that it will

purchase twenty million dollars worth of Florida orange concentrate for

the federal school lunch program. This -news was received with favor

by the growers. Early estimates placed the orange crop this year at

a hundred and thirty nine million boxes. But in Novemeber the tenth of

this month the estimate was raised to a hundred and forty two million

boxes of oranges and forty million boxes of grapefruits. The Florida

Citrus Commission and several cooperatives had already begun to map

plans for the effective, to effectively dispose of this huge crop.

Thank you.

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