The Story of Citrus in the Lower Rio Rrande Valley of Texas

By NORMAN ROZEFF. Special to the Star

Part IV: Continued growth

1922 H. Raymond Mills organizes the Valley Packing Co. in Harlingen. It is the first citrus packing shed outside of the California-Florida-Arizona districts. C.B. Wood is secretary. A Houston Chronicle spread on Sunday 1/25/23 shows six photos of the plant including its exterior, two of grading tables, sizer and packing bins, the applicator and elevator, and where the fruit is packed. The wooden crates are labeled Valley Sweet. The plant is at N. Commerce and Washington. It packs 40 carloads in 1922 and 23 by the spring of 1923. In this year the John Shary interests purchase the machinery and move it to Sharyland, an area which will become the Valley’s center for citrus culture.

1/15/22 The Sunday edition of the Houston Chronicle runs a special section on Rio Grande Valley Citrus and Vegetables. John Shary is featured in one article. Eltweed Pomoroy is noted as an authority on citrus growing.

4/11/22 The Valley Citrus Exchange is chartered.

4/15/22 A purchase on this date started Harry H. Whipple of Los Fresnos in planting a limited acreage of citrus. From the San Juan Nursery and Development Company he purchased 120 citrus trees at $1.25 each. This outfit, a partnership of Sam Baker and Arthur Pitt, operated 20 acres in the Los Fresnos vicinity. Both Pitt and Baker would go on to own major nurseries, the former in Brownsville and the latter in west Harlingen. By 1931 Whipple’s ten acres of Marsh seedless grapefruit, navel oranges, and Valencia oranges, although not yet at full production, were claimed to be generating around $1000 a year.

5/23/22 The LRGV Citrus Growers Exchange is organized by O.E. Stuart, vice president of the Stuart Place Marketing Organization. 900 growers are to participate in it. A supplement to Monty’s Monthly in 1922 is titled “The Citrus Tree, Facts and Potentials of the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s Great Industry.” An ad on its back cover is for the Lower Rio Grande Citrus Exchange, obviously shortened from the above. Its notes as its officers: J.A. Hickman, president; O.E. Stuart, vice president; H.H. Banker, Secretary; and directors R.J. Thomas, A.H. Kalbfleisch, W.A. Comp, D.A. Cleveland W.G. Rice, and Charles Volz.

6/6/22 J. A. Hickman is selected as president of the Citrus Exchange and given a salary of $300 a month. A. A. Thompson is its treasurer. Its offices are in Harlingen.

11/22 The Lower Rio Grande Citrus Exchange takes a full page ad in the Valley Mid-Winter Fair edition of the San Benito Light . J.R. Hickman, its president and manager,

asks “Is It Fair?” regarding poorly packed and graded citrus fruit competing with “Valley-Sweet” and its standard pack. He berates the competition.

In this year the Harlingen district has 1000 acres of citrus averaging 60-70 trees/acre and at age 5-6 years should produce 10 boxes of fruit per tree.

1923 Otha Alton Wyrick, around 18 years old, arrives here. This native of Emerson, AK is to become a citrus grower and cotton farmer. Over the years he is deeply involved in civic endeavors including boy scouting, serving on boards, and with the Church of Christ. When he dies in April 1986 at age 81 he leaves his wife Anna Mote, son Michael of Harlingen, and two daughters. On 12/28/05 Mrs. Wyrick, 95 years old, is to die after having lived at 822 Taylor for 60 years. Born in the Oklahoma Indian Territory she had moved to Harlingen in 1924. A member of the First Christian Church for over 75 years, she was known for her flower and gardening prowess.

The Texas Citrus Fruit Growers’ Exchange is organized this year in August by John H. Shary and other growers. The benefit is quality of produce shipped due to grading standards. The exchange established a well-constructed and well-equipped modern packing plant in Mission. In the next few years it was to set up six additional plants. By 1928 the exchange will have erected a large handsome factory with trademark signage advertising “TexaSweet.”Its packing sheds will be in Harlingen and Sharyland and later Mercedes.

2/14/23 The Harlingen Radio Vol.1 No.32 reports an estimate that the Valley will ship 70 carloads of citrus fruit this season and together with local express shipments the total will run to 100 or more. Twenty-five straight cars of grapefruit have been moved by the Valley Harlingen Packing plant.

4/6/23 Nurseries in the area are competitive. W. M. Ellison Citrus Nurseries advertises the availability of Marsh Seedless, Duncan, and Walters grapefruit trees, balled or bare-rooted. The La Bonita Nursery offers grapefruit, orange, peaches, plums, ornamentals, and shrubs. W.W. Jones Citrus Nurseries with outlets in Harlingen and Brownsville notes its establishment in 1916.

1924 The Texas Experiment Sub-Station No. 15 is established between Mercedes and Weslaco. It will deal largely with citrus.

1925 Mercedes citrus growers, who started that area’s citrus production in 1910, organize a cooperative named the Rio Grande Valley Citrus Growers Association and construct a modern packing plant. McAllen and Brownsville district growers also form cooperative marketing associations and erect plants.

Jan.-Feb. 1925 The Texas Department off Agriculture publishes its Bulletin No. 19 titled “The Citrus Industry in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.” The 128 page publication is written by J. M. Delcurto, E. W. Halstead, and Hal F. Halstead.

1/25 An assessment of the December freeze reveals a 15% loss of the Valley grapefruit crop and 25% for oranges.

2/13/25 W. T. Adams, the Corinth, Mississippi machinery manufacturer who owns considerable acreage (later to be called Adams Gardens) west of Harlingen, visits his property that has a small citrus grove and concludes the freeze did little damage to his citrus trees over two years age. He observes limited damage to orange and grapefruit trees under this age. The exception is lemon trees. Adams believes that stopping the watering of the orchards in September or October will put them in a dormant state and help protect them against freezes. In a letter he also notes that fruit and vegetable shipments are about twice what they were in the preceding year.

2/27/25 Charles Edward Rickard, an Illinois native, locates in Corpus Christi but by this date comes from Cape Girardeau, MO to become a Harlingen resident. Before 1930 he becomes an area citrus grower owning five acres and managing 90 acres more for non-resident owners. His home is Rural Route No. 2 out of Harlingen.

After checking out both California and Florida, Wimberly McLeod comes to Harlingen where he and financial partner, Walton D. Hood, a San Antonio banker, buy in 1928 a large but undeveloped tract of 1,870 acres with the intention of subdividing it into small acreages for citrus production. They create the McLeod-Hood Land Co. The site is located just south of the Ojo de Agua Tract, bounded on the east by the Arroyo Colorado and the west by the Briggs-Coleman Tract. It even has a 69 acre reservoir. The 165 lots range in size from around 2.8 acres to 20 acres. A large u-shaped two-story residence/clubhouse is erected on the property nest to the arroyo to entertain prospective buyers. Wimberley McLeod is president of McLeod and Hood Co. with Paul H. Brown as vice-president, and Walton D. Hood, secretary-treasurer. The company’s office is in the Politis Building at 108 ½ North 1st Street. McLeod will also sell parcels in the Rice Tract east of San Benito. This land is then cleared by the Bingley brothers of Los Fresnos. McLeod is a native of Abbeville, GA, having been born there 11/6/92. By 1931 he and his wife have a small daughter.

6/12/25 Prof. Arthur T. Potts resigns his Texas A&M position as head of the horticultural division to join Sam Baker in the formation of a nursery company called Baker-Potts. In addition to an A&M degree Potts possesses one in citrus from the University of California. Potts had help to set up Texas A & M College experiment stations around the state, including the Weslaco one in 1923. It was originally Substation Number 15. In 1951 the Rio Grande Horticultural Society recognized his efforts and ever since the prestigious annual Arthur T. Potts Award is awarded to a deserving individual. Baker came to the Valley to be an ag inspector and in 1916 entered business in Los Fresnos. Baker-Potts Road west of Harlingen is named after the nursery site.

It was in 1925 that the Harding-Gill Company, using 1,500 Mexican laborers, began clearing land on the Mestenas Tract. It built an impressive clubhouse near Delta Lake to accommodate landseekers. Citrus orchards would soon occupy this virgin land.

6/26 The C.C. Howell Company is dealing in fresh fruit and vegetables.

10/1927 Stanley Crockett begins work in citrus culture and propagation at the Baker-Potts Nursery west of Harlingen. He had traveled to California to learn the latest techniques. By 1958 he would own 1,200 acres, half of which were in citrus production. Sam J. Baker claims to be the first man in the Valley to start a nursery with his own stock when John Shary was the only man here breeding plants on a nursery basis. Homer Dolton did the budding work for Shary. Other citrus pioneers here were “Boll” Briscoe near Mission and Eltweed Pomeroy (an Englishman), Donna. Griffin Brothers from Florida opened a McAllen nursery but failed to make a go of it. They did however try sour orange root stock obtained from Los Fresnos. Citrus varieties at this time were for grapefruit: Marsh, Duncan, Connor’s Improved Prolific; for orange: Parson Brown, the Pineapple, Valencia, Lu Gim Gong, and Washington Naval; for lemon: Eureka, Lisbon, and being spread was the Myers which was cold tolerant.

It is 1927 that Van Snell’s father, who is in real estate in Hammond, LA, is attracted by Valley opportunities, buys land near Donna, and then moves there where he takes up citrus culture. Van will go on to Edinburg Junior College where he meets his future wife Kitty. He then works at the USDA Laboratory in Weslaco before entering a lengthy eventful career as cannery manager with H.E.B. He works 32 years building and managing the Harlingen Canning Company. He was one of those instrumental in the development of the Port of Harlingen, served the Chamber of Commerce, helped to found Tropical Savings and Loan Co., was a Rotary and First Methodist Church member, and was president of the Harlingen Housing Authority Board as well as one which disposed of the former Harvey Richards Field area. Preceded by his wife of 60 years, Kathryn Vaughn Snell, Van Snell is to die in Harlingen at age 94 on July 16, 2005. He leaves a daughter, Ada Kay St. John of Mercedes, and a son Kenneth of Austin along with grandchildren and great grandchildren.

1928 L.E. Snavely is doing so well with his citrus business that in mid-1928 he constructs his $11,250 showplace on Wilson Road. It will later warrant a Texas Historical Commission marker. He was educated in Wellington High School in that city in Kansas and at Kansas Normal School. In 1899 he wed Lenna M. Edmondson of Wellington. In 1931 this First Presbyterian, Woodman of the World and Kiwanis member and his wife had two children. He is found dead in Haymarket Plaza, San Antonio. His death at age 68 in 1939 is likely due to a heart attack. Mrs. Snavely is to precede him in death in 1938. Their daughter is to become Mrs. Paul Phipps.

Numerous citrus growers are now spread across the Valley. Some of these include from the San Benito area E. N. Brown, C. W. Sullivan (Farm Rentals and Development), Claude L. Atkins, E.E. Ogden (Delta Irrigated Farms Co.), James C. Bowie (Bowie & Trent), M.F. Orr (El Jardin del Oro); from Los Fresnos Harry H. Whipple; from Mercedes George A. Morrison (Ebonyhurst Farm), Flora Mills Carter (Lake View Orchards and Nursery), E.E. Evans; from La Feria J.J. Heidt (Rosedale Fruit Farm); elsewhere A. N. Roach, E. J. Bucklin, and Alfred L. Harloff.

8/21/28 Irrigated Farm Corporation, 5061 Broadway, Chicago, with principles Rutherford and (H. C.) Harding, issue a hard-covered oversize book promoting their citrus lands. This 95-page book has numerous colorized photos (by Dickey and others) and testimonials. These gentleman commenced in 1926 the Valley Citrus Fruit Syndicate with six other partner investors and Herman C. Dilg as manager/partner of their 105 acre tract near La Feria. Rutherford and Haynes then purchased land in Shares 27 and 28 (alongside the Cuates Resaca later Bayview) of the Espiritu Santo Grant and started to clear and develop it for resale. Jack Elliott of the Elliott Development Company, San Benito was awarded the citrus development contract for the property.

Prospective land buyers were given land costs, projected returns, and operating costs as follows:

Land Cost based on twenty acres

60% cash or its equivalent, @ $240 per acre $4,800.00

Balance in 5 equal payments at 6% 3,200.00

8,000.00 (or $400/acre)

Approximate Returns on 20 Acre Grapefruit Orchard in the Lower Rio Grande Valley

Grove Age #of boxes # of Trees/ac. # of Boxes/ac. Price/box Total Yld./ac. Total 20 ac.

4 th year 3 70 210 $2.00 $ 420 $ 8,400

5 th year 4 70 280 2.00 560 11,300

6 th year 5 70 350 2,00 700 14,000

7 th year 6 70 420 2.00 840 16,800

8 th year 7 70 490 2.00 980 19,600

9 th year 8 70 560 2.00 1,120 22,400

10 th year 10 70 700 2.00 1,400 28,000

Approximate grand total end of ten years $117,400

Elliott provided these cost estimates per acre for the first year:

Clearing $35.00

Plowing 10.00

Sub-soiling 5.00

Canal construction 5.00

Trees 87.50

Planting of trees 17.50

Six (6) waterings 9.00

Six (6) cultivations 6.00

Flat rate 3.00

Hoeing 4.50

Fencing 5.00

Supervision 9.25

Total $196.75

Second through fifth year costs were $57.00 each year for 12 month care, six waterings and the flat rate for water. The total expenditure per acre for five years acre are $424.75.

For ten years on 20 acres the development/operating costs total $14,195.

H. J. Sandemeier was employed by Elliott as chief citrus expert. B.K. Goodman of San Benito was a major clearing contractor.

The Bayview Citrus Groves Unit 1 of 1000 acres was planted in 1928. Notable for this enterprise were windbreaks surrounding the groves. Unit No. 2 would comprise 800 acres; Unit 3, 2000; and Unit 4, 1500.

10/4/28 The United Growers Exchange of Harlingen completes a fruit packing shed at Stuart Place. It will be operated by Wallace, Shannon & Co.

11/28 Harper and Fitzgerald, packers and shippers of fruit along the rail line at Stuart Place, advertise gift fruit boxes for $1.50 and up. In an ad for the fair they proclaim theirs will be the “World’s Largest Citrus Display.”

By November 1928 the Lower Rio Grande Valley Magazine , a monthly, is up to Vol. 5 No.5. Selling for 10 cents a copy or $1 a year its editor is Kenneth W. Calvin and it is published by E. C. Watson with offices in the Baxter building. Watson will later become business manager for Texas Citriculture Magazine .

1928-29 While cabbage remained the Valley’s chief commodity export, carload citrus shipment this harvest season totaled 1,610 for grapefruit, 28 for orange, and 106 for mixed citrus fruits. This contrasts sharply when railroad carloads were commenced in 1921-22 and were nine for grapefruit, one for oranges, and five mixed. Within the next two years shipments would jump to over 10,000 carloads.

11/29 Texas Citriculture notes that Lon Hill has been experimenting and propagating avocado and papayas for six years. In the 1/27/31 News-Herald of Franklin, Pennsylvania Jim Borland who visited here reported in his column that Hill had 2,500 avocado trees of about 5′ height planted next to the auditorium. Elsewhere, he had another 2,500 trees about 20′ in height. The Texas Citriculture Magazine was first offered for sale 7/28/29 at $1 per year subscription.

1929 A significant and fortuitous discovery is made this year. It is a red grapefruit.

It is the unique and colorful product of saline-alkaline soil of Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Bred of Thompson Pink Wood budded on Sour Orange rootstock. Two nurserymen, A. E. Henninger of Mission and Dr. J. R. Webb of Donna, discovered red fruit in their orchards in 1929. They cast lots and Henninger won right to get a patent. He named his variety “Ruby Red,” and was issued U.S. Plant Patent No. 53. Dr. Webb’s new strain, “Red Blush,” is equally popular. Both varieties, with rose-colored meat and red-tinged rinds, are sweet, early, delectable fruits.