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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sweet Tastes and Bitter Memories

Remembering the days of the Satsuma in Jackson County with Quinton Shores By Bo McMullian

The Satsuma’s are in season in Jackson County and this time of year always brings back tales of yesteryear when this area was known as the Satsuma capital. History buffs often study the period, the 1920s and 1930s. The planted acreage numbered in the tens of thousands and tens of thousands attended the annual “Satsuma Orange” festival in Marianna. But a few local residents remember the heyday because they were there. The TIMES travelled to Round Lake on Monday to visit with one.

Quinton Shores “clipped” Satsuma’s for extra money during the fall when he was 15. He is now 89 so that was in 1935. He clipped them in the Round Lake area near Alford where he still lives in the sprawling house he built in 1956.

Most people blame the encroaching cold weather for the demise of the local Satsuma industry but Shores says that doesn’t explain all that happened.

“What killed the Satsuma’s,” he said, “was the neglect of the (management) because of the low price per bushel in the Great Depression. They wouldn’t sell in those days; no one had any money. Eventually the growers didn’t care about the oranges so they let them die. The cold had a lot to do with it but neglect can kill too. Satsuma’s are like babies; they need a lot of attention. The roots grow close to the ground so they need to be protected. The trees have to be sprayed for disease in the fall and that costs money. When it got too cold, we used to burn lighter wood in the groves like they do with smudge pots today.”

According to Shores, a lot of the local groves had been leased out to California interests. So when push came to shove, California didn’t care about our local economy.

“In fact, they didn’t want the competition,” Shores said. “They let the trees die.”

Something like $2 per bushel was needed to keep things going, Shores said, but he saw the day when a bushel wouldn’t sell for 50 cents.

“But I’ve got trees in my yard that are 20 and 25 years old,” he said. “They grow here. The cold weather alone didn’t kill the Satsuma.”

Shores never grew the citrus but his uncle Jim Swails had several acres at Round Lake, the “headquarters of the Satsumaland Fruit growers Association organized in the early 1920s,” according to Jerrell Shofner’s history of Jackson County.

“My uncle had 20-foot-tall trees,” Shores said. “We had to clip them with a ladder. There were two packing houses nearby that hired from 50 to 100 people. Round Lake had five stores and people would come up here from Fountain on the train to shop.”

In the good days, pickers were paid about $1 a day, Shores remembers, but the Depression eventually reduced that to 35 cents. “It got so bad, my uncle gave eight acres away for a refrigerator ice-box.”

Finally, Shores tried to join the military in the buildup to World War II, but the services turned him down because of dental problems. By 1942, the war was raging and the Air Force cared less about dental work. He was drafted. He flew several missions in B-17s over Germany but he doesn’t like to talk about it. “Many times I asked the good Lord if he’d just get me back to England, He’d never have to worry about me getting in an airplane ever again. And I haven’t. I never fly.”

He did prove himself as a businessman, though. He prospered in the insurance business after the war and later sold cars. He and his wife Lovie raised four sons and one daughter. Lovie died last year after they had been married for 67 years, Shores said.

The old man spends his days now “babying” his many Satsuma orange trees on his 10-acre spread. And his century plants. And his pine trees. And his azaleas, camellias, the rare type of hydrangea bush and even his “hummingbird bushes.” He doesn’t know the name of that plant but its flowers are so long and sweet he has seen hummingbirds fight over them, hence the nickname. He’s something of a tree doctor. If you have pine trees in your yard and one survives a lightning strike but is partially skint, Shores says to spray it with diesel fuel. “That’ll kill the bugs and save the tree.”

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