Boarding up Celery at Sanford, Florida, on the St. Johns River

It seems that celery has always been the staple crop of Sanford, Florida. One of my African-American friends, W. George Allen, just retired from the practice of law at 70 years old, a veteran of the civil rights movement.  George grew up in Sanford. As a child, George picked celery every day during the dark days of segregation.  One day in the courthouse in Fort Lauderdale George showed me the palms of his hands. Long, thin lines scarred his palms from pulling celery stalks out of the ground during childhood.  He left Sanford, graduated from Howard University, and was the first Black to graduate from the University of Florida Law School.

Located strategically on Lake Monroe, near Orlando, on the southern stretch of the St. Johns River, at the turn of the 19th century steamboat traffic between Sanford and Jacksonville had always been heavy and profitable.  However, in the early 1920s, a threat to Sanford’s agriculture and trade business appeared imminent. The threat was the privately owned Florida East Coast Canal, now a completed tollway between Jacksonville, Fla., and Miami.

The Corps of Engineers could not make up its mind. Should it recommend to Congress the taking over of the old Florida East Coast Canal?    Or recommend a change in course and the larger and deeper St. Johns River south, near Titusville, thence a short connecting Canal to the southern part of the old East Coast Canal?  If the Army recommended the old East Coast Canal, it would spell the death knell for Sanford and Central Florida. If the Corps decided upon the St. Johns River route, Daytona Beach and its thriving tourist business would be cut out of the picture. The Corps held four hearings in 1922 throughout the east coast to decide the question.

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