In the early 1900s, Osceola County was well known for its fruits and vegetables, grown and shipped from here. Some of those early packers and shippers were Waters and Carson Grocery Co., W.B. Makinson Co., and J. S. Stratton of the Basswell Grocery Co. in Peghorn.
As larger packing houses were needed, they were constructed near the railroad lines in Kissimmee. By July 1914, the Osceola County Fruit and Truck Grower’s Association had been organized. Also in July, construction began on a large citrus packing house along the Midland Railway within the city limits. The 60 x 100-foot one-story building had a concrete floor and galvanized roof. Equipment included two sizers, washers, conveyors and other modern equipment manufactured by A.J. Nye in Orlando. Fifty or more pickers would be employed to bring fruit directly from the trees and 20 packers were needed with an additional 15 or 20 for other work in the packing house.
Three fruit packing houses are shown on the 1914 Sanborn Fire Map for Kissimmee – S.G. Sly [sic] & Co. and J.S. Stratton – located next to each other and situated between Ruby and Stuart [sic] Avenues on the A.C.L. Railroad. The third was H.R. Overstreet on the corner of Drury Avenue and Hand Street.
By 1920 the Kissimmee Citrus Growers Association was occupying the former S.G. Sly/S.J. Sligh Co. building and had increased in size. The year 1930 shows the Association moved its operation to the block between N. Dillingham and N. Clyde Avenues. Thirty-five people were employed in the plant and 25 in the field. Henry Plano was manager of the facility for 31 years and used images of his children Earle and Evelyn on the “Kiss-Me” brand label.
Later packing houses were Kissimmee Packing Company on Bermuda Avenue with John Hansel as president and Smith Growers Association on Vine Street. One of the largest and longest operating was Osceola Fruit Distributors, established in 1928 by George Lester Ivey and his wife Hilda.
Written by Anza Bast
Sources: “The Tampa Tribune” November 26, 1908; “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” 1913 & 1914 editions, August 19, 1949, February 20, 1953; “Orlando Evening Star” October 9, 1932; “Orlando Sentinel” October 12, 1952; Kissimmee Sanborn Fire Maps; Osceola History archives