The orange is one of the most iconic things about California. Southern California’s climate makes it a perfect place to grow citrus, and thanks to advances in irrigation, processing, transportation, and the addition of the Washington navel orange, California’s citrus industry boomed in the late 1800s, as oranges and their citrus cousins made for California’s “second gold rush.” While the orange is still big business here, “orange groves as far as the eye can see” as L.A. Confidential hailed, are a thing of the past, unless you find your way to the California Citrus State Historic Park.
Here visitors can walk among the over 70 varieties of citrus that grow within the park and feel as if they have stepped into one of the linen postcards of the past featuring orange trees with snowcapped mountains in the distance. The Visitor Center features a museum that chronicles the history of citrus fruit which has a much longer history than I realized, and of course the industry that we know today here in California. The museum also takes note that from grove to table, the citrus industry employed a rotating door of people of color, noting that each labor group was often driven out by racism, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Overall, I was impressed with the amount of history, and the creativity of the displays that were packed into such a small space within the Visitor Center.
A unique offering that can be found at the park is a citrus tasting. We arrived during a small, free tasting of a variety of citrus at the Visitor Center, which also houses a small gift shop, I say small, but I still managed to spend over $70! Seriously, park visitor centers and museum gift shops are a weakness for me.
The California Citrus State Historic Park is free to visit, after paying for parking, which was $5 during the time of our visit. It should be noted that most of the pathways have little to no shade! So a highly recommend a parasol, which I failed to bring! Additionally, hours vary depending on the season, so it is vital to check their website before planning your visit.
Not far from the California Citrus State Historic Park (in fact the Visitor Center has a map you can take to show you) is perhaps one of California’s most important trees, the Parent Navel Orange Tree. In this case “parent” means “first.” While oranges of different varieties had been growing in California since the arrival of Spanish Missionaries, the navel orange was not introduced until 1873, all thanks to one woman named Eliza Marie Lovell Summons Tibbets.
Eliza was born in 1823 in Cincinnati Ohio to progressive abolitionist parents, and went on to become a practicing Spiritualist, suffragette, and adopted an African-American child. Three marriages later, Eliza and her husband, Luther moved to Washington DC, where they were neighbors with William Saunders, the first superintendent of the recently created U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the pair became friends.
In 1870 the Tibbets moved to Riverside, which was working on experimenting with various types of agriculture. In the meantime Saunders had been communicating with a Presbyterian missionary in Brazil, who had been working with a type of orange that produced seedless or near seedless fruit. Saunders received samples and began to cultivate what was dubbed the “Washington navel.” Interested in contributing to Riverside’s growing agriculture, Eliza wrote to Saunders for suggestions on what to grow, and Saunders mailed her two small trees of the Washington navel. The Tibbets planted the two trees in their front yard, sharing their new addition with their fellow Riverside citizens by selling cuttings from the trees, even making a living from the profits. The fruit from the trees became an instant hit after winning first prize at the Southern California Horticulture Fair in 1879. The Tibbets’ quick rise thanks to the Washington navel was relatively short, due to Luther’s tendency for suing or being sued, and they lost their fortune, both dying penniless, Eliza in 1898 and Luther in 1902.
The two trees were given to the Pioneer Historical Society of Riverside; one was replanted in the courtyard of the Mission Inn (a place I desperately need to blog about) with help from President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, but which sadly died in 1921. The other was moved to a small park at the intersection of Arlington and Magnolia, where it still remains today. The Parent Navel is severely protected, especially since the rise of the citrus killing disease, Asian Citrus Psyllid, which recently destroyed part of Florida’s citrus industry. The issue was so prominent and the tree so important that the city of Riverside issued a press release last year on the actions to protect the tree.
Walk among the citrus trees in California Citrus State Historic Park at 9400 Dufferin Avenue and pay homage to the Parent Navel Orange Tree at the intersection of Arlington Avenue and Magnolia Avenue in Riverside.
Boule, David. The Orange and the Dream of California. Santa Monica, Angel City Press, 2013. Print.
Information on site.