Citrus Room

The Tulare County Citrus Room at the Porterville Historical Museum features many vintage photographs and orange crate labels that chronicle the history of the citrus industry around Porterville.

Local citrus history on display at new museum exhibit

Amanda Seymoure Gibbons planted the first orange seeds and raised some of the first orange trees in Tulare County, says Sheila Pickrell, curator of the Porterville Historical Museum. Pictures of both her and her husband Gideon Deminy Gibbons are just some of the items currently on display in Tulare County’s Citrus Room, the museum’s latest exhibit that chronicles the history of the signature crop of the county.

A short history at the museum says their daughter from Plano had seeds she kept from an orange eaten during a 4th of July celebration at Camp Babbitt near Visalia in 1863. He father planted the seeds and they grew in the valley climate and did well. So much so that in the 1880s orange groves began to be cultivated. Investors came, oranges and citrus flourished, and Porterville grew from a sleepy western town into a boom town, where property prices rose, and cattle, sheep, and travelers ceased to be only stimulus to the local economy.

What Tulare County lacked in mineral wealth was made up for in our agricultural bounty. Once discovered, citrus was a viable crop in the central region of California, a land rush ensued and growers became wealthy. Then came the railroad, providing transportation to the markets, and history was made.

Joe Faure has many citrus crate labels, and John McWilliams, volunteer archivist at the museum, worked with him in setting up the exhibit. Both men contributed to the exhibit from their own collections. 

All of the citrus crate labels exhibited are original says Sam Winters, who works on maintenance at the 119-year-old museum building. They are mainly orange and lemon labels, but there are a few lime labels. Porterville was one of the main centers of the citrus industry.  

There are also photographs from the Northern California State Citrus Fair from 1893, an early photo of Success Farm Center, and a 1909 photograph of the Porterville Exhibit at the Dinuba Citrus Fair, all showcasing oranges and other citrus.

The citrus labels include oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. They date mainly from the 1880s until the 1920s, and the colors are so bright and true because of stone lithography, the first printing process used. 

McWilliams says the exhibit covers the Porterville citrus boom that started in the 1880’s and lasted into the 1940’s. 

“That’s what put Tulare County on the map, our citrus industry,” he said.

The exhibit has a treasure trove of colorful and exciting citrus brand packing labels from Porterville, Lindsay, Strathmore, Exeter, Terra Bella, Orosi, and Lemon Cove, plus some great antique photos and old citrus industry memorabilia from the old packing houses.

For instance, Indian Belle was a Porterville brand name of oranges, and there is a framed “protective liner” that would have covered the oranges when they were shipped in the old wooden crates that date from the 1940’s that are on display. 

One of the rare labels is Vandalia Brand, packed by Plano packing house, in Plano, California, an old town just South of Porterville.

McWilliams, who is a collector, says that some of these labels are very rare, while others can be found in great quantities. 

The exhibit is open through March 23 at the Porterville Historical Museum, at 275 N. D Street, for more information call 784-2053 or portervillemuseum@gmail.com or Facebook Porterville Historical Museum

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