Sweet on history

A new citrus museum, complete with a cinematic look at the former dominant industry, is helping to revive the location in Dade City.

Published February 19, 2007


Evelyn Triplett remembers how the once-mighty citrus operation withered from 2,000 employees until it eventually closed in 2004.

Driving by the site on U.S. 301 was a sad reminder that an industry that once was the heart of Dade City was fading.

But as she recently looked around the new citrus museum inside the Dade City Business Center at the site of the former Pasco Beverage Plant, she was filled with a sense of hope.

"Now I feel good coming out here," said Triplett, 64. "I feel good about the town."

The 75-minute tour, which opened to the public this month, begins with a walking tour of the packing plant, when it operates from October to May. A series of videos show how the grading, cleaning and waxing process works, and depending on the time of day, visitors might get a glimpse of the facility in action.

A tram takes visitors to an educational grove, with examples of all varieties packed at the plant and displays of current and antique farming equipment. The tram then drives through the Pioneer Florida Museum, where tourists can later check out a 1910 packing house.

The last stop on the tour is the museum and theater. Inside, the walls are adorned with brightly colored citrus labels and historic photos of the Lykes-Pasco packing plant, which, at its peak, was the largest citrus-processing plant in the world.

The museum also houses Dade City Business Center owner Jim Guedry's collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia and classic cars.

The highlight of the tour is a film about the history of citrus in Dade City, including the hard freezes of 1982 and 1985 that killed many of the area's citrus trees and caused a local economic downturn. The film features commentary from such prominent residents as Mayor Hutch Brock and John Hornbuckle, who worked at the plant for 28 years and now lives in Clearwater.

The film ends with the plant's rebirth as a business center, which employs about 650 people in 45 companies.

In October 2004, months after the shutdown, Wesley Chapel fruit-shipping company Citrus County Groves bought a large part of the property, including all the frontage on U.S. 301, and started talking about a major redevelopment. In addition to bringing his operation to north Dade City, Guedry announced plans to develop a business park and lease space to other companies.

Plans are in the works to build an entertainment center with restaurants, bars, a theater and loft apartments.

Sarah Gardner, 62, of Gettysburg, Pa., was checking out the museum Tuesday to see whether the RV group she belongs to should stop by later in the month.

"We have traveled all over," she said "And we never been on a tour like this."

Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6518. Her e-mail address is gpace@sptimes.com.

If you go

Citrus Country Groves museum

Public tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and occasionally at 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and free for children 12 and younger. Tours for schools and other groups can be arranged Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays. Call (352) 567-0600 or go to www.citrusstory.com.