Strawn Buildings at Agricultural Museum
In 1895 a big freeze hit Florida turning its rich orange groves into dead, dried trees.
He made a plan to buy up the frozen and damaged orange growing properties, replanting the citrus groves. He applied the latest scientific methods. Through careful fertilization and cultivation he brought his groves back into production, a model of citrus growth. His citrus packing operation began around 1909. He established his own "Bob White" Brand based around the Illinois quail he loved to hunt. Initially he worked from a small tent moving from grove to grove boxing oranges for shipment. In 1912 he financed the construction of a two story packing house near the Deleon Springs railroad depot. By 1915 Bob White was a major brand.
He cultivated nearly 100 acres of groves and shipped nearly 20,000 boxes of oranges annually.
Mules and wagons were used to transport oranges to his packing house. His Illinois farm sent feed grain to his granary located near the mule barn. A bell on top of another barn called workers to the barn for their daily assignments.
Between 1935 and 1941 new buildings were added including wood frame
worker’s dwellings. The Bob White orange brand was now well known
John Strawn became active in the business in 1951. Some mules were still retained although the latest model tractors now moved the wagons, loaded with oranges to the packing house. The Strawn business offered employment to many local residents and also the seasonal pickers and workers who harvested and sorted the rich crops.
It ended on Christmas of 1983. A fierce Arctic freeze came into Florida. Temperatures fell and stayed well below the survival point for orange trees. The groves were dead. Soon growers decided to move to warmer Southern Florida where the risk of freeze would be less. There were no longer oranges for the efficient Strawn packing house. The business, once a model for Florida Agriculture had to close. Buildings stood empty and were raided by vandals.
A news article in 2008 reported how John Strawn once threw the power switch for one last time to watch the belts whirr and pulleys move, and the conveyers move looking for their boxes of oranges which would never again come. He pulled the switch again and for the last time and an era was ended.
The Florida Agricultural Museum recognizing that these structures
were a vanishing part of early Florida history applied for a grant to the
Division of Historical Resources. The grant was to move, stabilize and
preserve key historic structures of the Strawn complex. The buildings were
donated to the museum by David Strawn of DeLeon Springs. Five structures
were moved the some 60 miles to the museum. They required much work by
volunteers to stabilize, paint and restore to their original condition.
Today they represent a saved piece of the early Florida Citrus Industry, a
record of hard work and planning by an early pioneer of the vast industry
in Florida today. Much research in paint colors, roofing and construction
was made to keep the aura of this business. Now a pet donkey wanders the
mule barn enclosing looking for handouts and keeping alive the names once
written on the barn walls of the mules that so long ago did their work
here. Horses are still stabled in the still functional barn with its
feeder shafts and water trough from the original Strawn complex. Much research and work was needed to restore these
their original operational condition. Labor was done by
Volunteer labor brought these buildings back to their original condition
Walk through an era of Florida Agriculture 1918 – 1983
The Bell Barn contains the tools and equipment to keep large farm running. It still holds much the same as the Museum uses it to re-store and rebuild tractors and wagons.
The Bell Barn is a two story structure with a gable roof covered with crimped metal sheeting. It has a short bell tower located near the gable end. An 1880 era bell is installed and is operational in the tower. Large sliding wood doors provide access into the interior. The bell once called workers to assemble at the barn at the beginning of each work day, and announced quitting time and day’s end to laborers in the surrounding fields. Often museum volunteers are at interesting work re-building tractors, wagons and farm equipment in this barn which in essence is being used for its original purpose.
The Mule Barn is a two and a half story structure with a large gable roof. The exterior walls feature vertical board-and-batten siding on the first story and drop siding on the walls above. Knee braces are found in the gable ends of the buildings and a large ventilator stands astride the roof ridge.
The fencing, and enclosures for animals are in agreement with those used on the original farm. Here the working mules were fed and cared for at the end of their work day in the orange production.
In the tack room of the Mule Barn you can still see the names of the long vanished working mules of the farm. Kate is still clear in chalk. Tags give the names of the present residents of the barn.
The watering trough, fences and other animal enclosures are those from the original Strawn farm and appear as they would have in the 1920 era when the working mules and horses occupy this barn and its yard.
The nearby Granary building is a small one-store barn with drop siding on the exterior walls and has a large ventilator on the roof ridge. The building has no windows but has louvered vents along the side elevations to provide interior ventilation.
Not corrected or approved by Ag Museum