Great Freeze

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Damage to an orange grove in Bartow, Florida

The Great Freeze is the back-to-back freezes of 1894–1895 in Northern Florida, where the brutally cold weather destroyed much of the citrus crop.

Entire communities, such as Earnestville, faded after the citrus crops and trees were lost to the two unusually cold-weather patterns of the winter season.

Weather records[edit]

Orlando reached an all-time record low of 18 °F (−8 °C) on December 29, 1894.[citation needed]

In the second cold wave (1895), West Palm Beach recorded all time record low of 27 °F (−3 °C) on February 9, 1895.[citation needed]

A snowstorm produced unprecedented snowfall amounts along the Gulf Coast, including 22 inches (56 cm) in Houston, TX.

Snow fell as far south as Tampico, Mexico, within the Tropic of Cancer, the lowest latitude in North America that snow has been recorded at sea level.


Two freezes occurred in northern Florida during this catastrophic season, the first in December 1894 and the second in February 1895.[1] The first did not actually kill many mature trees, but did set the stage for new growth during the warm month that followed. So, when the second, harder freeze came a few months later, the effects were even more devastating. All varieties of fruit (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes) froze on the trees, and bark split from top to bottom.[2] These effects were felt as far south as the Manatee River, south of Tampa.[3]

By 1895, Florida's abundant citrus groves had extended into North Florida, and the state was producing as much as six million boxes of fruit per year.[4] After the Great Freeze, however, production plummeted to just 100,000 boxes and did not break the one-million-box mark again until 1901.[5] As a result, land values also dropped in the citrus-growing areas from $1,000 (equivalent to $33,000 in 2021) per acre to as little as $10 (equivalent to $330 in 2021) per acre. Many compared the economic impact of the Great Freeze on Florida to the effects of the Great Fire on the city of Chicago.[6]

In the wake of the Great Freeze, some growers simply abandoned their Florida groves to return to the North. A few went to search for frost-free locations in the Caribbean such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.[7] Others relocated to California, using a seedless variety of grapefruit discovered by C.M. Marsh near Lakeland. He was able to harvest 10,000 buds before the Great Freeze that were later propagated by West Coast growers with great success, although the overall cooler and drier climatic conditions in California produced smaller and less flavorful citrus.[8]

The freeze of 1894 however, prompted Julia Tuttle, founder of Miami, to persuade railroad magnate Henry Flagler to expand his rail line, the Florida East Coast Railway, southward to tropical south Florida. Flagler initially declined.[9] Tuttle wrote to him, asking him to visit the area and to see it for himself the frost free climate. Flagler sent James E. Ingraham to investigate, and he returned with a favorable report and a box of orange blossoms to show that the area had escaped the frost. Flagler followed up with his own visit and concluded at the end of his first day that the area was ripe for expansion. He made the decision to extend his railroad to Miami and build a resort hotel. This allowed the Florida citrus industry to flourish in central and south Florida in a warmer climate than north Florida. [10]

By the 1940s Florida's citrus industry had rebounded greatly in the warmer central and southern portions of the state. Today, Florida is now the second in the world only to Brazil in the production of oranges.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burrows, Ted (January 6, 2022). "Local history: Historic freezes caused havoc and changed Florida's agriculture". TC Palm / St Lucie Historical Society. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  2. ^ Type Studies from the Geography of the United States by Charles Alexander McMurry, Macmillan & Company, 1908, page 81.
  3. ^ Cyclopedia of American Horticulture by Liberty Hyde Bailey, Macmillan Company, 1901, page 1154.
  4. ^ McMurry, page 81.
  5. ^ Bailey, page 1155.
  6. ^ McMurry, page 82.
  7. ^ Southern Agriculture by Franklin Sumner Earle, The Macmillan Company, 1908, page 245.
  8. ^ The Journal of Heredity, American Genetic Association, 1916, page 524.
  9. ^ Parks, Arva Moore. Miami, The Magic City. Miami: Community Media, c2008. p. 81.
  10. ^ Wiggins, Larry. "The Birth of the City of Miami." In Tequesta, number LV (1995), p. 10-12. [1] Archived 2012-02-22 at the Wayback Machine