The Great Freeze refers to the winter of 1894-1895, especially in Florida where the brutally cold weather destroyed much of the nation's citrus crop.
There were actually twin freezes in Florida during this momentous season, the first in December 1894 and the second in February 1895. The first did not actually kill a lot of groves, but did cause them to produce new shoots. So, when the second, harder freeze came a few months later, the effects were even more devastating. All varieties of fruit (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, etc.) blackened on the trees, and bark split from top to bottom. These effects were felt as far south as the Manatee River, below Tampa.
Up to 1895, the cheap abundance of semi-tropical citrus groves extended into northern Florida and were producing as much as 6 million boxes of fruit per year. After the Great Freeze, however, production plummeted to just 100,000 boxes and did not break the 1 million mark again until 1901. As a result, land values also dropped in the citrus growing areas from $1,000 per acre to as little as $10 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.
In the wake of the Great Freeze, many planters simply abandoned their Florida groves in search of frost-free locations in places as far away as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. Others relocated to California, utilizing a seedless variety of grapefruit discovered by C.M. Marsh near Lakeland, Florida. Growers who were not able to abandon the region were forced to try their hands at growing other crops, which had the positive result of diversifying Florida's agriculture. For instance, Palatka became particularly well-known for its potato crop in the years following the Great Freeze; and Sanford was closely identified with celery.