Stop 10: The 1936 Pasco Packing Plant
THE LARGEST CITRUS PROCESSING PLANT IN THE WORLD: DADE CITY’s PASCO PACKING!
An enormous claim to fame, Pasco Packing Association at 14950 U.S. Highway 301 was the world’s largest private-label frozen citrus concentrate firm for many decades. Pasco News wrote, Pasco Packing became THE LARGEST CITRUS PROCESSING PLANT ANYWHERE. Although the citrus seeds were carried by Spanish explorers of the 16th century and cultivated by settlers 300 years later, the status of citrus overtook Florida and Pasco in the twentieth century by both economy and culture.
The trajectory of Dade City changed in the summer of 1936 when five fellows organized a citrus organization in Dade City. Perhaps they had a hint that their efforts would impact the future. In actuality, the idea of citrus packing was conceived by LaMarcus C. Hawes, Sr. (1890-1983) who built the initial packing house in 1920 aside Atlantic Coastline Railway on Highway 301 and acquired hands-on knowledge of all aspects of citrus; he and Herbert S. Massey (1900-1968) joined forces and ran fruit through that first packing house along with Samuel Slough (1907-1999). Then Hawes’ uncle LaMarcus Colquitt Edwards, Sr. (1870-1948) and cousin LC Junior known as Mark (1904-1960) of the same name who were members of the Citrus Exchange had the idea of producing, processing, and selling with a Henry Ford style of mechanization and technology to expand the location. LC Sr brought business expertise as he had served as President of the Florida Citrus Exchange and a Director of the Federal Reserve Bank. The other two in the original cooperative included Massey, a grower and Frank Price, president of the Bank of Pasco.
The sprawling plant offered stability to the Dade City economy for more than 60 years. The packing plant was 110-acre property that was twice the size of Westshore Plaza Shopping Mall
The initial operation was fresh produce but the entrepreneurs soon began experimenting with canned juice. Processes changed over time. In the origin years as the United States was struggling to emerge from the Great Depression, citrus was a precious commodity and packed in wooden crates with the citrus wrapped in tissue paper.
World War II offered change in part from employees who were needed to fight in Europe as well as an opportunity to become a huge supplier of juice cans for soldiers overseas. Industriously, the Co-op even painted the single juice cans in khaki print for the soldiers’ safety. By 1941, canned juice was the major product. A sectioning plant opened in 1946 for oranges and grapefruit. Byproducts such as peels, seeds, and pulp became important commodities for livestock feeds, fertilizers, and other foodstuffs.
By 1948, the Florida Citrus Commission was experimenting with frozen technology, and discovered that Pasco Packing had a system in place. Subsequently Pasco Packing was recognized as the pioneer of the new concentrate field and soon the mainstay of production was frozen concentrate. They merged with Clinton Industries to produce the Snow Crop Brand. Success was fleeting in 1950 when they produced Vitality dispensers for restaurants. All of Tampa Bay celebrated at the Florida State Fairs in 1951 and 1953 which applauded Pasco Packing as the largest citrus processing plant in the world.
Another citrus baron, James Emmett Evans (1900 -1996) arrived in Dade City around this same time. He had started his career selling Model T’s and then bought his own dealership. With his profits he began investing and had a particular interest in Pasco Packing. Evans was president for a time and then split with Pasco Packing in 1957 to open his own citrus operation known as Evans Packing on the south side of Dade City, also on 301. That plant that served as the second largest employer in Pasco County for many years, and operated until it closed in 1984 (the buildings razed in 1988).
After World War II, Lykes Brothers, Inc. purchased 20 percent of Pasco Packing …and later acquired the remaining stock in 1954. William F “Bill” Edwards stayed on to run the plant until 1974. Joseph T. Lykes (1918-1991), the youngest brother of the Lykes family, succeeded Bill as President of Pasco Packing in 1951. The Lykes family owned a huge conglomerate in Tampa and built a juice powerhouse making frozen concentrate that they marketed to major grocery chains such as Winn Dixie. Later the home brand of Florio gold frozen orange concentrate was popular in the south and Canada. The home plant also produced Sunkist but Sunkist was hugely competed with by Tropicana and Minute Maid and struggling to excel.
The name was changed in 1968 to Lykes Pasco. Later Thompson Lykes Rankin, a grandson, became president in 1974, and the plant distributed a variety of juice drinks.
By 1982, Bill Edwards was inducted into the Citrus Hall of Fame as had been his brother Mark and his father.
Crippling freezes hit Pasco citrus groves in 1957 and 1962 and disease impacted the groves hugely. By 2004 Pasco Packing was closed and growers were moving south or exiting the industry. After citrus waned, JDR Development of Pasco, Inc. began buying the complex and renovating it as the Dade City Business Center.
True Dade City natives talk wistfully of the days when the smell from the surrounding orange groves and the processing at the citrus plants permeated the air. When they drive by the business complex that occupies the space that once held Pasco Packing/Lykes-Pasco or south on 301 at 12807 U.S. Highway 301 where Evans Packing stood (Walgreens at present), folks remember that Pasco Packing was the heart of Dade City. Former employee Evelyn Triplett also reminisced about the 2,000 employees whose lives were influenced by the largest citrus packing plant in the world.