Citrus County's First State Fair


    Citrus county is the most northerly county Gulf Coast represented at the fair, with the exception of Washington, the representative of extreme West Florida. Citrus is one of the smaller counties of the  West Coast, both in population and area, being the northern portion of old Hernando county, which was detached from the parent body about 15 years ago. Its western boundary is the Gulf of Mexico, while the Withlacoochee river winds about it on both north and west. The county’s chief industries are farming, fruit growing, fishing, naval stores and phosphate mining, with a good mill business.
    This being Citrus county’s first exhibition at a State Fair, the Commissioner and his assistants have found themselves considerably handicapped. Opinion in Citrus county was divided between sending an exhibit to the State Fair or holding a county fair, but the wiser counsel prevailed and the County Commissioners voted $550 for an exhibit and J. C. Rhiel (Phiel), of Floral City, was appointed Fair Commissioner for his county. He has worked hard, assisted by Mrs. Phiel, in the Woman’s Department, and R. H. Watson, Jr., of Inverness and despite of the many difficulties besetting their pathway, they have secured and placed a credible exhibit.
    A larger proportion of the exhibit of this county is devoted to phosphate than any other county. The floor of the south half of the space is entirely covered with a deep layer of hard rock screenings from the Bradly Phosphate Company, of Floral City, which has one of the largest plants in the State and has made a big exhibit of its rock. Besides the screenings, there are samples of boul leg and also an exhibit of several good grades of phosphate by Phiel Bros., who have 160 acres of phosphate land adjoining the Bradly plant before mentioned.
    A peculiar exhibit shown in the mineral department is known as the building rock, composed of about 15 percent, phosphate, while the balance is principally lime. In its natural state the rock is quite soft and can be cut into blocks and slabs with an ordinary handsaw, without seriously impairing that implement. After being sawed up and exposed to the air, it hardens and makes a very substantial building material, with its cheapness to further recommend it.  Many a farmhouse chimney in the county is made of this convenient stone.
    A noticeable exhibit in the agricultural department is a mammoth kershaw, which, while not the most important vegetable grown in Citrus county, shows the fertility of the soil, which ranges in quality from the pineland to the richest hammock. A cluster of rice stalks from R. J. Knight’s place at Crystal River, measures 6 feet high, though only four months old. It was grown on hammock land, the land in this section being generally low.  J. Y. Barnes, of Lecanto and Porter Sharpe, of Floral City, each have a dozen sheaves of fine ninety-day and rustproof oats, grown in their respective localities. J. A. Osten, of Floral City, has a bale of hay made from velvet beans and other forage grass and also crab grass and beggar weed hay. Peanuts is another product on exhibition. Mr. Barnes also sends several dozen ears of inside corn and the corn exhibit is replenished from other sources. Among the sweet potatoes are 10 selected Jerseys, weighing 66 pounds, grown by J. W. Miley, at Etna.  Mr. Gerald, of Etna, has a nice display of velvet beans and Dr. Dent, of Floral City, a trim lot of egg plants. An improved variety of sweet potatoes known as the California yams, is sent by J. Ben Smith, of Lecanto. The sugar cane exhibit is an especially creditable one, consisting of green and Japanese cane from Porter Sharp; Simpson cane, 15 feet long, from Mr. Cannon, of Chronville; ribbon and Simpson varieties from Wat Zellinger, of Floral City; ribbon cane from J. Y. Barnes and J. E. King, of Lecanto and J. H. Miley, of Etna and two bundles of Japanese cane, from James E. Rooks, of Floral City and two dozen stalks of green cane from H. B. King, of Lecanto; Phill Zellinger, of the same town, sends an exhibit of cassava, one root of which unfortunately was lost on the road and weighed not less than 28 pounds. Cowpeas, the vines of which also make the hay, are sent in by the Gerald farm at Etna.
    Abounding in rich woods, Citrus county sends down an exhibit of 52 kinds native to its soil. A unique part of the decorations is an old-fashioned well, with windlass made of a wild grape vine 78 feet long and 7 inches in diameter, the well representing a phosphate pit, the sides studded with boulder rock. An archway nearby is made of a section of the same vine, Rattan and bamboo, such as is used in rustic work, embellishes the decorations. A beautiful table, with a checkerboard top, the handiwork of Mr. Phiel, is also on exhibition. It received a diploma at the South Florida Fair last year and is a magnificent piece of workmanship, containing 17 different kinds of woods and 835 distinct pieces. All of the woods are natives of Citrus, excepting the Royal Palm, Royal Poinciana and black mahogany, which were picked up in Lee county. Another table, made by Mr. Phiel and owned by J. W. Ward, a prominent Floral City phosphate man, is kindly loaned by the latter for exhibition. It has nine species of wood and 1041 different pieces of work. Mr. Phiel also has on exhibition a miniature cabinet safe, made of mahogany, which was invented and patented by him and his brother, A. C. Phiel, of St. Petersburg. An unfinished checkerboard, with 164 pieces and six kinds of wood, is among Mr. Phiel’s personal exhibitions.
    A branch of antlers from a deer killed by Jack Rogers, of Etna, is a reminder that Citrus is another sportsmen’s heaven. The county in general and especially the regions about the Homosassa and the Crystal rivers is filled with wild game of all sorts and the rivers and lakes abound in fish, as of course, does the salt water and every winter sees the county filled with visitors from the north, who come thither to bask in the sunshine, regain their health and energies and make life one long holiday in the woods and on the water with gun and rod. Three fox squirrels, four months old, from County Commissioner Floyd Rooks, of Floral City, disport themselves in a cage for the edification of visitors.
    Although no premium has been offered for photographs, Commissioner Phiel has such a fine collection of Citrus county views, 97 in number that he intends entering them for a supplementary award. The collection contains handsome residences, roads, groves, churches, schools and natural scenery. Among the pictures is one of the Dixon Cedar Mills, at Crystal River, owned by one of the leading pencil manufacturing firms in the world, which affords a livelihood to hundreds of residents of Crystal River and vicinity. The good roads show up well in the photographs, but not as well as on the ground. R. H. Matson, of Inverness, father of the Assistant Fair Commissioner, is chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, and his district, the fifth, has five miles of splendid macadamized roads, leading out from the Citrus county courthouse. It was built from his district’s pro rata of the roads and bridges fund, without the issuance of any “good roads bonds,” Mr. Matson carefully saving his portion of money until he got enough to start work on a hardsurface road. The material consists of nubbitt lime, flint and phosphate and was put down by the county convicts.
    The decorations of the exhibit are not elaborate, but the rustic archway in front attracts attention, being built out of the native woods of Citrus county. While not making the same pretensions as the larger counties represented at the Fair, the maiden effort of Citrus, is an interesting one, and homeseekers especially should inspect it carefully before they leave the State Fair. 

Author: Albert H. Roberts
Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers
Source: The Morning Tribune: 11-26-1905

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