BROOKSVILLE — Marcel Mountain recalls riding through southeastern Hernando County as a child with his family and surveying what once was one of the largest grapefruit-producing regions in the state.
His grandfather had been one of the most successful citrus producers in Hernando County. But by the time Mountain was born, the great groves had long vanished into weedy hillsides, thanks to an epic freeze in December 1895. Though his father managed to revive the crop in the 1940s and '50s, successive bouts with weather and disease effectively ended the family business by the early 1980s.
"Things never were quite the same around here after that," said the 76-year-old Mountain, who still maintains a 20-acre navel orange grove in Spring Lake. "It was a good business while it lasted. I still have fond memories of it."
Mountain, along with several other longtime citrus growers, will share those memories in a roundtable discussion at Saturday's 28th annual Heritage Day Festival in Brooksville.
Although the festival has saluted the area's cattle industry and pioneering families in the past, this year will mark the first time the event has focused specifically on the county's ties to an industry that helped put Hernando County on the map.
"It might be difficult to see now, but citrus was a huge part of the county's past," said Mary Sheldon of the Hernando Historical Museum Association. "Not only were there lots of growers, you also had packing houses, juice plants and other businesses that were tied to the citrus industry."
The daylong festival, which takes place at the 1850s four-story antebellum home known as the May-Stringer House, gives visitors an opportunity to become familiar with the way pioneer residents lived before the advent of electricity, running water and telephones.
In addition to touring the mansion, visitors can watch artisans and craftmakers ply their skills in such things as chair caning and rug weaving.
Entertainment will include the Istachatta Backporch Pickers, singer George Westbay and the Talako Indian Dancers, and food vendors will be set up on the museum grounds.