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Then & Now with Hampton Dunn

Published Oct. 9, 2005

It may come as a surprise, even to old-time Tampans, that celery once was grown commercially in Hillsborough County, as the picture on this antique view card clearly shows. The caption reads, "Knee Deep in Celery, Tampa, Fla." Note the fine irrigation system. A fellow named Bert sent the card to his girlfriend, May, back in North Andover, Mass. It was postmarked from Tampa on Jan. 26, 1914. The message was, "This is a common sight here."

Nowadays, when we think of celery and Florida, we think of Sanford in Seminole County as "capital of the Florida celery belt." That's how it was described in Florida: Guide to the Southernmost State, part of the American Guide Series published as a Works Progress Administration project in 1939. The book stated that "Florida produces about 40 percent of the total celery shipments of the nation. Approximately 8,000 car loads are shipped annually, chiefly from the neighborhood of Sanford, but in increasing quantities from Sarasota County." (No mention of Hillsborough as a celery producer.) In Sanford, the Guide reported, "In the spring even the yards of the city houses are planted to celery and lettuce."

Today celery fields are hard to find in Hillsborough County. One of the easiest places to find celery here is a roadside produce stand.

Hampton Dunn is a journalist, author, lecturer and, perhaps, Florida's best-known historian. The Tampa resident has spent much of his life chronicling the state and has written 18 books on such places as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Citrus County.