Fire Strikes Historic Florida Citrus Plant Again
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Dec. 17, 2010
A fire Monday destroyed a building at a historic citrus complex in DeLeon Springs, Fla. The blaze was the second in two years to strike the Bob White Citrus Packing House and Strawn Sawmill, both National Register Historic Districts.
The complex, built in the 1920s by Theodore Strawn, closed after a devastating frost in 1983. Still owned by the Strawn family, the site includes more than 10 buildings.
"There are several packing houses in Florida, but none with so many buildings," says Julie Scofield, historic preservation officer of Volusia County. "They were all locally built. The Strawns were a huge importer and a big player in the citrus industry. Their Christmas fruit was sent to London, which was a big deal.”
In the past two decades, vandals have been chipping away at the site. An arson fire in December 2008 burned down a machine shop.
Fire officials have not yet determined the cause of this week's fire, which collapsed one building and damaged two others within the National Register district.
"Although only one of the buildings was destroyed in the recent fire, the most significant ones remain in poor condition and are still endangered," Nancy Maddox, president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, said in an e-mail. "Only a handful of existing historic citrus packing houses remain in the United States."
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Bob White Citrus Packing House and Strawn Sawmill National Register Historic Districts as among the state's most endangered historic places for the past four years.
The Strawn family has twice applied for demolition permits to clear the packing house site. Shortly before the 2008 fire, Mark Strawn applied for a demolition permit to raze all structures on the property but later withdrew that application. In July of this year, John Strawn applied for a demolition permit to raze all the structures but withdrew the application in September before the historic preservation board could make a decision.
John Strawn, who could not be reached for comment, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in May, "So many of the sentimental things have been ransacked and destroyed."
Scofield and other locals say the Strawn family has not maintained the site since it closed.
"It's rusting away," says Bill Dreggors, executive director of the West Volusia Historical Society. "They don't paint it; they don't do anything about it. They just sit on it. I don't know what they're ever going to do with it."
Despite the citrus packing house's poor condition, some locals hold out hope that it can be saved.
"It's a shame that it's going to waste," says Don Malmborg, longtime resident and former president of the DeLeon Springs Community Association. "I'm saddened that they had a fire there. I feel bad because we would like to see something happen there that would be good for the community."
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