A nearly-forgotten orange grove created for a promotion and connected with the National Governors Association – in the 1960s, it became an unusual tourist stop on US Route 27.
As of 2020, the site of the Governors’ Grove on Lake Felter in Clermont is undeveloped and it’s possible the only time it had been developed was when the Minute Maid Corporation created the Governors’ Grove in 1958. At the time, the area surrounding the 115 acre (46 hectare) lake was planted with citrus trees.
Incorporated in 1945 at the end of World War Two, the Florida Foods Corp. became successful when it developed a process to create frozen orange juice concentrate. The name of the company was quickly changed to Minute Maid to reflect the ease of preparation of the novel product. By the late 1950s, Minute Maid was a large and successful company. Initially its headquarters were in New York, but in 1957, it relocated to Orlando, which had been the unofficial capital of the citrus industry in the state for decades. The office location was on the Orange Blossom Trail (US Route 441) on the corner with State Route 50 (SR 50).
In 1958, Minute Maid worked with the National Governors Association (NGA) to create an unusual and rather interesting promotion. They would dedicate the Governors’ Grove in 1958, the year that the NGA’s conference was held in Miami Beach. Coincidentally, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins was NGA Chair for 1958-1959. See more about the NGA below.
Minute Maid took part of one of their groves, put a white crossbuck fence around an acre of it on the shore of picturesque Lake Felter. Not surprisingly, the grove featured Valencia oranges – the variety noted for producing the best juice. Each of the 55 trees (dedicated to a particular state or territory) was placed in a 400 foot square area. Minute Maid would pick the oranges every year and send the crop to each governor.
Outside the fence were tables so that travelers could stop and picnic while looking at the trees. Visitors were encouraged to find their state’s tree, which was marked with a white sign, and to get a photo with it. Of course the name Minute Maid featured prominently on the sign. It was promoted as a symbol of perpetual friendship between Florida and the other states and territories. The Grove was located on US Route 27 three miles south of the Citrus Tower, which had been completed in 1956, just two years before the Grove was created. The Citrus Tower was Clermont’s dramatic entry into Florida tourism.
Today, the site is undeveloped and lacks any orange trees. That’s not surprising. The late 1980s saw Clermont lose its citrus groves due to disease, freezes, pests and the ever encroaching development from Orlando. From the location of the Grove, which is about a thousand feet south of Citrus Tower Boulevard, a housing development can be seen on the southern end of the lake, while in 2020 a commercial area was being constructed on the northwest shore.
The message on the back of the postcard states: “Governors’ Grove” located 3 miles south of the Citrus Tower on Highway U.S. 27, Clermont, Florida. Each Governor of the United States and Territories had a tree and 400 square feet of land presented to him at the Governors’ Conference in Miami Beach, Florida, in 1958 by the Minute Maid Corporation. The fruit from each tree will be picked and sent to the Governor of each State every year. The grove is maintained by the Minute Maid Corporation. Visitors, Welcome!”
It’s not really clear as to how long the Governors’ Grove continued to operate. Two years after it was dedicated, Minute Maid was purchased by the Coca-Cola Company and in 1967 the Minute Maid headquarters moved from Orlando to Houston, Texas. By the way, the Orlando headquarters was only 24 miles from the Grove and both were located near SR 50.
Unfortunately, like most former Florida attraction sites, there’s little to see anymore. Still, it’s worth a drive-by if you’re heading to the Citrus Tower. See below for a 2020 visit to the site.
It’s just one of the odd, tiny aspects of Florida tourism and the once immense citrus industry that dominated central Florida.
From the NGA: “Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association is the voice of the leaders of 55 states, territories, and commonwealths. Our nation’s Governors are dedicated to leading bipartisan solutions that improve citizens’ lives through state government. Through NGA, Governors identify priority issues and deal with matters of public policy and governance at the state, national and global levels.”