What is in this article?:
- Second California Gold Rush launched by pioneer woman
- First crop bonanza
- In 1873, Eliza Tibbets wanted to help Riverside’s founders and early settlers, her husband among them, who were anxious to find a crop that would grow well in the dry environment — the navel orange.
- By 1900 the navel orange was the most extensively grown crop in California, bringing in millions of dollars annually. New towns, such as Redlands, Corona, Tustin, Pomona, Highlands, Ontario, and Azuza, sprang up to service the rapidly growing orange industry.
One of Tibbets' two original parent navel orange trees still stands today in a small park near Palm and Magnolia avenues in Riverside.
First crop bonanza
The first crop produced caused a lot of excitement among the settlers. The fruit was a particularly sweet, large, easy-peeling, hardy and prolific orange that had no seeds. It was considered superior in quality, texture, size and other characteristics. Tibbets sent some samples to Saunders, who replied back saying “Without any doubt the Bahia is the best orange I have ever tasted.”
The first local taste test was held at a housewarming hosted by Tibbets, where the newly ripened fruit was passed around. From then on, the demand for buds was so great from Tibbet’s trees that they were used exclusively for propagation. Soon Tibbet’s navel oranges were being planted throughout the area, creating a booming new industry.
Although officially called the Bahia, the fruit was soon popularly known as the Riverside navel or, more commonly, the Washington navel. Its popularity and success eventually made Riverside a rich citrus center. By 1900 the navel orange was the most extensively grown crop in California, bringing in millions of dollars annually. New towns, such as Redlands, Corona, Tustin, Pomona, Highlands, Ontario, and Azuza, sprang up to service the rapidly growing orange industry.
In the 1880s, USDA and University of California scientists devoted their expertise and resources to improving citrus growing. They also established farmer’s institutes to spread their expertise and encouraged experimentation by growers themselves. A Citrus Experiment Station was established in 1907 to support the needs of the industry, becoming a world center for research and the basis for UC Riverside.
Introduction of the Bahia navel orange proved to be the most successful experiment of Saunders’s tenure. In a personal journal entry about the orange from 1898 Saunders remarked, “It has proved to be perhaps the most valuable introduction ever made by the Department of Agriculture in the way of fruits.”