Rhea County of Long Ago…..
Researched and Written by Clyde Roddy May 1976
The culture of strawberries in Rhea County was a vocation of no small importance. The quick results and enormous profits obtained, and the fact that this berry grew to a state of perfection on lands that could be purchased at less than one-half the value of the first crop raised, made it a bonanza for the man with limited means and a large family.
From 1900 to 1912, strawberry acreage increased from less than one hundred acres to more than two thousand, and the annual shipments from a few hundred crates (24 quarts) by express to more than two hundred thousand by refrigerated rail cars. At every shipping point, there were from one to three grower’s associations, every grower belonging to some one of them. It was through this method that almost every carload was paid for, at good process, before it left the side track, and the grower received his check for the day’s picking before he returned home.
In 1912, the Honorable John A. Denton, a practicing attorney of Dayton, in a letter to the Southern Field, wrote: “When I came to Rhea County twenty-five years ago, the waste or ridge land was being bought and sold for one to three dollars per acre, then our citizens began to learn of the land’s peculiar adaptability to the growth of strawberries and the price of land has advanced until now it is bringing from $25.00 to $50.00 per acre, and its value is not yet known or appreciated.”
Mr. Chapman Wasson, a successful merchant, and one of Rhea County’s leading citizens, reported that the average berry crop should produce two hundred crates per acre. The crates, picking, hauling to the rail car and all incidentals would run near seventy-five cents per crate; yet his crop for the year 1910 averaged $1.82 per crate at the car, for a net profit of $1.07 per crate. A report from Mr. Wasson on his 1911 crop stated that he had 105 acres in strawberries and sold his crop for $14,000.00. Mr. Wasson not only raised berries on a large scale, but sold plants of all standard varieties.
Mr. W. P. Darwin, another Rhea County leading citizen, reported that on ten acres he produced 1,600 crates of choice berries, which he sold F.O.B. the cars at Evensville, for $2.10 per crate.
These reports, while coming from growers who put more than an average amount of work on their crops, were above the average in production but by no means isolated cases.
Freight cars of double wall construction of 400 crate capacity were used for transporting the crop to Northern markets. The space between the walls was packed with ice, from the Schild’s Ice Plant in Dayton, to provide refrigeration.
Mr. W. C. Stephens, Division Freight Agent for the Railway Company, reported shipments of 16 cars from Graysville, 121 from Dayton, 152 from Evensville, 62 from Pennine, 91 from Spring City and 12 from Roddy, for a total of 454 cars. 24,281 crates were shipped by express bringing the total production to approximately 205,881 crates for the year. The estimated gross amount received for the 1911 crop was $374,477.00. For many years, Mr. Wasson, E.N. Keith and E.F. McGarvey were the principal shippers of the strawberry; however, in later years, the truck became a faster means of transporting the crop to market, the market improved, and Rhea’s berries sold from $6.00 to $10.00 per crate.
Many Northern buyers came to Dayton for the strawberry; however, Mr. Carlos Knight, for many years, provided the best market.
During the entire period that strawberries were grown in Rhea County, there was never less than 60 percent of the full crop and while prices varied considerably, there was always an immense profit.
Copyright All Rights Reserved -Yesterday In Dayton
Photo Courtesy of the Glass Family Collection.
Please Consider using The Social Media Buttons Below To Share This Story So Others May See It.