Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oranges and Douglas Dummitt

Well, it is that time of year again, you thought I was going to say something about the holidays didn't you, but no it is orange season! Driving around the county the other day I noticed that all the grove owners have their stores open and seemed to be doing a brisk business selling our famous Indian River Citrus. Citrus is one of those industries, like tourism, that define our state and provided a livelihood for many of our early settlers. Although the groves aren't as numerous as they used to be, due to freezes and development pressures, Brevard county was home to one of the earliest and most prosperous groves founded by Douglas Dummitt or Dummett. Dummitt, whose family had moved to East Florida from Barbados, supposedly sold his first crop in 1828 and he created a sweet and sour hybrid by 1835. Dummitt's service in the Second Seminole War, Civil War and his controversial living arrangements with a former slave have been the subject of numerous articles and books over the years.

While I have read most of these it was another book that I picked up recently that threw me for a loop so to speak. The book, Frolicking Bears, Wet Vultures, and Other Oddities by Jerald Milanich is composed of articles written by the journalist Amos Jay Cummings describing his travels in nineteenth century Florida. On a trip in March of 1873, the year Dummitt died, he visited with him and his observations were not exactly what I expected. Regarding the Dummitt house Cummings states that, "The mansion was built of unplanned boards. They had neither been painted or whitewashed and had become black from the action of the weather. The house contained but one room. The Captain's bed, well protected by mosquito bars, stood in the southwest corner. Two or three wooden chairs were scattered about the room, and a hen was laying her egg on a sort of work bench in the corner nearest the door. The walls were neither lathed nor plastered, and streaks of daylight could be seen beneath the side boards. There were no windows in the house. Light was admitted through a square hole, which was covered with rough wooden shutters." This proves that the house often referred to as "Dummitt's Castle" and pictured below was most definitely a later nineteenth century addition to the property.

Although Cummings raves about the condition and productivity of Dummitt's grove, "none were so large or so fine," he also says that its money making potential is greatly hindered by the fact that anybody who wants the oranges must come to Dummitt and arrange the picking and shipping by themselves. Cummings states that Dummitt was fond of saying that he "wouldn't pick a damned orange for you if you would give me two million dollars a minute," and that "Dummitt works for no man-not even himself," was a common saying on the Indian River. The fact that nobody lived within twenty miles of Capt. Dummitt meant that most of his fruit went to waste and Cummings reported that Dummitt "cares little for money and is contented so long as he makes a living."

Just thought this was some very interesting insight into our area's earliest settler and if you care to be further enlightened on the real living conditions in the "good ole days" just check out Cummings descriptions of the mosquitoes on the Dummitt place!


  1. The story goes none of the Dummitts lived in said Castle passing away 1873 before the Castle was built. It was built Dec.15,1881 from the sailing wreckage "Santa Cruz" by Eicole Tomajo(supposedly an Italian Duke) for his wife Jennie Anhauser(Beer brewers of St. Louis) A white line was painted floor to ceiling dividing the estranged couple. Jennie was said to have hung herself. The Dukes Castle was sold to Florida Fruit Co. then to an Ohio Judge living there until 1895. It became a hunting lodge until 1905. Last owner was Eugene Drennan. When the City found Tomajo was not a Duke they renamed the Castle after the original land owner. It was moved to Sand Point '64 and burned down Dec.'67 A politician and son was supspected.

  2. My Great Great Grandfather was Douglas D. Dummitt. My Grandpa was Lawrence Dummitt born in Canada. I'm grateful to know my family history thanks to my Mom and her sisters who researched many years ago :)