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Marion S. Whaley Citrus Packing House | Photo © 2011 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Marion S. Whaley Citrus Packing House

Location Class:
Built: 1930 | Abandoned: 2002
Historic Designation: National Register of Historic Places (April 8, 1993)
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Marion S. Whaley Citrus Packing House

Marion Seabrook Whaley was a prominent local fruit farmer with many groves located around Rockledge, where he developed the unique Red Tangelo. In 1930, he had a packing house built between U.S. Highway 1 and the Florida Eastcoast Railway in order to transport his goods, which carried the M. S. Whaley label, by either train or truck and they can also be sold to passing tourists.

During World War II, the federal government encouraged greater production and requisitioned all canned and processed fruits for military and lend-lease purposes. The military’s needs prompted the development of a frozen concentrate process which gave a major boost to the citrus industry. During this time, the Whaley packing house was expanded several times and new machinery was installed to meet the federal government’s demand for fruit. After the war, the name of the packing house was changed to “Victory Groves” to reflect how it played a role in the war effort.

In May 1947, after the close of a successful season, management organized a fish fry to entertain its employees. The event was attended by 36 people and was held at the plant. The highlight of the event was the serving of “hush puppies” which were unlike anything that had been seen before. The meal was also accompanied by salads, coffee, pies, and cakes.

Unfortunately, this event would mark the end of an era as Marion Whaley, Sr., who had been instrumental in the success of the plant, passed away six months later after battling an illness. He died on November 10, 1947. While his passing was a great loss to the company and the community, his legacy would live on as the plant continued to thrive and grow.

Marion Seabrook Whaley Sr. with one of his daughters in an undated photo
Marion Seabrook Whaley Sr. with one of his daughters in an undated photo

Sullivan Victory Groves

The Whaley family continued operating the Victory Groves packing house until 1960 when it was purchased by the Sullivan Brothers, whose packing house in what is now Cocoa Village burned down the previous year, and was renamed Sullivan Victory Groves Packing House.

The Sullivan brothers had faced numerous challenges in their business over the years, including arson, government intrusion, and transportation issues. However, the final blow to their business came from back-to-back-to-back freezes in 1983, 1985, and 1989. These freezes caused the temperature to drop to 17 degrees in Brevard County and resulted in significant damage to their crops. As a result, sales continued to decline, and the Sullivan Victory Groves packing house began to struggle.

Closure, Deterioration, and Demolition

Despite these challenges, Sullivan Victory Groves still operates today as a mail-in gift fruit business. However, the old Whaley Packing House was permanently closed in 1991. Due to it being the oldest continually working citrus packing plant in the Indian River region, its vernacular packing house architecture, and its associations with the growth of the citrus industry here in Florida, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on April 8, 1993.

In March 1998, the old Whaley packing house was sold for $749,000. It continued operating as Victory Groves as well as Old Groves Liquors until around 2001. The property fell into foreclosure and was seized by the bank and was auctioned off for a mere $25,000. The buyer, Dr. Benjamin Kohn hoped to find a suitor for the historic building. With no interest in the property, the buildings deteriorated and were declared unsafe by city inspectors in 2018 which became subject to fines for code violations. Demolition of the building began on July 16, 2020, and the Whaley Citrus Packing House was removed from the National Register of Historic Places in 2021.

Marion S Whaley Packing House
Victory Groves Packing House in an undated photo

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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