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Strawberry Fields Forever

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Best known for founding the American Red Cross, Clara Barton saved the town of Pasadena with a donation of thousands of strawberry plants.
Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, helped save not just lives, but also an entire Texas town. Before the turn of the 20th Century, Pasadena was established as a small farming community. Lured by the mild climate, families settled along the banks of Buffalo Bayou just southeast of Houston. After acquiring small tracts of land, farmers planted peach, pear, and plum orchards, along with cantaloupe, potatoes, and cucumbers.

In 1899, a record-setting cold wave that affected much of the South and other parts of the nation brought snow that blanketed the Gulf Coast; Galveston Bay froze over. The following year, the hurricane of September 1900 decimated Galveston, killing some 6,000 people and causing injuries, major flooding, and property damage throughout the area. The 1899 freeze had destroyed Pasadena's orchards; the hurricane destroyed all other crops.

On the heels of the storm, Clara Barton (who, by the way, never trained as a nurse) arrived on the Texas coast with medical relief. Realizing the desperate situation of local farmers, she immediately arranged for the delivery of 1.5 million strawberry plants. With their short and early growing season, strawberries would quickly put much-needed income back in farmers' hands. Pasadena soon became famous for its strawberries, and over the next few years, they became the town's primary crop. First to arrive in northern markets, the Gulf Coast berries commanded premium prices.

Harvest was a family affair: School started in June and let out in February so that children could join in the berry picking. Workers packed the berries in 12-quart crates and took them daily to the railroad loading platforms. Each refrigerated rail car held approximately 700 crates, with 12 tons of ice loaded in a compartment on top of the car to keep the vulnerable cargo cold. At the peak of the season, up to 28 cars rolled out of Pasadena daily.

By the 1930s, agriculture in the area had given way to industry. Buffalo Bayou had become the Houston Ship Channel, lined with petrochemical refineries. Today, with a population of more than 140,000, Pasadena is no longer a small farming community. But each May, thousands gather at the annual Strawberry Festival to celebrate the town's heritage and, of course, the berry that saved it all.

Read 3176 times Last modified on Friday, 13 July 2012 13:06

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