In the world of automobiles, getting stuck with a lemon is the worst possible scenario, but in turn-of-the-century Carpinteria, lemons often led to highly fortuitous scenarios. Sim Shepard planted the first lemon orchard in Carpinteria around 1880, according to a 1968 article by Albertine Rodriguez published in Carpinteria Herald. The trees responded well to the local climate, and a second rancher, Phineas Higgins, planted some of his acreage in lemons as well. With no way to ship their new product, the two ranchers built a packing house on Palm Avenue near the railroad tracks.
The first lemon ranchers received low prices for their fruit because the market for lemons had not yet ripened. However, Rodriguez wrote, “People continued to plant them because the climate was just right for their growth.”
Joel Fithian planted an 80-acre lemon orchard on his property and opened his own packing house to prepare and ship his fruit. By 1912, 300 acres within Carpinteria Valley had been planted in lemons. “There were a lot more lemons planted as the years passed until almost all of the valley was planted to lemons,” stated Rodriguez. A prosperous era ensued for lemon ranchers.
To meet the demand for exporting the fruit, Clark Hubbard moved to Carpinteria in 1912 and enlarged and remodeled the Palm Avenue packing house, converting it into CD Hubbard Fruit Co. Hubbard’s top grade lemons were given names like “Happy” and “Smile” while the lower quality fruit was called “Joy.” At the packing houses, each lemon was wrapped by hand in tissue paper, a time consuming process that created jobs for more and more Carpinterians as local lemon growing continued to expand.
At the peak of local lemon mania, the town’s two packing houses were shipping about 1,500 train cars of lemons annually to the eastern market, but by the time Rodriguez wrote about the industry in 1968, the lemon industry had “kind of slowed down.”
And then Carpinteria opened a new agricultural chapter. Dutch flower-growing arrived and greenhouses began to spring up in place of open agriculture; and throughout the valley, lemons trees were removed to make way for a new crop: the avocado.