Did you ever wonder how Del Oro Groves was established?
In the 1880's a Mr. Sampson from Mackintosh bought 100 acres of land on the shores of Old Tampa Bay, south of Green Springs—now Safety Harbor, stretching from Alligator Creek south to where Drew Street enters Bayshore Blvd. His citrus groves around Mackintosh had frozen so he decided to come farther south and try again. The land he bought was a high hammock suitable for citrus. He first cleared 20 acres just northwest of the Kapok Tree Restaurant and planted Villa Franco lemons. He found a good market in Boston and New York so he extended his plantings and built a large packinghouse where San Jose Street now ends. The fruit was packed and carried by barge to Port Tampa where it was loaded on steamers for the northern market.
In 1907 he decided to retire and sold his grove and citrus business to R.J. Knight Sr., who had large turpentine holdings in Citrus and Hernando Counties. At that time malaria was a problem where he and his family were living. He felt the Clearwater area was more healthful so he built a home on the bay and brought his family here.
Only lemons of a certain size were saleable on the markets then. Therefore a great many good lemons had to be discarded. Sometimes the bayou around the packinghouse would be afloat with thousands of good lemons—the wrong size. After two or three years, Knight decided he couldn’t stand to see such a waste so he had his lemon trees cut down and grafted with Duncan Grapefruit. He named his groves Del Oro and shipped under the name Cavalier Brand, with a knight in armor on the seal.
In October 1921, a hurricane blew in from the Caribbean and lasted about three days. Before it was over, the wind had blown from every point of the compass, twisting the heavily laden trees out of the ground. After that, the grove wasn’t profitable but the land boom of the 1920s had begun.
Bruce Knapp developed about 90 acres of the grove into lots for sale as a subdivision named Del Oro Estates. However, just as it was ready to go on the market—complete with paved streets, sidewalks, lights and water and sewer systems—the land boom ended and none of Del Oro was sold. The city removed the utilities—even the bricks from the streets—and oaks and palms took over the subdivision.
It remained in this condition until World War II when R.J. Knight Jr. with two of his sisters bought it back from the City of Clearwater, which held a mortgage on it for the utilities it had installed. In 1966, Del Oro was again put on the market as a subdivision.