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William J. Krome's Lasting Legacy in South Dade

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Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 12:00 am

William J. Krome lived for only 52 years, but had a major impact in South Florida during the 25 years that he lived in the area.

The young engineer came to Florida in 1902, the first Transcontinental Railroad having heralded a new era for transportation. Henry Flagler was determined to extend the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) down to Key West, and men such as Krome were part of his vision.

Yet, as Krome surveyed the routes and became the Chief Engineer for the extension project, his attention was already being drawn away. The tropical environment and pioneering families moving into Homestead held an allure for him that outweighed his interest in the railroad.

By 1908, he left full-time work with the FEC to plant avocados and joined the Florida State Horticultural Society (FSHS). In the meantime, he’d also met Isabel Burns, whom he married in 1912; a woman who shared his enthusiasm for citrus, exotic fruits, and plants.

Although Krome did continue as an engineering consultant until 1918, the Coral Reef Nursery was where they devoted their efforts. They established orchards in the Redland of grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, tangelo, tangerines, mangos, and their special favorite of avocado.

Krome’s status within the agricultural community grew as heartily as did their crops and he was Vice-President of the FSHS from 1916 through 1926. The first known outbreak of citrus canker in the country occurred in 1915, and

Krome worked diligently with the State Plant Board to try and minimize the number of trees that had to be destroyed.

Unlike large-scale production of other families, the Kromes’ true passion was research and experimentation. Their desire to literally scan the globe for plants that could adapt to South Florida was demonstrated by an April 21, 1928 letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry, Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction.

The letter contained a list of thirty species that had been shipped to the Kromes, to include varieties from Java, West Africa, China, and other countries.

The scope of their work was extraordinary for the time, a keen understanding that horticulture could not be a static endeavor. Not long before William Krome’s October 2, 1929 death, he, Isabel, and Charles E. Schaff donated forty acres of land to establish an agricultural experimentation station in Homestead.

The intent was to provide dedicated land to be staffed and operated by the University of Florida, so that the many factors affecting agriculture could be studied under field conditions.

The original Subtropical Experiment Station may have succeeded beyond Krome’s expectations as it became the Tropical Research and Education Center (TREC).

According to TREC’s web site, “Research, teaching, and extension programs focus on tropical and subtropical fruit crops, tropical and temperate vegetable crops, and ornamental crops of southern Florida. The agricultural industry served by the center has an annual farm gate value of $834 million. Multiplier effects make agriculture’s impact on the local economy worth over $1 billion annually.”

After William J. Krome passed away, the FSHS recognized him as a distinguished Honorary Member and established the Krome Memorial Institute in 1933 as part of their organization.

Isabel lived to age 92 and with their children, particularly their son William H., she continued agricultural activities. She did take time out for more than horticulture though such as when she performed as one of the local volunteers in the Army Air Force Aircraft Warning Service during World War II.

It was in 1950, however, when Krome’s willingness to do battle on behalf of the agricultural community resulted in a landmark court decision in Krome v. Commissioner.

In the aftermath of a hurricane, owners had been denied casualty losses for trees partially destroyed because the argument was that the trees would eventually be productive again. Since it usually took at least 2-3 years for production to recover, that time frame represented a tremendous financial blow to owners.

Krome steadfastly held to her challenge and the court ruled in favor of allowing losses for trees that had been partially destroyed; a precedent that is still in use.

The Krome family legacy to South Dade included work on harvesting, handling, ripening, storage, and marketing of fruits, as well as the development of cultivars like the Guatemalan-West Indian hybrid avocado. The Krome orchards may be gone, but not their enduring contributions.

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