Crystal Springs Was Tomatopolis of the World
(The History of the Crystal Springs Tomato)
Crystal Springs, Mississippi
by Dorothy Moore Alford
One who steps into the lobby of the Post Office of Crystal Springs can see a vivid and interesting mural across the east
wall. It depicts a scene once very familiar to the area. In the background, men are working in a neat field of new plants; nearer to the viewer, tomato vines are heavy with brilliant fruit; in the
foreground, men are carrying field boxes of green tomatoes, and ladies are carefully wrapping each green globe in a thin sheet of blue paper and packing it snugly into a lug filled two-thirds with other
This scene shows progressive steps that once occupied the time and attention of many of the citizens of the area. Because of this intensive activity, a unique sign once stretched
across one of the main streets of the business area: a huge cornucopia spilling beautiful vegetables and proudly proclaiming Crystal Springs to be TOMATOPOLIS OF THE WORLD!
For centuries, the tomato was
called a "love apple" and was feared as a potential killer, a poison that must not be put into the mouth. But by 1583 , the Spanish explorers of South America had found that the "tamate"
was harmless and delicious, and they had introduced it to Europe. Nearly three hundred years later, a citizen of Crystal Springs, N. Piazza, received a few seeds of the tomato from his native Italy. Cotton
was bringing very little, and a few farmers decided to try marketing tomatoes, other vegetables, and fruits. Soon Crystal Springs tomatoes were much in demand in eastern markets; a new industry had been born.
Among the pioneers who grew and marketed the delicacy were Augustus Lotterhos and his nephew, C. M. Huber, whose firm attained the prominence of being the largest shipper of tomatoes in the United States:
S. R. Evans, a gentleman proud to be called "Uncle Sing" and even prouder to be known as "Tomato King"; W. H. Barron, one of the first shippers of green wrapped tomatoes; N. L. Hutchison,
pioneer in vegetables from Tennessee; Benjamin R. Ford, a planter who was first famous for marketing peaches and grapes; R. B. Thomas, owner and manager of four successful farms, F. M. Brewer, developer of
Lanah Berry named for his wife and first to grow peas, beans, and asparagus on large scale; John Hall, highly successful planter John W. Day, who added peaches to his crops of vegetables; Glen Ervin,
far-seeing truck farmer for forty years; and B. W. Mathis, known as "Cabbage King".
Though the time of tomato growing on a large scale is very real to the older people of our town, the young
people know little, if anything, about the "Tomato Days". Yet, long after it was necessary, they went to school on the first day of August because it had become a custom to have the children in and
out of school in time to allow them to help with the tomatoes during the early growing season.
It was said that, if a child were old enough to eat, he was old enough to prune tomatoes! The growing of the
succulent fruit in the old days required many hands, hard work, and a great number of hours. In the period from December 1-15, hundreds of truck growers prepared hotbeds, glass-topped compartments that
dotted the fields. About six by ten feet, they were generally fertilized with barnyard manure and leaf mold. Soon after Christmas, in January, the farmers broadcast the seeds in the hotbeds or planted them
in drills with the plants about three or four inches apart.
Between February 15 and March 1, the plants which showed a third leaf were transferred to cold frames which had been prepared about a month
earlier. Fifty to one hundred pounds of fertilizer were used for these frames about eleven feet wide and sixty-four feet long. Each contained approximately 11,264 plants which were three inches apart or
6,336 plants, four inches apart. The grower and his family spent much time covering the frames with cloth or hotbed sashes and removing the covering as the weather demanded.
Children helped to keep the
weeds and grass out of the plants and assisted in preparation of the field for the second transplanting. From 1500 to 1800 pounds of fertilizer were used to each acre of this field thirty or forty days
before transplanting took place.
Usually between March 20 and April 10, the transplanting in the field was done by hand, spacing the plants approximately two feet apart on the row. Later, after the plants
had been carefully pruned for the first time, they were stuck with pieces of pine and tied with jute or cotton string. Three or four times during the cultivation period, the workers stirred the soil around
the plants; also, more pruning was done.
Beetles, blight, and wilt had to be fought constantly; but the most dreaded enemy was the cold! For the benefit of the growers, there was a warning squeedunk that
sent all workers scurrying to cover the tender plants in their early stages and that rendered them hopeless when its wild tones sounded over and over, as late as April 25 one year.
The little tomatoes, green nuggets of gold, were carefully nursed until they reached the green mature stage or began to show a faint blush of pink on the blossom end; then they were picked, loaded, and hauled off to town.
A festival air prevailed as the long lines of trucks and wagons filled the streets. The drivers and helpers made a picnic of the occasion as, gathering in knots near their conveyances, they swapped tales and drank soda pop.
Three years successively, so great was the exultation over "Tomato Days" that a giant Tomato Festival was held, complete with parades, bands, and speeches. Each of the three festivals had a
Tomato Queen; but everyone knew, without being told, that the King was a red-faced fellow named Tomato!