Lecture considers area’s citrus history

Benjamin Jenkins, University archivist and assistant professor of history, lectures about the role of trains in the development of the citrus industry Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Jenkins used the metaphor of an octopus to describe the way railroads covered Southern California. / photo by Nareg Agopian
Benjamin Jenkins, University archivist and assistant professor of history, lectures about the role of trains in the development of the citrus industry Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Jenkins used the metaphor of an octopus to describe the way railroads covered Southern California. / photo by Nareg Agopian

April Cambero
Staff Writer

Benjamin Jenkins,  assistant professor of history and archivist, shared an excerpt from his book, “Octopus’s Garden: How Railroads and Citrus Transformed Southern California,” Tuesday in the Quay Davis Board Room. 

“The railroad and citrus industries were instrumental in developing our corner of the Golden State,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins talked about the economics behind the railroads and their effect on surrounding communities. 

He likened the railroad to an octopus with “tentacles all over us.” 

Jenkins talked about how the University of La Verne fits into the history of the railroads and citrus. 

The Arts and Communication Building was once a citrus packing house. 

Other former packing houses include the Claremont Packing House, which now houses numerous artists’ lofts and and stores. 

Jenkins talked about how the railroad changed the citrus industry, which he referred to as the garden.

“Locomotives acted as tendrils to encapsulate the garden,” Jenkins said. 

He also connected cultural changes in the area to the railroad and industry changes. 

From Mexican-Americans to the Chinese, people of color were a key component to the success of the citrus industry.

“People of color across the United States led to the creation of Octopus’s Garden,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also discussed gender roles in the citrus industry. The industry created many jobs for women during World War II. 

“Women would go to work in the city’s packing houses,” Jenkins said.

After the lecture, the audience was invited to ask questions about Jenkins’s lecture and his manuscript. 

“My biggest takeaway is that I can go around to these (former citrus packing houses) and realize the amount of historical impact that these different places have,” sophomore biology major Kira Annis said.

The locality of the citrus industry was a major piece of information throughout the lecture. The history still lingers today throughout Southern California and more specifically the Inland Empire. 

Jenkins displayed several depictions of the local citrus and the railroads that transported it like the one that runs behind University of La Verne.

Jenkins’ inspiration for his book stems from his own personal connection to the area. He grew up in Southern California and was curious about the impact of the citrus industry and its relationship to the railroads.

April Cambero can be reached at april.cambero@laverne.edu.

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