Watermelon Festival strongly linked with Monticello’s history
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
Monticello will be celebrating its annual Watermelon Festival beginning on June 13. The festival will culminate on Saturday, June 21, with the annual parade and other celebrations throughout the city.
The Red Hills region, and especially Monticello and Jefferson County, has a long history relating to watermelons. According to historian Jerrell Shofner in his “History of Jefferson County” (Sentry Press 1976), that relationship began in 1882 when the local newspaper reported that William Girardeau had purchased $50 worth of melon seeds. He reportedly planted 60 acres of watermelons that year and began shipping his crop across the nation.
The following year the paper reported that there were 300 acres of watermelons within sight of the courthouse and that local growers had shipped over 30 railroad carloads of the product. A year later, it was reported that in addition to shipping many more carloads of melons, local growers had produced more than 20,000 pounds of watermelon seeds and sold them at prices ranging from one to five dollars per pound.
By 1889, Girardeau (who had become known as the “melon king of Monticello”) had 100 field hands employed gathering watermelon seeds and was selling 75,000 pounds of seeds annually. He also developed the first commercial machine for separating the seeds from the watermelons around that time. Thus, this region early on became the national center, not only for production of watermelons, but even more importantly, for watermelon seeds and was actually considered the top watermelon seed supplier in the world.
Although watermelons do not play such an important part in the economy of the region today as in the 1800s, the tradition continues to be recognized with the annual celebration of the Monticello Watermelon Festival. This will be the 64th year for the festival, which is held in the third week of June each year. Over the years, many new events have been added and, as a result, it has become the highlight of community activities in Jefferson County.
George Cole is a semi-retired land surveyor and engineer from Monticello. Currently he serves as an adjunct professor at FSU as well as on the Governing Board of the Suwannee River Water Management District.