Historian Wants City to Honor 'Citrus Wizard'
Lue Gim Gong, who left North Adams to become the 'Citrus Wizard.'
Local historian Paul Marino thinks it's about time the city recognized a one-time resident who, unwittingly, has helped the Drury High band raise money each fall. Not to mention revolutionizing the citrus industry.
"This is the time of year to order your oranges and citrus fruit from the Drury band," he told the City Council on Tuesday night. "The reason we're able to do that in December is because of Lue Gim Gong."
Lue was born near Canton (Guangzhou) around 1860 and arrived in North Adams as a boy with the contingent of Chinese brought in by Calvin T. Sampson to break the strike at his shoe mill in 1870. Importation of these 75 Chinese workers — and another 50 who arrived the following year — had national connotations for unions and immigration, resulting in part in legislation in the following decade that banned Chinese immigration.
But Lue's participation in the shoe mill isn't the reason Marino wants to honor him; it's what he did later.
Lue was one of the handful of Chinese still living in the city a few years after the strike. He was taken in by the Burlingame family, who lived at the corner of Summer and Church streets. Fanny Burlingame, a Sunday school teacher, nursed him back to health when he came down with a fever and helped him become a citizen in 1877. In 1886, Lue moved to Deland, Fla., to live with Burlingame's sister and brother-in-law and look after their orange groves.
He became a well-known horticulturist and one of his experiments resulted in a late-growing orange, known as the Lue Gim Gong Orange or Strain. It's still sold as a Valencia orange.
"He is the man who years later perfected the orange that ripens over the summer rather than over the spring and avoids the frost," said Marino. It's why we can order Florida oranges and grapefruit in December."
Lue's work has been recognized in DeLand — a bust of the "Citrus Wizard" was commemorated in 2000 and he appears on a county mural with his beloved rooster. But nothing in North Adams, which not only brought Lue to the East Coast but whose brutal winters sent him south to his destiny.
"He lived in North Adams for many years and we've never done anything to honor him," said Marino, who suggested renaming what's left of Summer Street, where Lue lived, for the horticulturist. "I think it would be great if we could rename that street."