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George Holcomb the Court Street Grocer: Where to Purchase Sunkist Oranges in 1918

George Holcomb, the Court Street grocer, found a tarantula in a bunch of bananas Saturday. He has placed it on exhibition in a jar. The venomous creature measured eight inches across.”

-The Saginaw News Courier, May 29, 1893

This week’s recipe is from an advertisement for Sunkist Oranges.* Published in the Saginaw Daily News on March 11, 1918, the advertisement is for a decidedly non-Saginaw fruit. However, it connects us to a unique Saginaw story. In 1918, one of the Saginaw grocery stores advertising Sunkist Oranges was Holcomb Brothers, 1202 Court Street – the block in which it was located was a distinct shopping district sometimes referred to as the Court Street Center.

Above: George Holcomb’s Store at 1202 Court Street was in the building on the northwest corner of North Oakley and Court Streets.

Above: Although not visible in this c. 1900 photograph, George Holcomb’s store at 1202 Court would have been directly across the street from the building with the C.L. Wartenberg Sign.

Portrait of George Holcomb

The store was started by George Holcomb in about 1893. Advertising suggests he carried a general line of groceries. After being elected to the City Council, he became involved in local government and in 1914 turned the store over to his sons, William and Harry Holcomb. Renaming the business, Holcomb Brothers, they operated at the Court Street location until the later part of the 1920s. As time progressed, they changed the focus of the business. Purchasing property on Bay Road in Kochville Township, they established a produce farm, Holcomb Gardens. By the mid-twentieth century, the farm was described as one of the largest vegetable growers in Saginaw County. Eventually, their operation included a retail store on their farm.

Above: Advertisements for Holcomb's. In the May 1933 newspaper, Saginaw’s A&P Stores were advertising Radishes and Asparagus from Holcomb Gardens

Above: The 1894 Saginaw City Directory lists nearly five pages of grocery stores.

When George Holcomb passed away in 1947, his obituary detailed his governmental career, “Mr. Holcomb's municipal service spanned the last 47 years of his life.”

And continued:

Back of his record as a civic servant, Mr. Holcomb was known for his many acquaintances. His keen wit and blunt speech, a trait he developed during the several years he worked in Saginaw sawmills and lografts on the Saginaw River.

He was born Feb. 26, 1861, on a Lapeer County farm and came to Saginaw at the age of 12. Before his entrance into city politics, he set himself up in the grocery and meat business, operating for more than 25 years a store . . . The Saginaw, News, November 11, 1947, p. 1

What is not mentioned in George Holcomb’s obituary was his involvement in the establishment of the Saginaw City Market in 1913. Shortly before his death he was interviewed for a Saginaw News article and discussed the challenges that had to be overcome to make the market successful. He noted, “Finally we got going and it turned into one of the best markets in the state. Truck gardens started to boom around Saginaw and we spread out on the streets adjoining the market.” The Saginaw News, July 13, 1947, p. 10

Holcomb Gardens store on Bay Road continued to operate well into the 1970s.

The Recipe: Sunkist Orange Cake

Sunkist Orange Cake – as published in The Saginaw Daily News, March 10, 1916

1 cupful sugar

3 egg yolks

Juice of 1 orange

1 cupful cake flour

1 ¼ teaspoonfuls baking powder

2 egg whites

Few grains of salt

Beat the egg yolks till creamy, add the sugar and blend thoroughly. Measure the orange juice and add water, if necessary, to make a half-cupful of liquid. Mix the baking powder with the flour, and add alternately to the first mixture with the orange juice. Fold in the egg whites beaten stiff. Bake in layers about five minutes in a hot oven; reduce the heat and cook more slowly till the cake is done – about fifteen minutes in all. Put together and ice with orange frosting, or use a jelly or whipped cream filling, and sprinkle powdered sugar over the top. This cake will keep moist for several days.


*In case you wanted to know more about the history of Sunkist Oranges:

“Sunkist Growers, Incorporated is an American citrus cooperative created in the late 1800s when California citrus growers began organizing for their own benefit, specifically during times of economic depression. It started in 1893 under the name: Southern California Fruit Exchange in Claremont, California by P.J. Dreher and his son, Edward Dreher. In 1905, it was renamed the California Fruit Growers Exchange as it represented 45% of the California citrus industry. Finally, in 1952 its name was changed to Sunkist Growers, Inc.

The organization, in addition to distributing and marketing citrus, began to expand their activities, starting in 1906 with the creation of a lobbying arm, the Citrus Protective League. In 1907, the Fruit Growers Supply Company was founded to provide wholesale supplies to growers, and later the Exchange By-Products Company was developed to market citrus by-products including citric acid, pectin, and orange oil. Today, Sunkist markets fresh citrus to twelve states and three Canadian provinces, from 6,000 growers in California and Arizona.* Finding aid for the Sunkist Growers, Inc. records (MS 052). Special Collections & University Archives, University of California, Riverside.


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