When cantaloupes were king

Posted Monday, Jul. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Mayor William D. Tate is proud that Grapevine is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas, but he fondly recalls a previous moniker: Cantaloupe Center of the U.S.A.

“At one time, we had 25,000 acres of cantaloupes within a 10-mile radius of downtown — about 200,000 bushels were produced,” the mayor said.

“Cantaloupe Center” is a nod to the melon that was a popular agricultural offering in the area, having its heyday in the early part of the last century and spawning a festival from 1935 to 1941.

An undated newspaper clip from an unconfirmed source trumpets: Cantaloupe Festival a big success.

According to the article, “the First Annual Cantaloupe Festival for North Texas, as sponsored by the Grapevine Lions Club, proved to be an overwhelming success, bringing a crowd to Grapevine second only to the gathering for the opening of the Northwest Highway on May 19, 1932.”

“The purpose of the festival was to make friends for the city,” Tate said.

The lively event drew about 20,000 people and featured street dancing and a parade.

“We roped off the city like we do for Main Street Days,” Tate said.

More than 100 trucks of cantaloupes were on hand. Awards were presented for best truckload and best bushel, among others.

“That’s a lot of cantaloupes,” the mayor said.

A highlight of the event was the coronation of the Cantaloupe Queen. Tate said the contestants were demure: “No bathing suits were allowed in an unsophisticated town like us.”

Cantaloupes were treated like money, he said, and could be exchanged for anything from chewing tobacco to ice cream.

In 1941, the festival ended due to the intervention of World War II.

“The war took it away from us,” Tate said.

Tate, 71, said he was not around during those years, but has known many growers and studied related archives.

One of his sources was Charlie Hall, a longtime area farmer, who is mentioned in Grapevine history archives as one of the area’s best cantaloupe producers.

The family farmed several hundred acres south of town. Minnie Hall’s husband, Leonard Hall, and his father, Charlie Hall, have died, but the widow’s memories are still sharp.

Minnie, 85, who lives in Grapevine, said her family and relatives raised cantaloupes and other produce. Their cantaloupes were hauled to Missouri and Oklahoma and throughout Texas.

“It wasn’t uncommon to see big flatbed trucks with wooden sideboards and guys throwing the cantaloupes up to guys on the truck,” Hall said. “It was something to see. Those great big old cantaloupes — you don’t see cantaloupes like that anymore.”

Hall said she is thankful for the life agriculture has provided.

“A lot of it has been fun and a lot of it has been hard,” she said.

Daughter Gayle Hall, 60, is also a fan of cantaloupes, saying she loves them for the taste and the impact on her young life.

“I realized at a young age the value of agriculture,” said Gayle Hall, director of festivals and events for the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau. “If you didn’t have any money, you could still feed your family.”

Sallie Andrews, who also works for the bureau, said degeneration of area farmland seemed to remove Grapevine from the center of the cantaloupe production.

Even so, she said, “cantaloupes will always be a part of Grapevine’s history.”

Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367

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