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Friday, October 24, 2014

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Fairfield 375: A humble onion made Southport world famous

Published 3:01 pm, Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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  • Nellis Sherwood, the man in the bowler hat, farms his onions on Warner Hill in this photograph taken in the 1880s. Onions became a major crop in Fairfield, and Southport was the shipping center for the onions. Courtesy: Fairfield Museum and History Center Photo: Contributed Photo / Fairfield Citizen
    Nellis Sherwood, the man in the bowler hat, farms his onions on Warner Hill in this photograph taken in the 1880s. Onions became a major crop in Fairfield, and Southport was the shipping center for the onions. Courtesy: Fairfield Museum and History Center Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Fairfield, established in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest communities. From its settlement 375 years ago by English colonists on "four squares" of land that Native Americans called Uncoway to the vibrant town of nearly 60,000 residents that it is today, Fairfield's history is a chronicle of compelling events and colorful characters.

The Fairfield Citizen will highlight vignettes from that rich history throughout this 375th anniversary year on a regular basis.

It was not until the 1840s that globe onions became a major agricultural crop in Fairfield, and Southport became the shipping center for the onions. In fact, the Southport Globe Onion is still sold under that name today.

"It is truly a top-notch producer for the North and still one of the best," the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. in Missouri says on its website of the Southport Globe Onion.

Although onions had been grown here by early farmers, it wasn't until the development of the globe onion with its high yields that Fairfield farmers began growing and selling large shipments of onions. Shipping their onions from the Southport docks to New York by boat from Southport was easier for farmers than taking their crops to either Bridgeport or Norwalk. The local sloops usually took about one week to travel from Southport to New York and back, to pick up more onions.

Warehouses lined the Southport shoreline and hundreds of thousands of barrels of onions were being shipped out of Southport in the early 1890s.

But the local crop went into decline after a plague of cutworms damaged many of the onion fields and low prices were forced by competition from onion growers in other states. Compounding those problems was a federal project to improve Bridgeport Harbor, which emerged as a shipping center that eclipsed Southport as a transportation hub for the crops.