By Ron Marlow
First records of fruit growing in the Pacific Northwest were recorded at Vancouver, Washington in 1826. The Hudson's Bay Company supplied bud stocks that produced orchards. Rev. H. H. Spalding planted apple seeds, in 1837, at Lapwai, Idaho which grew into trees that bore fruit for many years. His irrigation system watered these trees as well as his potato patch.
Hawley's 1899 "History of Idaho" notes that W. Mulkey, of Lewiston, set out the first commercial orchard at 15 acres, in 1863, which produced apples and pears. These crops were sold in nearby mining camps. Soon Lewiston and Clarkston had about 6000 acres of cherries, apples, pears, peaches, prunes and almonds. The Lewiston area became known as Lewiston Orchards.
Prior to 1900 most of the Idaho's fruit was raised in Latah County with apples and prunes the common crops. With the population shift to Southern Idaho the fruit orchards increased also.
In the Snake River Canyon, near Twin Falls, Ira Burton Perrine planted apples, peaches, prunes and apricots. They were soon known all over the world for the excellence.
East of St. Anthony, in Eastern Idaho, big orchards were set out but early frosts took their toll.
Idaho's fruit grew in popularity in eastern markets but was a long way from population centers. Shipping costs took a large portion of the profits.
In January 1895, an Idaho State Horticultural Society was formed to promote horticultural interest in Idaho. One of their first priorities was to get a law passed requiring inspection of fruit trees and a fine for people selling diseased fruit or trees. John Toole was elected the first president.
A State Board of Horticultural Inspection was created by the State Legislature with W. A. Coughanour, of Payette, as president.
The state was divided into seven horticultural districts. It's aim was to inspect orchards and fruit shipments for insects and disease and determine away of combating them. All board members served without pay except the secretary whose salary was fixed by law at $250 a year.
In 1895 agricultural prices were low, with a box for apples going for seventy-five cents wheat was sixty-five cents a bushel, pork sold for twelve cents a pound and cherries sold for five to ten cents a pound. The pickers were getting about three fourths of a cent per pound for picking and on an average day a man could earn about one dollar in wages.
From the very beginning different ideas were tried as to the Boards of Inspection and State Agricultural Inspection. Politics played a big role in changing horticultural laws and also personnel.
Inspections were soon required for milk and milk products along with honey and bees. This created confusion and much irritation.
In later years the Idaho Horticultural Society separated from the Horticultural Board and an Idaho State Department of Agricultural was established.
One of the most notable orchards in the Boise Valley was owned by Tom Davis. He owned a 500 acre farm with 40 acres in the valley along with another 25 acres in the Crane Gulch area where he successfully raised apples, pears, peaches, plums and blackberries. The balance of his farm was committed to other cultivated crops.
In a good year, when the grasshoppers weren't too much of the menace and the men he employed to shake the insects from the trees in the late afternoon could keep the hoppers controlled, Davis would profit more than $10,000 from his apple and cider mill operations alone.
His success and farming was so notable bit in later years Julia Davis Park in Boise was named in honor of his wife.
In the 1870s, John Krall owned 1000 acres on the east side of Boise with 60 acres planted in fruit trees. Warm water wells were developed to irrigate his orchards of fruit and almond trees. Nearby mining camps were supplied with fresh fruit from his orchards. Now a street in Boise bears his name.
Orchards were also planted at Council, Mesa, Indian Valley and Weiser. Packing plants were constructed along the railways to handle the fruit.
The Payette Valley saw its first commercial orchard at New Plymouth in 1897. Dr. C. M. McBride planted fruit trees on his 40 acre farm about one half mile south of the townsite. With the completion of irrigation canals in the area many other orchards pursuant planted.
It wasn't long before the Fruitland area had about 800 acres of apples and 100 acres of prunes. They were shipped out on the Payette Valley Railroad which was nicknamed "The Punkin' Vine."
The Idaho Orchards Company, in Emmett, had J. R. Field as general manager. Apples and pears were raised on the bench above Emmett while cherries and apricots were raised on the slope. A cannery was built which produced about 500 cases of fruit and vegetables per day. Some investors in the company realized profits while others went broke due to the instability of the market. Early production costs were high due to insect infestation, mainly the coddling moth, the type of shipping containers required, transportation and also weather problems. The south slopes of the valley were dotted with cherry orchards making this Idaho's most important cherry growing region.
John Steel cleared 80 acres of sagebrush near Parma in about 1897 and planted 40 acres of prunes. By 1900 he had orchards of apples and pears in what is called the Roswell Fruit Tract along the Snake River. Soon he became the area's largest fruit shipper. He also experimented with orchards of cherry, berry and grape varieties. His wife, Ethel, was a staunch supporter of the University of Idaho. A women's residence hall is named in her honor.
The dominant fruits, near Payette, were apples and prunes. O. E. Bassen, Wes Jimmerson, C. F. Brodersen, H. Dugeon, the Shurtleff family, Nick Kossen, John Cahill, N. A. Jacobsen, Earl Parsons and William Holman had orchards, packing sheds as well as prune dryers.
N. A. Jacobsen brought Italian prune trees from his native Germany. In 1899 he shipped 25 carloads of fresh prunes to eastern markets. European immigrants were familiar with Italian prunes so a demand was created in eastern markets. Idaho soon lead the nation in prune production.
Improvements in varieties of apples, and more demand, saw the apple take lead in fruit production and consumption after 1900.