Armstrong County, Pa., Her People
Past and Present Volume I
Chapter 4
The Fruit Industry of Armstrong County
(By Rev. T. J. Frederick, of Spring Church, Kiskiminetas Township.)



Our forefathers who settled what is now called Armstong county, and who hewed out of the primeval forest homes for themselves, had plenty of hard work and few advantages. With meagre means of transportation it was impossible in most cases to secure young fruit trees, except such as could be picked up here and there by propagating from seeds and then grafting from trees of known good varieties, which the more fortunate pioneers had originally brought with them. In this way a start was made. The art of the tree grafter was much in demand in those days. His work made it possible to introduce everywhere new and better varieties and improve old ones at a trifling expense. There are old apple orchards remaining which in their time bore abundant crops of very good fruit, and some of them are known to be more than seventy-five years old. The apple seems to be the king of fruits here, as it is in other parts of our vast domain. I point of utility, productiveness and profit it outranks any other fruit grown in Pennsylvania. According to the 1910 census there were 151,322,840 apple trees of bearing age in the State, and 148,614,948 trees of all other kinds of fruit of a similar age. The American Agriculturalist estimated the apple crop of this State for 1910 at 1,600,000 barrels, for 1906 at 3,750,000 barrels. Pennsylvania stands second on the list, New York State being slightly ahead.


Apples as well as other fruits known to the early settlers of Armstong county were mostly of the seedling varieties. Some of these were good, but they were gradually replaced by better kinds. The old people who remain say that in their boyhood days they had such varieties of apples as Winter Rambo, Tulpehocken, Pennock, Russet, etc. To these were soon added the Baldwin, Grimes� Golden, Fall Pippin, Maiden Blush, Jersey Sweet, Paradise Sweet, Sweet Bough, Early Harvest, Seek-no-farther or Westfield, King of Tompkins County, Northern Spy and other varieties. Lately there were introduced such superior varieties as the Rome Beauty, Winter Banana, Stayman, Winesap, Start Delicious, American Blush, Fameuse or Snow, Fanny, MacKintosh Red, Wealthy, Dutchess, Yellow Transplant and others. These new varieties have been sufficiently tested to prove that they are more or less at home in our soil and climate.

In the days of our ancestors there were few, if any, tree agents. There were not as many tree nurseries as we have at the present time. Means of transportation were slow and costly. To partly offset this difficulty, there was developed the art of the tree grafting. By this method, and by budding, many new and improved kinds of fruit were introduced. Some improved nursery stock was early brought from the eastern part of the State over the old Cumberland road, which was the first to be built, running from Cumberland, in Maryland, to Wheeling, in West Virginia, and passing through Westmoreland county. With the advent of the Pennsylvania canal, and then the railroads, the tree nursery industry developed and fruit growing received increased attention.


Of pears the Calabash and the famous Seckel are familiar examples. The Damson and Green Gage are common varieties of plums, whose origin dates back to European ancestors. The peach of old times was the seedling variety, of all kinds and sizes and usually planted in rows along fences. The cherry at first was mostly a small variety of black or red, sweet sorts, or the sour kind, which is still so common and often grows wild. Still another fruit of some importance and of early introduction is the quince. The small fruits, as the mulberry and the grape, together with the raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry, gooseberry and strawberry abounded in the wild state and formed an important part of pioneer food supply. These are now superseded by many greatly improved varieties, finding a place in nearly every home collection.


Undoubtedly one of the first concerns of the early settler was to secure a shelter for himself and family. A second likely was to clear sufficient ground as a source of bread supply. Wild game was then the chief source of meat. The planting of fruit trees necessarily became an after consideration. Who was first to do this in Armstrong county perhaps no one knows. The Indians, it seems, knew nothing of the rearing and planting of fruit trees. Their limited use of the earth as a means of food supply did not amount to more at best than a scant crop of corn, potatoes, beans and peas. When the time came for our forefathers to select a site for an apple orchard the principal consideration usually was proximity to the farm buildings. The orchard was supposed to do the double duty of furnishing fruit for the household and growing a crop of wheat, oats, hay or corn. Beyond an occasional attempt at pruning, little effort was made to give it any special attention. The wonder is that it thrived as well as it ofttimes did.


In some sections strange ideas and practices existed. Under the spell of these notions old horseshoes were hung on fruit trees, or their trunks were driven full of nails to induce the trees to bear. Some bored holes in the trees and placed therein flowers of sulphur to drive away disease. Apples were picked when the moon was right, to secure better keeping qualities. When the writer first began to thin his fruit trees and often picked off more of the green fruit than he left on the trees, some of the neighbors began to think he had lost a little of his balance of mind and was flying into the face of Providence. Others there were who expressed a positive opposition to "book farmin�."


However, it must be said that under the revolutionary influences of modern scientific methods these strange ideas are fast dying out and will soon perhaps remain as only a memory of oldtime conditions. New and greatly improved kinds of fruit are fast displacing the least worthy of the old ones, and modern cultural methods are rapidly finding their proper place. This, together with better transportation facilities and an almost unlimited market for first-class fruit, has called for an aggressive movement in the fruit industry. Hence the modern fruit grower, to meet this call, must be more than an average farmer. He must make a specialty of his calling.

To grow and market such fruit as we now find on exhibition at horticultural meetings and world�s fair exhibits, there is required an intelligent application of more scientific principles than most farmers possess. There are those among our farmers who are awakening to this fact. New factors constantly entering into the problem of successful fruit-growing call for the application of new methods of solving them. Among these new factors are new fruit pests, new diseases, new discoveries, the growing necessity for cooperation and new views of an industry which is fast rising to the plane of a fine art. It is not too much to say that the production of the kind of fruit which the people of our day demand and for which they are willing to pay is the job of a specialist.


The spirit of modern progress seems to have stimulated the fruit industry as if it has been touched by some magician�s wand. Periodicals, bulletins, and other literature on the subject abound. Some of the best of them can be had almost for the asking. Horticulture has come to occupy a dignified position in the curriculum of our agricultural colleges. The practical cooperation of the State with the progressive fruit grower has become a noteworthy feature in modern advanced horticulture. The department of agriculture at Harrisburg has established what are called respectively model and supervision orchards throughout the State, in which expert orchardists give practical demonstration work, inviting the public to be present and make observations, ask questions and listen to lectures on such topics as concern the progressive fruit grower. There are now, 1913, sixteen such orchards established in Armstrong county.

The following letter from Prof. H. A. Surface, Department of Agriculture, Division of Zoology, Harrisburg, PA., to the writer explains itself:

Rev. T. J. Frederick,

Springchurch, Pa.

My Dear Sir: I congratulate you upon putting into permanent form some notes on the history of the fruit industry of Armstrong county. Your county is destined to be known in this regard better in the future than it has been in the past, and it is a good plan to have such facts recorded as can be obtained with certainty at the present time. Therefore, I take pleasure in giving you such information as is possible from this office.

During the year 1911 we had four demonstration and twelve supervision orchards in your county. This work by my office was undertaken in 1910 at Freeport, in the orchard of J. S. Hill.

The progress of the work in the county has been very remarkable. Unusually intelligent citizenship has been quick to perceive that this movement, given the official stamp of approval, was worthy of their attention. Their response has been more than cordial. It really was for the benefit of the agricultural people and they were quick to see this and make use of it. As the result of a few years of such demonstration work, and especially work in that county, there has been a considerable interest in the planting of new orchards and the reviving and restoring of old orchards to make them profitable. Even should the work stop now, there is no possibility that it will lapse and return to the neglected orchards of previous years. Many of your best citizens see the great possibility of horticulture, and understand the elements of this kind of art and science, and will continue to apply the principles which they have been taught, and will bring forth constantly better returns.

From the correspondence at hand, I am satisfied that soon there will be a horticultural society formed in that county, and this will aid greatly all persons interested in this important work.

In addition to the demonstration and supervision work we are pushing the work of inspection of orchards as rapidly as possible. In this service we send a competent man into each orchard to determine what pests are present, and notify the owners as to what they are and how to prevent loss by them. Printed literature is sent to each owner concerning the exact pests found on his trees. If he does not heed the advice thus given him, the responsibility of further loss lies with him. In most cases he does prevent such loss and acts upon the advice furnished him gratuitously, and obtains results which are surprisingly gratifying.

In addition to the inspection work we have a heavy correspondence extending into your county, and are endeavoring by personal correspondence to meet the needs of each person possible. Also, we are sending bulletins regularly to various fruit growers and farmers there, and are gratified to know that they read them and apparently profit by them.

My recommendation for the horticultural advancement of the county would be for the citizens to refrain from being led into temptation of planting many varieties or many trees of a new variety. It is far better to plant but few varieties, and those of the kinds that are known to be standard and profitable in that region. I would also recommend them to form an organization and have quarterly meetings, both indoors and in the orchards, having an annual exhibition, and also an exhibition and meeting in connection with the State Horticultural Society. The business development of such an organization may prove very profitable to many. The extensive grower in this and other counties should form and make use of a Commercial Fruit Grower�s Association of the State.

Very truly yours,

H. A. SURFACE, Economic Zoologist.


The State College at State College, Pa., devotes several weeks each year to lecture courses on fruit growing and kindred subjects to which all who are interested are invited to come. A number of young men from Armstrong county have taken advantage of this opportunity. James Patterson, Apollo, Pa., took the short course in the winter of 1911-12. His studies include horticulture and other branches of agriculture. A. R. Alshouse, Avonmore, Pa., took a similar course at the same time. Russel George took only a short course in 1910-11. T. P. Scott, Shady Plain, Pa., attended "Farmer�s Week" at State College during the winter of 1910-11. These young men are making a practical use of what they learned and are succeeding very well.


The State Horticultural Association, which now numbers 725 members, is an organization whose object is to foster and encourage the development of horticulture in the State of Pennsylvania. Public meetings are held annually, lasting four days, at which addresses are delivered by the very best available talent on the subject of practical horticulture, questions are asked and answers are given, so as to constitute the whole meeting a veritable school of practical education. These agencies have wrought together to raise the art of fruit culture to the level of a science, and while much remains to be done, have already brought our State to the front rank in the fruit industry. Armstrong county has a few representatives in this association, but not as many as it should have.

Horticulture is now both an art and a science. An absorbing love for it as such is another factor in its modern development. The successful fruit grower of today is in love with his art. His environment fascinates him. He finds in it not only profit but recreation and enjoyment. He serves nature well and compels nature to serve him well in turn. He feels as if he were master of an inspiring situation. His healthy growing trees; their dense, dark green foliage; the beautiful blossoms; the developing fruit; its handsome coloring and luscious quality; all conspire to enchant him. He almost forgets that to secure this result he was obliged to wage constant war with pests, that he had to prune, to spray, to till, to restrain, to feed, to think and keep at it. There is vastly more in this than sentiment. There is stimulus in it. Not only is the love of gain an inspiration him, but the love of being useful, the love of leadership in the onward march of human progress and the love of the divine approbation.

This noble industry is fast passing the experimental stage. At a meeting of the State Horticultural Association in January, of 1911, W. W. Farnsworth, of Waterville, Ohio, stated that he had had no crop fail in twenty-eight years. This was said of his peach crop. Similar testimonies to success are becoming a common thing. So far as Armstrong county is concerned. the writer can say that he has had a fair crop of apples every year for twenty-one years. Since he has learned something of modern scientific methods of peach culture he has not failed of securing good returns. The summer of 1911 was dry and hot. We did not have any rain in May and very little in June or July, yet in consequence of continuous tillage of his trees showed no sign of suffering from drouth, but matured successfully one of the heaviest crops of both apples and peaches in the history of the orchard. It is our conviction that there is no more risk to run in the business of fruit growing, because of drouth, pests, blight, storms and other natural causes, than in growing the common crops of the farm. The up-to-date fruit grower is guided by certain well established principles. Prominent among these are securing the proper trees, planting them in the right place, selecting suitable varieties, preparation of the soil, tillage, fighting pests, pruning, thinning, picking and marketing. Information on all these subjects is now so easily obtained that it is not possible to go much amiss.


What then are some of the prospects in favor of the fruit industry in Armstrong county? In the spring of 1910, H. J. Wilder, expert on soils, in the service of the United States Department of Agriculture, at Washington, D. C., visited officially Armstrong county and remained several weeks. His object was to report on the possibilities of the fruit industry in this county. During his stay he called at the author�s fruit farm at Spring Church. Before he left he remarked, "You and the people of these hills have three essentials for successful fruit growing, a suitable soil, sufficient altitude, and the best market at your doors." Our soil is a sandy loam, in some places a gravelly loam, underlaid by a deep subsoil of porous clay. These clay beds are often ten feet in thickness. They are of more importance than the top soil. Clays generally contain calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate, oxide of iron, magnesium and small quantities of phosphates. They possess also the property of absorbing ammonia and organic matter from the surface. All these supply more or less elements of plant food.

According the "A Reconnaisance Soil Survey of Southwestern Pennsylvania," by Henry J. Wilder and Charles F. Shaw, published in 1911, we have two distinct types of soil in Armstrong county--the Westmoreland type in the extreme southern part and the DeKalb type in the much larger northern part. The former differs from the latter only in that it contains more lime. Both these soils are declared good for fruit culture. The Baldwin apple for instance is said to be at home in these soils. This "Soil Survey" and "The Report of the Pennsylvania State College" for 1910-11, in two large volumes, are to be had for the asking. They are full of up-to-date information on soil studies. It should be borne in mind that by the term soil is here meant not only eight or ten inches of the top soil, but the subsoil as well, often many feet in depth. These publications emphasize the important fact that the right kind of subsoil is an essential factor in successful tree culture. They show by analysis that clay subsoils as a rule contain large quantities of plant food. When soil conditions are right, fruit trees, as well as all other trees, send their roots deep down into the under soil for many feet. This not only enables them to withstand strong winds but they find there inexhaustible stores of just the food upon which they thrive. In cases where the undersoil is too compact to be easily penetrated by the roots it is best to loosen it up by dynamiting.

Our country is largely a succession of high hills and deep hollows. The tops and sides of these hills, if not too steep, afford suitable localities for orchards. The deep gorges in connection with the hills secure the necessary air-drainage. Good air-drainage is as necessary as good water-drainage. it is air in slow motion caused by gravity when there is no wind. It is consequent upon the fact that cold air near the surface, being heavier, bulk for bulk, than the warmer air above, will by force of gravity, roll down the hills into the lower depressions, to be replaced by the warmer air above. This slow but constant movement of the air in a still, cold night, markedly lessens the formation and damage of frosts. It often means the difference between success and failure.


The extensive commercial interests of western Pennsylvania afford an ever growing market for our fruit. In spite of the expense of long-distance transportation, the world everywhere has been drawn upon by these nearby markets for their fruit supply. The people have turned to eating artificially ripened bananas from Cuba, sour oranges from California, unripe peaches from Michigan and inferior apples from the Northwest--principally because they could not get a satisfactory supply of fruit nearer home. This condition is likely to be gradually changed. We can produce an abundance of first-class fruit of all kinds adapted to our climate, such as apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries and quinces.

This fruit can be ripened on the tree, as it should be to be the best, and delivered to any place in western Pennsylvania the day after it is taken from the tree. These facts are beginning to be well known. Actual demonstration of them has been made, which cannot fail to have a good effect upon the fruit industry in our section and help to lift it to that commercial plane to which its importance entitles it.

Source: Page(s) 24-28, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114.
Transcribed November 1998 by Cynthia G. Hartman for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Cynthia G. Hartman for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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