In Lake County, apple orchards were an integral part of the landscape since the arrival of the first settlers in the 1830s. The primary profession was agriculture, and each farmstead had a dwelling house, barns, cultivated fields, and apple orchard.
Orchards varied in size and were primarily for the family’s use. A good orchard would have a mixture of dessert apples for eating out of hand, culinary apples for baking, and cider apples. A typical 19th century farm orchard is shown above (foreground) on the Oren Luce Farm in Vernon Township, Lake County, Illinois. Image from Lake County plat map published by H.R. Page & Co., Chicago, 1885.
The first nurseryman in Lake County was Thomas Payne of Fremont Township. Payne started his business in 1841, and by the 1850s had 100,000 trees in his inventory, which included landscape trees, shrubs and fruit trees. He sold apple trees for $17 per 100.
Receipt for apple trees purchased by David Minto from Otis Marble, Sr., for a total of $6.00, April 1851. The Minto farm was on the east side of Loon Lake along Deep Lake Road, west of Millburn. (LCDM Minto Collection 93.45.253)
Over the years, the type of apple trees planted changed dramatically as new varieties were developed. A list of available apple trees offered in 1849 to Lake County residents included varieties such as: Sops of Wine, Surprise, Sweet and Sour, Toole’s Indian Rarepipe, Twenty Ounce, Benoni, William’s Favorite, Coxe’s Red Pippin, Orange Sweeting, and White Doctor.
On September 30, 1862, George Smith of Millburn wrote home to his sister Susannah: "I want some more of those big apples up from the old spider. Such apples as those cost .05 apiece here and sour at that, such ones as I have." George was in training with the 96th Illinois Regiment at Camp Douglas, Rockford, Illinois. (LCDM Minto Collection 93.45.446)
Inkwell in the shape of an apple (honeybee included), used by the Ryerson Family of Riverwoods, possibly dating to the mid-19th century. (LCDM 79.17.155).
During the late 1800s, the purchase of fruit trees through mail order catalogues became very popular. Each winter the farmer would patiently wait for his fruit tree catalog to arrive to check the varieties available and compare prices. It was also common for a salesman to stop by local farms to show off the wide array of fruit trees that could be purchased through mail order.
At the turn of the 20th century, most family apple orchards in Lake County included varieties such as: Baldwin, Northern Spy, Snow Apple, Winesap, McIntosh, Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening, Golden Russet, Northwest Greening, and Maiden’s Blush.
Little Dorothy Gleiser up an apple tree at Brae Burn Farm, Lake Forest, 1915. The farm was Robert Leatherbee's gentleman's farm, and Dorothy's father was the farm manager. (LCDM Gleiser Collection 93.31.7)
The earliest large scale pick-your-own apple orchard was Bell's Apple Orchard in Lake Zurich near Routes 12 & 22. The orchard was started by John Bell and William Webbe in the 1930s, but by the 1980s land values had risen and the orchard was sold. The site became a subdivision known as The Orchards. Postcard of Bell's Orchard "Home of the Big Apple" by the Great American Color Company, circa 1960. (LCDM 2001.9.1)
Following World War II, the popularity of pick-your-own apple orchards surged. Locals, as well as families from Chicago, flocked to the countryside to enjoy a day out-of-doors in the beautiful fall weather. Apple varieties that continued to be popular included Jonathan, McIntosh, and Red Delicious.
Popular orchards included: Jonathan Orchards in Wadsworth, Zale's in Russell, Orchard Valley, Ziegler's Orchard in Grayslake, Heinz Orchard in Green Oaks, Quig's Orchard in Mundelein, and Wauconda Orchards.
Quig's began in 1947 with Henry Quig selling apples out of the back of his pickup truck. The family purchased land for the orchard and soon the business grew to include a restaurant, gift shop, and gold fish pond. Quig's had their last harvest and closed in 2005. Commemorative postcard, circa 1980. (LCDM 2008.2.2)
At its height, Wauconda Orchards attracted over 100,000 people per year. In 2001, the Breedens chose to retire and sold the orchard. The proposed housing development had great opposition from locals, but eventually was built. Photo of gift shop buildings at Wauconda Orchards taken during the last harvest in 2001. (www.wheelmen.com)
Apple orchards are very much a symbol of a rural, agrarian life. With the rise in land values and population in Lake County—especially from the 1980s on—it is not surprising that farms and orchards began to disappear. Fortunately, Ziegler's and Heinz apple orchards are still in business to offer pickers a chance at this wonderful seasonal tradition.