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Friday, September 28, 2012

Apple Orchards

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.

Image from Lake County plat map published by H.R. Page & Co., Chicago, 1885.

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. 

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 apples, April 1851. Minto Collection, Dunn Museum, 93.45.253

Receipt (above) for apple trees purchased by David Minto of Loon Lake from Otis Marble, Sr., for a total of $6.00 on April 1851. The Minto farm was on the east side of Loon Lake along Deep Lake Road, west of Millburn. 

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.

Excerpt of letter from George Smith to his sister Susannah, September 30, 1862. 
Minto Collection, Dunn Museum, 93.45.446

On September 30, 1862, George Smith wrote home to his sister Susannah in Millburn: "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 Fuller, Rockford, Illinois. 

Inkwell, circa 1840. Dunn Museum, 79.17.155

An apple-shaped inkwell (above), included a honeybee. This inkwell was used by the Ryerson Family of Riverwoods at their former summer home in today's Ryerson Conservation Area. 

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.

Apple trees at Brae Burn Farm, Lake Forest, 1915. Gleiser Collection, Dunn Museum 93.31.7. 

Little Dorothy Gleiser, pictured in the photo above, is sitting in an apple tree at the Brae Burn Farm in Lake Forest. The farm was Robert Leatherbee's gentleman's farm, and Dorothy's father, Lorenz Gleiser, was the farm manager.

Postcard of Bell's Orchard "Home of the Big Apple" by the Great American Color Company, circa 1960. Dunn Museum, 2001.9.1

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. By the 1980s land values had risen and the orchard was sold. The site became a subdivision known as The Orchards. 

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.

Commemorative postcard, circa 1980. Dunn Museum 2008.2.2

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. 

In 1967, this photo ran with an article in the News-Sun about Wauconda Orchards: "The Wentzel's daughter, Laurie, shows off some of the orchards' apples available in October." News Sun Collection, Dunn Museum.

Wauconda Orchard got its start in 1951 when Richard and Marge Breeden purchased 75 acres along Fairfield Road. The orchard began modestly with 500 trees and grew to nearly 10,000 trees, becoming the largest apple orchard in Northern Illinois. 

Photo of gift shop buildings at Wauconda Orchards taken during the last harvest in 2001.

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 local residents, but eventually was built. 

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. As of this writing, Ziegler's and Heinz apple orchards are still in business to offer pickers a chance at this wonderful seasonal tradition.


Jennifer Hunter said...

My family went to Bell's Orchards and came home with cider and several bushels of apples every year. We kept them in the garage and ate them all winter. I remember the large coolers of many varies of apples and the wonderful smell of apples. Nothing was waxed like in today's supermarkets, so an apple smelled like an apple. I remember the day I was driving on route 22 looking for them again yars later and they were gone. It took me quite awhile to figure out where they had been. It's now all built up with stores and condos, but back then, it was out in the country. I miss that.

Anonymous said...

Bell's used to be right at the intersection of Rates. 12 and 22 operating under the name Moseley Hill. The Bell family moved it further west on 22.

Unknown said...

My grandfather, William Webbe, graduated with a Degree in Agriculture from Purdue University in 1906. He listed his occupation as Farmer, though he was a Grain Trader at the Chicago Board of Trade. In 1930 he hired John Bell to help plant 100 acres of apple trees (Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Jonathon, and Macintosh) in Lake Zurich, to be planted at Mosseley Hill Farm, owned by Webbe. It later was leased to John Bell. In 1970, the Webbe family chose to run the orchard at routes 12 & 22. Bell bought a small parcel of property, adjacent to Webbe's Mosseley Hill Farm and planted dwarf apple trees behind their store. Both orchards are closed.