Bayfield Farming – A Success – 1871

Children with Tub of Apples Burt Hill Orchard Sand Island WI NPSIIDIC 1910c11

Children with Tub of Apples at the Burt Hill Orchard on Sand Island WI
NPSIIDIC 1910c11

Bayfield Farming a Success

Editor-Hank O. Fifield

Bayfield Press – October 27, 1870

We are thoroughly convinced that more attention should be paid to farming in this part of the state.  That it will in the future prove one of the principal occupations of those who settle in these parts we feel certain.  Nothing assists in making a section of country inhabitable more than good farming land bordering its cities and villages. Experiments have proven that agriculture can be made profitable, the soil being rich and fertile, and a ready market for produce near at hand.  

The section known as the Bad River country is said by those who are judges, to be one of the best regions for farming in Northern Wisconsin, the soil is very rich, the location beautiful, with fine bottom lands which yield annually large quantities of tame and wild hay, and with proper cultivation would prove a good agricultural district. Small grain and corn has been successfully grown in this vicinity, while vegetables of all kinds are most prolific.

Fruit growing is another business that should be more extensively followed.  At La Pointe there are a few trees of hardy apples, producing well.

Mr. Roswell Pendergast of Michigan Island Light, who is an old nurseryman, informs us that he is confident apple trees can be to bear thriftily here, and he has started a nursery on that island of several thousand trees, and intends to give it a thorough trial.   It is a mistaken idea that we are too far north to follow agricultural pursuits.  With a good soil, no frosts until late in October, our winters no longer and not as cold as those 160 miles south of us, we can safely count this one of the finest farming localities in the state.   

Further evidence of the Apostle Islands as growing zone: Editor- Press— Oak Island is being improved in the way of buildings quite rapidly.  James Chapman & Company has put up one large dwelling and barn, besides several small buildings to be used by wood choppers through the winter.  The company designs upon getting several thousand cords of wood cut this winter for the purpose of supplying steamboats for next season.  Last winter Chapman and William Knight put in a dock 400 feet long and we hear they propose enlarging it in the coming winter, so as to meet the increasing trade.  It is their intention to clear the land as they go, and as fast as they divest it of wood to plow and put in potatoes, grain, hay, etc.  By this means they will soon have a large producing farm and not only get the benefit of the timber but of the soil also.

On September 23, 1871 Fifield further reports that “Pendergast of Michigan Island presented us as a finest specimen of the “Early Rose” potato as we ever saw.  They were planted on June 15 and the largest one weighed nearly three pounds.  His corn and beans look splendid.  He showed us a bouquet of pansies – that was large, beautiful and fragrant.

In a separate article in this edition, from Agricultural Editor Ford, St. Paul Press; Fruit Capacity of the Lake Region, documented; “In the company with Judge R. R. Nelson, Franklin Steele and some other old time Minnesotans, we took a boat at Bayfield to LaPointe, where we found the apple and cherry trees raised some 30 odd years ago by the father of Mr. Oakes of St. Paul.  There is an orchard in an old settlement, and everything has a truly ancient appearance.

The apple trees also showed signs of decay either from age or the hard winters.  The fruit of these pioneers is not very large, and they seem to be rather inferior seedlings.  At Bayfield we thought some trees also showed signs of pretty cold weather.  Now this is just the point to get at in the discussion of the fruit question.  It will not be safe to make calculations for the future on what we really saw at either Bayfield or LaPointe.  The choice grafted sorts of apples may not be as well as the “Oakes Seedlings.”  The cherries are the common Morello or pie cherries of the East.  In fact, the trial has not been general enough to warrant any correct opinion on the subject.  Mr. Pendergast’s experience of one of the islands [Michigan] will be more satisfactory. 

At La Pointe it is no better for fruit than on the land, as it is not far enough in the lake to be benefited by the water.  The soil, however, where the old trees are growing, is stiff red clay, while at Bayfield sand predominates.  This of course, is decidedly in the favor of the pioneer orchard.  We shall look before the experiment done at Michigan Island with no little interest, as there are many kinds planted, and are cared for by an experienced fruit grower.  On Michigan Island, Mr. Pendergast, formerly of Minneapolis, has commenced quite an extensive orchard; a growing number of years will be required to demonstrate to the outside world that he will be really successful. 

During my visit at Bayfield I chanced to meet Mr. Pendergast, from whom I learned many important facts in connection with this new enterprise.  If we remember his statement in regard to the extreme of cold in winter, it was not so much as at Bayfield by at least 10°.  Residents at Bayfield told us that the thermometer did not indicate nearly so great a degree of cold as at St. Paul, while about the lake they are not so dry in winter; this is very important in the consideration of fruit culture.   Another is that in spring there is not as much danger from late frosts, as well as early freezing in autumn.  The islands, of course, are more favorably located in this respect than the mainland.

This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.