Fruit Fields of the Northwest – Part 2

William Knights Cherry Orchard at the Summit Farm Henry Van Cleave Bayfield WI BHA 1991.200.4.001

William Knight’s Cherry Orchard at the Summit Farm
Henry Van Cleave, Bayfield, WI
BHA 1991.200.4.001

Fruit Fields of the Northwest – Part II

By William Knight

Bayfield County Press – Friday, February 7, 1908

Our apples lead any district in the state, for firmness, flavor, high color and keeping qualities. Yellow Transparent will keep from 2 to 3 weeks, Duchess of Oldenburg until the middle of December, Wealthy until January, and Wolf River until April, all this without cold storage and in an ordinary cellar.

Cherries are a sure crop; tree does well and bears abundantly. To my knowledge we have lost but one cherry crop in 15 years. We have a cherry up in that country [Mount Morenci on Madeline Island] that has been growing for the past 50 years, how much longer no one knows, possibly 100 years. That cherry was introduced on Madeline Island by the Jesuits or fur traders. As far as history goes it was allowed to grow and reproduces by throwing up root sprouts. They were never cultivated, and the fruit has never deteriorated in color, size or flavor. It has all the appearances of an Early Richmond, but it is two weeks later in ripening, and will hang on the trees two weeks after ripe. This tree is hardier than the Richmond; perhaps this would be a valuable tree in some districts, where other cherries fail.

The first discoveries of these fruit lands in Bayfield County were made 40 years ago by a lighthouse keeper and a real estate man. The lighthouse keeper, to show his faith, established a nursery on Michigan Island, 15 miles from the mainland. And there is evidence of that old nursery yet; apples, pears, cherries, and plums are struggling away in the brambles yet, and they provide some fruit still. The real estate man got busy and got out a map showing the Apostle Islands and Bayfield County and headed the “legend” it in large letters, “The Fruit Fields of the Northwest.” Both men were progressive men, but they were 50 years ahead of the procession. About that time the lumberman appeared on the scene. Well, you all know how a lumberman likes to farm, he reaps but never sows. Of course, the nursery went to brambles and the land agent took the lumberman out and wiped off the legend from this map.  And to the world they have been unknown since.

Our production of all fruit has been in a small, careless haphazard way, by men that grew them for their own consumption only. A few, of course, have a surplus which is sold. These trees are of all ages up to 30 years old, are thrifty and bear abundantly and never had any care or attention other than what a commercial fruit man would naturally give to his trees. Everything in evidence goes to prove that fruit can be grown successfully on the Bayfield Peninsula in a commercial way.

There is one winning feature of our climate up north. Fruits of any kind from the apple up to the strawberry never meet with accidents in the spring. Late frost in the spring never kills fruit blossoms. Thus, every year we have a sure crop of all kinds of fruit. And they all load up heavily with fruit.

Now, I have shown you that fruit is a sure thing. You have got the fruit and the next thing is to get it into the market. And there is where we excel. We are located well up into a nonproducing fruit region and have the best and highest priced markets of the whole country located conveniently all around us. We can reach by water many large and good markets in five or six hours and by rail in 10 to 15 hours. We can be in every village within a radius of four or five hundred miles and what is the condition of that market when we get there, as close and hungry as a hound’s tooth, and not a competitor on site, they have all had their rush together, gutted the market, destroyed prices, and some gone home financially crippled.

We step in after the crash with our high colored, high flavored, crisp fruit when everybody is fruit hungry, ask our prices, sell everything quickly and go home jingling the gold dollars in our pockets, happier and wiser men. Thus, it is in every line of fruit we grow. We enter the market when it is naked and bare.  

Our strawberries ripen after all other sections of the country have marketed their crop. So it is with our raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries and cherries.

How is it in the apple line? The summer apple, Yellow Transparent when it is ready for the market, there is not an equal eating apple on the market. It ripens about the same time as the Duchess in more southern latitudes. Our Duchess goes to the market when all other Duchess is done for. That is an apple we are especially proud of. It will hang on the tree until it is thoroughly ripe and highly colored, very juicy, hard and firm as a Baldwin, and will keep two months after being picked.

Our Wealthy goes to market when about all fall apples are gone and the eating apples are not in eating condition. Now for crabapples, there is no place on earth, especially the northwest, where Transcendent Crabs will be so firm, hard and juicy, clean and even colored as those we raised up in that northern country. They go to market in such condition to command the highest price and no other section can compete in quality or price. So, it is with every fruit we grow appears to have a market all its own.

Now to sum up the faith that is in us for a commercial orchard. The prominent essentials are we have got the climate and soil to produce the fruit. We do produce fruit, not one year but every year, our near markets are unlimited. We enter markets when there is no competition and can demand a good fair price for our fruit. Our fruit will rank equally with any product anywhere and in some respects better. With this showing before us, we expect in a few years to show to the state the possibilities of her richest fruit district, and in time we will ask that old legend be placed back on the man, “the Fruit Fields of the Northwest,” and that the Bayfield Peninsula will no longer be nicknamed the banana belt, but the golden fruit belt of Lake Superior, that being indicative of the golden dollars of the fruit man’s harvest.

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