Remembering Adams' Apples
Jill TeunisNelson Kane of Bendersville
Photos by Jill Teunis
Thousands of acres of fruit trees covered with delicate pink blossoms, the only sounds heard among the rolling hills are those of gentle breezes and humming bees. The tranquility of the scene is in stark contrast to the echoes of the Civil War fought among these same hills 140 years ago. A springtime tour through the apple orchards of Adams County in southern Pennsylvania is an experience not to be forgotten.
In the rural community of Biglerville, just a few miles from Gettysburg, sits a bank barn built in 1858. Inside it, the Biglerville Historical and Preservation Society has established a small but informative museum on the second floor that follows the history of the local apple industry from its simple beginnings in the 1700s to today's big name processors. 'This is a grassroots group dedicated to the preservation of history,' says Dick Mountfort, the society's president. 'I moved here six years ago, after retiring from the Environmental Protection Agency. I have the time and the interest to keep (the) history of one and two hundred years ago alive, so modern generations can see how this industry progressed.'
The museum, established in 1990, features machinery from the early days of the apple processing industry, as well as apple-picking equipment, sprayers and cider presses. There are early deeds printed on sheepskin and old photos taken of local families employed in the fields and on the production line.
According to Dick, 19th century farmers discovered through experience that the area was conducive to fruit growing.
'The climate, the topography and the soil are all perfect for apples,' he said. 'These factors are all central. There's a cold period for dormancy. The hillsides reduce killing frosts and the soil is well drained. They found all this out by mistake.'
Dan Ball, Don Horst and Nelson Kane are all area residents whose lives have been closely intertwined with the apple industry. They now give time from their retirement years to spread the word on how apples became such an integral part of Adams County. Don grew up on a fruit farm and worked for the well-known applesauce maker Musselman's (now a division of Knouse Foods). Nelson was born and raised in the area, worked on a fruit farm and also worked for Musselman's as a horticulturist. Dan worked 35 years for Rice, Trew and Rice, a local company that made packaging materials for the fruit industry.
'In the 19th century all the farmers grew apples, vegetables and grains,' Dan said. 'The average farm was not more than 100 acres. Fruit and vegetables were sold in farmers markets in every little town round here. People bought them and did their own canning. They still do it today. The farmers also pressed apples to make hard cider.'
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