Late 1800s Antique Fruit Press Restored

Iowa collector drills deep to uncover the history of apple press purchased by Civil War veteran to use on his Iowa homestead.

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by Loretta Sorensen
A junior-size press like this would have been capable of producing up to 150 gallons of apple juice per day.

When retired high school teacher Joe Wurth learned of a vintage cider press tucked away in a barn in his hometown of Marcus, Iowa, he couldn’t have imagined where the history of the piece would take him. Rich details found in the local newspaper and Marcus historic publications revealed that William “Ed” Rose originally owned this no-name antique fruit press.

Rose was the first homesteader in Marcus Township in Cherokee County and, in 1869, the first homesteader in the township to build a dwelling. Having served in the Civil War under General George Armstrong Custer, Rose came to Iowa after being discharged from the service.

Joe first learned about the press from retired Marcus postmaster Fred Wilkens, who admired Joe’s display of restored apple presses at The Barns Museum in Marcus. Fred told Joe that he had a vintage apple press that was well preserved.

“Do you know anything about it?” Joe asked. “Yes, everything,” Fred said. “I’d sure like to see it,” Joe told him. “Maybe someday we can do that,” Fred answered.

Making a $5 investment in the 1950s

For two years, Joe wondered if he would ever have an opportunity to see the press. When he ran into Fred at a gas station, “I asked him if he remembered telling me about the press, and if I could come and see it.” Fred said he would have a difficult time getting to the press because of all the things stored in his barn. Joe would have to wait a while longer.

In the spring of 2018, after Fred and his wife moved to a nursing home, Fred’s son called Joe. “The family was cleaning out the barn,” Joe says, “and wanted to sell the cider press.”

Just as Fred had said, Joe found the wooden apple press to be in working condition, even though it was probably manufactured some 140 years ago. As pleased as he was to buy the press, he wanted to know more about its history. “By then, Fred sometimes had difficulty remembering things,” Joe says. “But his son offered to write down whatever Fred knew and get as much information as he could.”

Fred bought the press for $5 in the mid-1950s from Henning Nestor, the man who bought Ed Rose’s farm in about 1920, when Rose and his wife quit farming and moved into Marcus. Initially, Fred used the press on his farm to process apples from the family orchards.

No-name antique fruit press might be a Superior

One unique feature of Joe’s antique fruit press is the way in which the grinder housing is secured to the press frame. “It can be easily pivoted back, exposing the cutter cylinder and the two squeeze cylinders for cleaning,” Joe says. “When you’re making cider, this is a very nice feature and I’ve never seen it on any other cider press.”

Joe searched for advertisements showing a similar press in numerous vintage catalogs. “It’s a junior press,” he says. “But there are no patent dates engraved on any of the castings, and no company name or place of manufacture. This kind of press is often referred to by collectors as a ‘no-name’ press. I never found any advertisement about a press with a grinder housing like this one.”

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, manufacturers sometimes stripped the company name and identifying marks from products and sold them at a lower price. That allowed them to capture a portion of the market that was unwilling to pay for a higher-priced brand name.

“Buckeye made one of the most expensive cider presses,” Joe says. “However, to add to their overall sales, they produced cider presses that were just like the higher-price model but with no identifying marks. They often sold these brandless items through the catalogs of companies like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery Ward & Co.”

Recently, a fellow collector sent Joe a photo of a very similar no-name press that was stenciled Montgomery Ward, Chicago, Ill. Some collectors believe Joe’s press may have been made by Superior Drill Co., Springfield, Ohio. “This press has parts that are very similar to those on presses known to have been made by Superior Drill,” Joe says.

Civil War veteran homesteads Iowa farm

Joe also conducted research on Rose. According to the 1914 History of Cherokee County, Iowa, by Thomas McClulla, Rose was born in Portville, New York, May 25, 1843. Educated in New York and Pennsylvania, he enlisted in Company B, 15th New York Cavalry in 1863, serving under General George A. Custer. When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Rose’s company was ordered to take part in the 10,000-federal troop search for John Wilkes Booth. Rose served under Custer until the close of the Civil War, receiving an honorable discharge on June 5, 1865.

Joe wanted to verify Rose’s service under Custer, since linking Rose to such a prominent name added to the overall appeal of his story. “You can access the roster of Company B, 15th New York Cavalry online,” he says. “I took time to search the names. Ed’s given name was William E., but he always went by ‘Ed’.”

By 1869, Rose had moved to Cherokee County, Iowa, and filed a homestead claim in Marcus Township. That same year he returned to New York, where he married Emma Glines, bringing his new bride to the Marcus Township farm.

The Rose farm was known throughout the area as being well organized and well kept. In the 1920s and ’30s, Ed Rose established an apple orchard, using the press Joe now owns, to process apples from this orchard. He likely provided apples to area families as well. A junior cider press like Joe’s could produce between 50 and 150 gallons of cider per day. The antique fruit press is believed to be one of the first ones in the Marcus area.

It’s thought that Rose stored his apple press in his barn, where it was housed when Henning Nestor purchased the farm in the 1920s. “The wood in this press is well preserved,” Joe says. “However, the original paint it would have had when Ed Rose purchased it has worn off. It’s our best guess that Ed bought it in the late 1800s or early 1900s. It’s likely that the last time it was used was in the 1950s or 1960s.”

Hiding in an apple tree

During his search, Joe acquired contact information for Dave Nestor, one of Henning’s seven grandchildren. As Joe prepared to use the press to make cider from apples in his own orchard, he invited Dave, who lives in Sheldon, Iowa, to participate in the process. “Dave and his wife came down and helped make the cider, using the press for probably the first time in some 70 years,” Joe says. “I sent some of that cider home with him.”

Dave found the cider-making experience very moving as he thought about his grandfather and father using the press so many years ago. “I don’t have any recollection of using the press while I was growing up,” he says. “In the early years, I know the farm was 200 acres. My father, Donald, farmed with Grandpa for a time, then purchased the farm.”

The original orchard on the farm was on 7 acres west of the farm buildings, which are no longer standing. As he grew up, Dave recalls only a few apple trees left in the original orchard. “South of the original orchard was a lane leading to the fields,” he says. “On the south side of the lane were two rows of apple and fruit trees along with a long row of raspberry bushes and space for one of several garden plots.

“Knowing that fruit trees can be somewhat fragile and short-lived, I suspect my grandfather probably planted these as well as a few other apple trees that were located around the farmstead,” Dave says. “That’s probably why he was so protective of the trees.”

Dave recalled an ill-fated childhood episode in which he climbed one of his grandpa’s apple trees. His grandfather suddenly drove up, causing Dave to seek cover in the tree and remain hidden there until his grandfather went to the field. “You didn’t climb Grandpa’s apple trees,” Dave recalls. “Fruit tree limbs are too susceptible to breaking.”

Orchards erased from the landscape, but vintage cider press endures

Donald Nestor told his son stories about helping in the fall when area residents came to the Nestor farm to buy apples. “The driveway on the farm is about one-quarter mile from the section line corner,” Dave says. “Dad would tell how cars lined up along the length of the driveway clear back to the section line corner, waiting to purchase apples.”

As Dave grew up, the produce sales ended. Dave and his brother have retained ownership of a portion of the farm, keeping it in the family for right at 100 years. However, as the fruit trees declined, they were removed.

Joe is thankful that the vintage press still exists. “I greatly appreciate the fact that all these former owners of the press – Ed Rose, Henning Nestor, Donald Nestor and Fred Wilkens – preserved this piece all these years,” he says. “Without their thoughtfulness, we wouldn’t have a great piece like this that we can treasure today.” FC


Once a Leading Apple Producer, Iowa Dealt Out of the Game by Mother Nature

According to Cider Culture, when the Romans arrived in what is today the U.K. in 55 B.C., residents there were consuming hard cider. No record exists of how they made it, but historians believe hand tools were used to press juice from apples.

In the Middle Ages in France, a horse-powered stone mill was used to crush apples. The mill was overtaken by the screw press during the 13th century. With that equipment, manpower was used to process small batches of apples. The screw press design was used to create both home and commercial presses and a very similar design remains in use today.

Early season “Armistice Day blizzard” devastates Iowa’s apple crop

In 1940, Iowa was a leading fruit-growing region, second only to Michigan in apple production. That year, the state’s fruit-growing landscape was changed for decades by what’s known today as the Armistice Day blizzard. As that storm’s center passed near Winterset, Iowa, a deadly ice storm delivered a crushing blow to the apple industry. It’s possible that the orchard Ed Rose established was among those destroyed.

In that era, planting a new orchard was expensive, the threat of war was growing and the nation was preparing for hard times. If trees were planted, it would be years before they would produce fruit.

Kent Lundquist’s family at Cherokee, Iowa, is one of many that replanted apple trees over the past 50 years. “As I understand it, daytime temperatures during that Armistice Day blizzard reached 60 degrees, but by night it was single digit temperatures,” Kent, owner of Lundquist Farm Orchard, says. “Hundreds of orchards were destroyed by that extreme temperature change.”

In the 1980s, Kent’s father, Robert, a longtime grain farmer and real estate broker, was searching for an alternative crop. Eventually he established a Christmas tree farm. Because he greatly appreciated the trees as they grew, the trees were never cut but were instead used as a wildlife habitat and he established an apple orchard instead.

“It’s been about 36 years since we first planted 500 apple trees and started a Pick-Your-Own orchard,” Kent says. “In recent years, we’ve seen more 200- and 300-tree orchards established in Iowa to serve local Iowa communities. I’ve referred people who were interested in acquiring an apple press to Joe Wurth so they could make their own cider. There seems to be a growing interest in growing your own food, getting back to our roots, and being more self-sustaining.”

Historic beverage remains popular

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, apples are one of the most valuable fruit crops in the U.S. The top 10 apple-producing states include Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, Ohio and Idaho.

Strong demand for gluten-free beverages and growing desire for low-alcohol beverages are driving the expansion of the North American cider market. Apple cider is a low-alcohol drink produced by partial or complete fermentation of apple juice. The alcohol content of apple cider ranges from 1.2 to 8.5 percent. According to Allied Market Research, the market currently registers the highest growth rates as compared to other alcoholic drinks worldwide.


For more information: Contact Joe Wurth, (712) 376-2655; joewurth@yahoo.com.

Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. Email her at sorensenlms@gmail.com.

  • Updated on Sep 15, 2022
  • Originally Published on Aug 30, 2022
Tagged with: apple press, apples, cider, cider press, vintage tools
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