From The Original Tehachapi Apple Book, Published 1979 • This history covers only through 1979
By Judy Barras (Lee)
Crisp, crunchy, sweet Tehachapi Apples have grown in the region for more than 100 years. One of the loveliest sights in the area occurs in springtime when thousands of trees sparkle in the sunshine; their sky-reaching branches waves in the breeze, dressed with apple blossoms.
Undoubtedly some of the early settlers in the four valleys which comprise the Tehachapi area – Tehachapi, Brite, Cummings, and Bear Valleys – harvested apples for the family pantry from trees planted on their farms. The first published account of tree planting, however, was in 1876 when William P. McCord, Bakersfield nurseryman, filled “some large orders of fruit trees to be planted in the valley.”
To Moses Hale goes the singular honor of planting the first large orchard, when in 1880, he set out apple trees on his farm in Tehachapi Canyon. Fred Fickert promoted his private domain in Bear Valley as a “natural Eden for apples and pears” in 1889. “When a three-year-old apple tree produces 1,000 pounds of choice apples,” Fickert commented, “it is a sign of a pretty good country for that sort of fruit.”
Another early orchardist was Joseph Kiser, who came to the Tehachapis in search of gold in 1863, but four years later settled a ranch in Brite Valley. One of my fondest memories is a visit to Kiser’s orchard only a few years ago, where trees almost 100 years old still more apples, so admittedly small and “bitey.” How many people have the opportunity to “eat history?” One of Kiser’s outlets was the Southern Pacific Railroad, which supplied apples to its Harvey Houses.
Still another early orchardist was W.M. Knapp, a railroad telegrapher at Summit Station when the railroad first arrived in the Tehachapi valley in 1876. He later acquired 480 acres adjoining Tehachapi and planted 180 trees.
Large quantities of trees were shipped to Tehachapi from Fresno nurseries in 1890, as more farmers turn their attention to fruit and vine cultivation. On G Street (now Tehachapi Boulevard) in 1890, two fruit stands sold produce to area residents as well as travelers through the region. In that same year, a local market offered “the finest apples to be found in the state” for three cents a pound!
A resident suggested in November 1895, “from present indications it will not be long until the farmers of the Tehachapi Valley will cultivate more apple orchards to good purpose. Moses Hale… last year he sold the entire output for $700. James Brite from Kiser’s old place realized over $500 from a young orchard of eight acres. Louis Buhn has an orchard of six acres near old Tehachapi that brought him between $500 and $600.”
In the winter of 1898, the California Nursery Co. at Niles shipped 1200 fruit trees to its Tehachapi agent John Irribane. “Our farmers know a good thing when they see it,” one observer wrote at the time. “There is more money with less expense in winter apples than any other farm product.”
With much of the region’s land changing owners because of a reduction in grain farming, by 1911 non-resident landowners began to plant fruit trees on their property. One of the largest of these promotions involved the Tehachapi Fruit and Land Company, Inc., with several new arrivals at the helm. The company purchased 1600 and resold 100 – 500 of which were planted to winter apples and Bartlett pears. Another land development which also used for trees as an enticement to prospective buyers was the Tehachapi Red Apple tract located near the Catholic cemetery and north of Valley Boulevard.
Some of the subdividers, as part of the land sales promotion, stored Winter Pearmain apples near cellar entrances. The Winter Pearmain may not be a pretty apple – but it smells good. Apparently, the fragrance influence some people to buy land.
Apple production continued to increase as the years swept by. At the Kern County Fair in 1916, the Tehachapi Board of Trade’s fruit exhibits won blue ribbons on 46 premiums, and the most attractive exhibit featured the apples. During the next year, 1700 acres were planted in red winter apples. By 1922, 5000 acres were planted in orchards, now including not only apples but pears and cherries. All the region’s fruit was shipped from the railroad depot to New York and other Eastern markets.
By the 1930s, there was a noticeable drop in fruit production. The lack of attention by absentee owners was taking its toll, but the loss of crops due to continuing late spring frost, high taxes, and the financial effect of the national Depression contributed to the problem. The apple trees began to disappear as the first of several major “pulls” affected the great splurge of fruit production in the Tehachapis.
By 1947, only 115 of the district’s many thousand acres were producing fruit, including the original Kiser apples and a large pear orchard adjacent to town.
The fruit industry was revitalized, however, in the 1950s on Don Carroll, J.C. Jacobsen, and Fred Patterson resumed orchard production. Other growers have come into the area, and many more trees have been planted in recent years.
A few minor changes were made to the article originally published in 1979 to correct errors not noted at the time including:
- The California Nursery Company was located in Niles, California, not “Mills.”
- Winter Pearmain apples (not Parmaine)