Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Mountain Apples: For the Love of Fruit

0
917
Apple harvest picking, grading and packing in the J.J. Boaz Orchard, Covesville, Va. “Average annual crop, 12,000 barrels.” Postcard published by W.E. Burgess, Scottsville.; postmarked 1915. Courtesy Phil James Historical Images Collection.

Miss Mattie E. Maupin (1856–1935) lived all but the final few years of her life on the southeast shoulder of Pasture Fence Mountain above Sugar Hollow in western Albemarle County. Her long presence there led many of the local elders to refer to that section of Pasture Fence as “Matt Maupin Mountain.”

During the 1920s, when the Commonwealth of Virginia made its big grab of privately owned properties for condemnation and inclusion in the proposed Shenandoah National Park, Miss Matt’s ancestral land was designated as Albemarle County tract #56. Her young neighbor during that time, Purcell J. Daughtry (1918–2010), a son of John Robert and Sallie (Wood) Daughtry, remembered visits to her three-story mountain home with its spiral staircase and wainscoted walls. The government’s depression-era evaluation noted “improvements” that allotted the owner $10 for her house and one dollar each for the 12 cherry trees and five apples trees.

Western Albemarle packing sheds provided cash jobs and camaraderie during the hectic days of apple harvesting. Courtesy of the Strickler-Via Family Collection.

Ultimately, as the ugly business of eminent domain condemnations wound to a close and the state’s funding dwindled, Miss Maupin’s property was left outside of the park’s boundary line. Nevertheless, due to infirmities of old age, she reluctantly moved to Richmond to live with a niece. When she wrote back home to her neighbors the Daughtrys, it was the longing for her old home and its apple trees that bore heaviest on her heart.

Apple trees were cherished possessions of earlier generations who were fully dependent on the land and the benevolence of a merciful God to see them through from year to year. Before Thomas Jefferson broke ground for his beloved Monticello mansion, he had already begun propagation of fruit orchards on his mountain property. For years to come, whether dining alone or entertaining heads of state, he depended on fruits from his own orchards to provide his table with cider and desserts.

From the apple tree to the table, it was Mother’s labor of love that completed the cycle. Albemarle County, 1925. Courtesy of the Sam Belew Family Collection.

What led Crozet native G. Bourne Wayland (1897–1985), at the age of 83, to plant yet another 150 apple trees in his mountain orchard above Mint Springs Valley? His father and uncle had founded Wayland Orchard in 1887, and established a successful fruit nursery in Crozet. G.B. Wayland’s life, from beginning to end, was inseparable from the labor, and blessings, of growing fruit and continually seeking its improvement.

Local newspapers (the social media of their day) regularly included news notes touching on the fruit industry, especially apples, with the extended seasons of harvest and durability in shipping. During the winter of 1911, William E. Hall, a farmer, orchardist and livestock dealer at Mechum’s River Depot, advertised for sale his Limbertwig apples at $2.50/barrel. That southern heirloom variety was renowned as an excellent winter keeper, and there was no doubt that Mr. Hall would personally see to it that shipments would be promptly loaded onto the next east- or westbound C&O train.

This young girl was Princess of the Apple Harvest at the Sam Belew Farm north of Crozet, c.1930s. Courtesy of the Sam Belew Family Collection

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but too much of a good thing during the winter of 1913 precipitated a sad report in the Scottsville Enterprise: “We are sorry to learn that Mr. Nat Garland of Green Mountain lost by death this week two valuable mules. It is said their demise was caused from eating apples.”

During the tumultuous years of World War I, apples were a valuable commodity on the warfront as well as the home front. In October 1915, the Daily Progress brought attention to benevolent efforts made by the citizens of western Albemarle to share the bounty from their orchards: “Mrs. Brooks and Miss Langhorne of Mirador [at Greenwood] are arranging to have a carload of apples sent to England for the benefit of the convalescent soldiers. Crozet and Ivy are also assisting in this worthy cause.”

The sinking of the passenger vessel S.S. California off the coast of Ireland by a German U-Boat in February 1917, and the subsequent loss of 40 souls, was a factor in the United States’ entering the Great War. The ripple effect from that tragedy of war was felt in Albemarle County. The local newspaper reported: “The recent destruction by a submarine of the S.S. California will receive more than passing interest for us when it is known that 318 barrels of apples belonging to our neighbor, Mr. J.J. Boaz [of Covesville], were lost when the vessel went down. Apples of this class are bringing forty-five or fifty shillings in Liverpool. Inasmuch as this fruit was insured for almost six dollars a barrel, the consignment will not prove a total loss.”

Life back home moved on, as did its seasons, and apple harvest time arrived just as it always had. In September 1917, the paper announced: “The apple production, which has made Crozet famous, has almost reached the zenith of activity. Wagon after wagon and sometimes auto trucks and wheelbarrows, are all turning wheels bringing to shipment the famous fruit. Prices beyond the wishes of the most optimistic are being realized. The bright, cool sunshine is coloring the Winesap to perfection.”

Vintage canvas apple picking bags draped over wooden-hoop barrels produced by craftsmen in a Nelson County cooper’s shop: all-but-forgotten vestiges of a once vital local industry that fed the cities and towns of America, and, for a grand extended season, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Photo by Phil James.

Laurie K. Sandridge, a store merchant at Mount Fair, updated a Daily Progress reporter on the seasonal state of affairs in his area of western Albemarle County in October 1934: “Farmer’s throughout the Brown’s Cove section have been busily engaged for the past several weeks gathering their apples and corn crops. From Walnut Level Farm [today’s Innisfree Village], owned by Mr. Hugh Antrim, of Richmond, 1,300 barrels of apples have recently been shipped, which was the best crop of apples produced on that farm in several years.”

It was around that same time that an envelope posted in Richmond was received at the home of John R. Daughtry at the foot of Pasture Fence Mountain. Enclosed was a touching note from his dear neighbor:

“Dear John, Mrs. Boyne wrote me some time ago that my apple trees had right smart apples. If they are not all gone, you can go and get them. Just save me a few to let me one more time taste an apple from up at my dear old home, if you can get up there. Oh, how often I have wished I was back up there. No place like home. I will never be satisfied any more on this earth. I long for the sight of home… I hope you have a good crop and not have to buy these hard times. Your old friend, Mattie E. Maupin.” 

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2022 Phil James 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here