Getting to the Core : The Story of the Apple Industry in Fremont County
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Early Apple Growers

Out of all the different industries in Fremont County, the apple business seems the least likely to have any success along the foothills of the mountains. Despite the unusual location and dry climate, the apple industry thrived for many years and inspired the development of other businesses and the area's longest running festivals.

The first apple orchard in Colorado was planted near Cañon City. A few early pioneers founded a business by cashing in on miners' need for fresh fruit. Their success however relied on getting water from the Arkansas River and Grape Creek to the orchards. The apple industry grew literally hand in hand with the increasing development of the irrigation ditches throughout the county.

Early orchard growers in the area included Jesse Frazer, B. F. Rockafellow, John Gravestock, Henry Harrison, and W. A. Helm. Jesse Frazier had apple trees growing on his land in Florence by the 1870s. B. F. Rockafellow planted his orchard on a plot east of the city, where the Holy Cross Abbey is located. The others had orchards east and south of Cañon City.

By 1900, apples became the primary crop in the region with strawberries following close behind. In 1898, roughly 48,000 barrels of apples were shipped out of the area. According to a 1920 orchard survey, Fremont County had over 5,600 acres devoted to fruit-growing and over 145,200 apple trees that year. Several of the trees were 12 to 40 years old. The leading variety of apples grown in the region at the time was Jonathan apples followed by Winesap, Ben Davis, Rome Beauty, Gano, and Delicious.

This photo shows a group of workers along with B. F. Rockafellow (far right) inspecting the apple trees on the Rockafellow Orchard (now the Holy Cross Abbey grounds); ca. 1900.
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1986.043.260
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Men in orchardMen in orchard