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Apple Harvests of Historic Cross Orchards in Western Colorado

Lincoln Rogers

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The late 1800s witnessed a remaking of the Western Slope landscape.

Water was brought into the Grand Valley through irrigation canals and a land once described by early settlers as “inhabitable” became fruitful, in a very real sense.

With visions of a profitable enterprise on the horizon, East Coast investor Walter Cross and Isabelle Cross purchased 243 acres of Grand Junction in 1896, paving the way for Cross Orchards to be operated as an agricultural showcase by the Massachusetts-based Red Cross Land and Fruit Company from 1896-1923. With more than 22,000 trees, it was one of the largest in the state when most local orchards averaged just nine acres.

Most of the property was planted in apples, which was most profitable, but a few acres of pears and peaches were grown for good measure. Primary apple varieties of the day included Black Twig, Gano, Jonathan, Winesap, Rome Beauty and Ben Davis.

At the peak of operation, the bustling orchard included a two-story ranch house, bunkhouse, summer bungalow, several outbuildings and a large combination barn/packing shed. Boasting prize-winning produce that won awards from Denver to New York, Cross Orchards developed into one of the largest and most impressive agricultural properties in Western Colorado.

With such a large operation in place, readying for the annual harvest was no easy task. Beginning with thousands of smudge pots lighting the valley floor in late spring when temperatures dipped toward freezing, the work continued without a break through the rest of the year, including the expensive and time-consuming task of spraying lead-arsenate insecticide to try and control the Coddling Moth near picking time. During peak periods of pruning, picking and packing, the Red Cross Land and Fruit Company often employed more than 50 part-time workers to help bring in the apples.

Most were local citizens who commuted from town or would set up camp for several weeks during the fall harvest.

When the apples were finally ready, men on tri-legged ladders picked fruit from trees, put it in sacks and placed it in horse or mule-driven wagons, where drivers would deliver it to the barn for packing. At the barn, more men would unload apples into a sorter and women then graded the fruit for quality and size before packing. The best quality and largest fruit were always at the top of the box. When a wooden box was filled, a lid was attached, a label affixed and the box loaded onto another flatbed wagon on its way to the train depot in Clifton. From there, a majority of the Cross Orchards’ harvest was shipped to parts east and west of Colorado.

Business boomed for Cross Orchards, and its reputation grew in the area and throughout the country. Like all good things, however, it came to an end. Due to its exceptionally large size – meant to show off to the rest of the country the fertile agricultural conditions of the Grand Valley – expenses were also large. The cost of spraying, smudging, and freight took much of the profit and the land was finally auctioned off in parcels in 1924 due to the debt of the operation.

The entire location was almost lost to decline and development, but the Museum of Western Colorado bought 4.5 acres of the historic site in 1979, saving the bunkhouse and packing shed from demolition. Cross Orchards is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and Places, and visitors can touch and see

a little of life as a Grand Valley pioneer, as well as discover how 22,000 apple trees were harvested every year by hand.

The late 1800s witnessed a remaking of the Western Slope landscape.

Water was brought into the Grand Valley through irrigation canals and a land once described by early settlers as “inhabitable” became fruitful, in a very real sense.

With visions of a profitable enterprise on the horizon, East Coast investor Walter Cross and Isabelle Cross purchased 243 acres of Grand Junction in 1896, paving the way for Cross Orchards to be operated as an agricultural showcase by the Massachusetts-based Red Cross Land and Fruit Company from 1896-1923. With more than 22,000 trees, it was one of the largest in the state when most local orchards averaged just nine acres.

Most of the property was planted in apples, which was most profitable, but a few acres of pears and peaches were grown for good measure. Primary apple varieties of the day included Black Twig, Gano, Jonathan, Winesap, Rome Beauty and Ben Davis.

At the peak of operation, the bustling orchard included a two-story ranch house, bunkhouse, summer bungalow, several outbuildings and a large combination barn/packing shed. Boasting prize-winning produce that won awards from Denver to New York, Cross Orchards developed into one of the largest and most impressive agricultural properties in Western Colorado.

With such a large operation in place, readying for the annual harvest was no easy task. Beginning with thousands of smudge pots lighting the valley floor in late spring when temperatures dipped toward freezing, the work continued without a break through the rest of the year, including the expensive and time-consuming task of spraying lead-arsenate insecticide to try and control the Coddling Moth near picking time. During peak periods of pruning, picking and packing, the Red Cross Land and Fruit Company often employed more than 50 part-time workers to help bring in the apples.

Most were local citizens who commuted from town or would set up camp for several weeks during the fall harvest.

When the apples were finally ready, men on tri-legged ladders picked fruit from trees, put it in sacks and placed it in horse or mule-driven wagons, where drivers would deliver it to the barn for packing. At the barn, more men would unload apples into a sorter and women then graded the fruit for quality and size before packing. The best quality and largest fruit were always at the top of the box. When a wooden box was filled, a lid was attached, a label affixed and the box loaded onto another flatbed wagon on its way to the train depot in Clifton. From there, a majority of the Cross Orchards’ harvest was shipped to parts east and west of Colorado.

Business boomed for Cross Orchards, and its reputation grew in the area and throughout the country. Like all good things, however, it came to an end. Due to its exceptionally large size – meant to show off to the rest of the country the fertile agricultural conditions of the Grand Valley – expenses were also large. The cost of spraying, smudging, and freight took much of the profit and the land was finally auctioned off in parcels in 1924 due to the debt of the operation.

The entire location was almost lost to decline and development, but the Museum of Western Colorado bought 4.5 acres of the historic site in 1979, saving the bunkhouse and packing shed from demolition. Cross Orchards is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and Places, and visitors can touch and see

a little of life as a Grand Valley pioneer, as well as discover how 22,000 apple trees were harvested every year by hand.


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