1910 New Plymouth Fruit Growers Packing House on Adams Road


This is 1910 photo of the Fields packinghouse on Ada Road NW NP. Harold Collingsworth gave me this photo.  He said that several of the women were Sloans, Collingsworth and May.

The Idaho fruit industry had several centers springing forth in the following sequence: the earliest was north of Weiser along upper Mann’s Creek and the long valley (Indian Valley, up to Cambridge) almost to Council. It was so important, that a spur railroad was built following the Weiser River up to Council. Weiser Cove was next almost simultaneously. The start in Weiser area was sparked by its being the major railroad servicing area for a long stretch. Later, as a spur was run east up the Payette, now New Plymouth could begin to blossom. The Indian Valley apple area was declining by the time New Plymouth began its heyday. This was because of climate.

The next location was centered on New Plymouth (which was ahead of Fruitland for 4-5 years) from Hamilton Corner (hwy 72/52) bluff on the East and continuing eventually to Fruitland). This is what I call the “Peninsula”; as I will describe later. This is how Fruitland got its name — the little town was simply in the middle of orchards. The spreading of major orchards then centered on New Plymouth and the railroad spur and marched West along what would become Hwy 30.

The next location was centered on Fruitland (now attracting settlers because of New Plymouth’s success, and as the two canals (Noble Ditch and Farmers Canal) finally were completed bringing the irrigation water it all depended upon. Fruitland town hinged on a very large packing house, sprung up, where Hwy 30 turned west becoming main street in the old downtown area (now Hwy 30 is incorporated into the freeway). The orchards then continued to spread west and north from Fruitland filling the entire area known as Gayway Corners out to the edge of the bluff overlooking the Snake and Payette River junction (Palisades). The area eventually spread south from Fruitland along Hwy 95 to the now present Freeway interchange I-84 and Hwy 95, crossing the Snake.

If you look at a map, you can see that the Fruitland area portion of what I call the peninsula is perhaps a quarter or less of the size of New Plymouth, so, of course, could not compete in amount of fruit grown. If you look at map or contour elevation you can see why this happened. Beginning on the Payette River upstream, even with Hamilton Corners (now intersection of Hwy 72 (old Hwy 30) and Hwy 52) down the Payette, and then up the Snake are bluffs encompassing an area like a peninsula of higher ground. This kept the fruit centers of New Plymouth and Fruitland above the flow of cold air down both rivers. This bluff area is higher than the rest of Treasure Valley and explains why fruit never made it in Ontario. Cold air flowing down the rivers spreads out on entering Treasure Valley making the floor of the valley too cold for fruit. With certain weather conditions clouds form at the lower elevations leaving the New Plymouth/Fruitland areas like an island in the sky! Quite spectacular.

This configuration was caused by the vast terminal morraines of last ice age 11-12,000 yrs ago, dumping silt. Then the Snake and Payette carved down thru the moraine leaving it high and dry with bluffs delineating it. Weiser cove area was produced by the silt from the Weiser River. The Indian Valley fruit area was caused by morraines as well. Weiser flat, and the sloughs along Snake are more cobbles overlain with silt and not well drained.

Simultaneously with Fruitland, fruit growing spread up the Snake to “Apple Island,” Parma, and other small towns at south end of Boise Valley eventually nearly to Caldwell. In some situations, islands being surrounded by water — which is at a higher temp than frosty air from the mountains maintains a shelter belt of warmer air.

The next “flowering” of fruit growing were cherries (mostly Bings) along the bluff west of Fruitland overlooking the Snake and Ontario (Palisades). This was found to be the most frost free area in Treasure Valley and about the only one suitable for Cherries the most frost sensitive of the fruits. This bluff edge became almost 100% cherries. For many years we went there annually to pick cherries for canning. For many years Gayway Corner was a collection of fruitstands catering to travelers from North and West — its very genesis. Cherries being the primo attraction.

Following all these other areas, the next fruit centers were orchards just west of Emmett up against the bluff along the south bank of the Payette flood plain, and eventually along the north bank on Emmett Bench when canal water was brought from Black Canyon Dam after 1931. Both locations being sharply defined by frost. Many years I picked Apricots and Peaches on the Dewey Ranch on the south side of the valley.

A still further fruit area was up Squaw Creek east and north of Emmett in Sweet and Ola. This area was planted mostly by New Plymouth-ites who were victims of frost damages. Sweet and Ola were very remote so the industry there eventually died from lack of transport and labor. It was a short lived fruit area.

The main factor in where and why orchards were placed was the frost belt. Then second, but every bit as important was the soil. The fruit demanded deep, rich, well drained soil which the “penninsula” had an advantage over all other local areas. A major factor “well drained” was a priority of the founders of New Plymouth and Fruitland, who brought irrigation water via canal, but equally important used large steam driven draglines to dig a network of drain ditches. This area was marked by small hill after small hill — the soil was a clay soil and must be drained.

Every small hill had its stream draining it, which stream was enlarged to become a drain-ditch and to connect, and connect again, until they got to the downward edge of the bench and ending up as a stream emptying into the river. So every farming region in this area has “drain-ditch boards” with taxing power to maintain these drain-ditches, just as the canals have also a taxing, via water shares (1 share/acre), in order to maintain the canal water.

Beginning in 40s, as tractors became more commonplace and affordable, these small hills were often leveled combining many small fields into larger and larger fields more easily farmed by big equipment. As the land was leveled, many drain-ditches were filled in and new drainage was arranged. Thus disappeared many of the smaller “cut-up” fields of the early era — and radically changing the appearance of the farms. This was demanded by gravity irrigation in furrows. As a new age in agriculture arrived with powered sprinkler systems that do not depend upon gravity, the “wave” of leveling land subsided. South of New Plymouth — between it and I-84 you can observe the “high water” mark of the leveling era. (Leveling land is a subject for its own story).

Of course there were other factors determining orchard locations eventually — transport being huge. Railroads began the entire industry, and railroad presence was essential to locate packing houses and to concentrate and load trains for transport. New Plymouth was the major shipping for the entire PV region, and this can easily be verified by where the packing houses were located and how many were there. At one time, more than a mile of railroad on the north side of New Plymouth was solidly lined with packing houses — three times the number of any other city in the apple growing area. The number of packing houses being directly proportionate to the acres given over to orchards. As a boy in 1930s I remember several of these packing houses. As the curse of the times, all of them eventually succumbed to fire — big empty buildings being particularly vulnerable to fire.

Also important to fruit growing was labor — closeness to a town for its labor and its railroad. Which came first is chicken and egg situation. In 1934 when my parents bought a farm in New Plymouth, and in the middle of the Great Depression, the main source of “cash money”; was laboring in orchards, especially picking the fruit. Apples were predominant and picking a box earned a nickel. So most farm families practically lived in the orchards for six weeks to two months. We pitched a tent and picked every daylight hour — whole families, small and large engaged. Most farms at that time more often paid for with picking than with profit from the farm.

Frost was the dominant problem for fruit farmers, and major weather changes would eventually drive fruit growers out of business. And often frost areas could change locally as prevailing winds changed direction or intensity. An apparently unrelated happening could also change local frost conditions. Placing the Black Canyon Dam, just above Emmett on the Payette, caused cold air to be dammed up as well, and then it could come downstream in much bigger and wider formation — this mostly affected the Fruit south and east of Emmett.

The climate change affected apples more than prunes–so prune/plum orchards began replacing apple orchards at the end of 30s, then prune orchards began disappearing in the mid 40s. Orchards along the Palisades were the last to go.  However, some apple growers, like the Hengler family, had learned to handle the frosts with ways of heating their orchards and continue to this day.

Markets are also driven by demand. Boom and bust production years while weather related also had effect of determining orchards that would continue and those that couldn’t. Some farmers would spread their risk — branching out to peaches, apricots, cherries, or prunes in order to hedge their bet against over production of apples.Each fruit species blooms at different times, so having a variety of fruits you might lose one variety to frost but escape with the others.  This also spread one’s risk on marketing.

So locals would see local changes, evolving from growing or not growing fruit — and the type of fruit.  After the early 1900s fruit growing explosion in Idaho came production from Oregon and Washington competing for a slowing market, as farming in those areas began with irrigation from later dams on Columbia and Snake. Technology also plays its part. Farmers used smudge pots, and wind machines to keep fruit blossoms from freezing. Then this would also change with environmental considerations.

In 1970s I visited my dad who still farmed in New Plymouth and he took me out to Johnny Hengler’s packing plant. The Hengler family were old time apple growers (between New Plymouth and Fruitland) who we had picked for many times. My mom worked in their packing house over at least 40+ years. Johnny showed my dad and I thru his huge modern apple storage warehouse where apples were kept at constant temperature year round in a completely nitrogen environment. This prevented oxygen from causing apple continued ripening or deterioration and apples could be stored as if fresh for years. This is hazardous as no oxygen means no human can exist in such an area without an oxygen mask, and particularly difficult because you cannot see any different in air that has or doesn’t have oxygen.

On a trip “up home”; to New Plymouth about 2002 going along I-84 looking out over the valley west of New Plymouth, I noticed a lot of fruit blossoming — a very large area, so perhaps fruit is coming back, at least in New Plymouth. However, Fruitland is being paved over, or built over, with houses, becoming a bedroom community — and losing the single most prized fruit area of central Idaho, the Palisades bluff west of Fruitland overlooking Ontario



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