Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach District

I've previously written on this blog about the apple industry and the strawberry industry in the Ozarks, but there was also a thriving peach industry in the region during the early 1900s. Probably the most more prominent area for commercial peach growing was the Koshkonong-Brandsville district in the south-central part of Missouri. Peaches had been grown for personal consumption in the Koshkonong area (and throughout the whole state) since early pioneer days, but commercial growing did not begin until the 1890s. At that time, the land was cleared and developed by outside capital specifically for peach growing.
Comprising parts of Howell and Oregon counties, the Koshkonong-Brandsville district extended along the Frisco Railroad from Pomona on the north to Thayer on the south, a distance of about forty miles. Nearly all the orchards were located within five miles of the railroad with loading points from one to three miles apart all along the railroad, because the peaches had to be transported to market in a timely fashion before they spoiled. Thus, the district was roughly ten miles wide by forty miles long, although not all of the acreage within that area, of course, was devoted to peach growing. In the fall of 1913, there were about 8,000 acres in the Koskonong-Brandsville district with fruit-bearing peach trees and another 10,000 acres where new trees had been planted but were not yet bearing fruit.
It usually took three years from the time a tree was planted until it started bearing fruit. When the tree was three years old, it would usually yield about three pecks to one bushel of fruit. One acre could sustain approximately 100 trees, and in 1913 farmers could expect to get about a dollar a bushel for their fruit. So each acre would yield from $75 to a $100 during the third year. This figure went up in succeeding years. For instance, a four-year-old tree could be expected to yield about three bushels, or about three times what it produced in year three. In 1911, when prices were higher than they were in 1913, some growers made as much as $800 an acre from their orchards.
Nearly all peaches shipped from the Koshkonong-Brandsville district were handled by the Koshkonong-Brandsville Peach Growers Association, which was affiliated with the Ozark Fruit Growers Association headquartered at Springfield. Growers had to abide by certain restrictions imposed by the association, pertaining to how the peaches were cultivated, pruned, sprayed, and so forth. Nearly all the peaches grown in the district were of the Elberta variety. In the 1913 season, the association shipped a total of 398 train carloads of peaches, 380 of which were Elbertas. A few were of a variety that produced fruit earlier than the Elberta, and a few were later. 1913 was considered a disappointing year, but many growers still averaged better than $100 an acre for their orchards.
Most of the fruit produced in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district was shipped from either Koshkonong or Brandsville, but Pomona, West Plains, Olden, and a couple of other small communities also had shipping sheds. Most of the fruit was sent to northern cities like Boston and New York.
Harvesting the peaches required an army of pickers, and during the season people flocked to the area seeking employment. Most came by train, but many arrived in wagons and pitched their tents. Most of the picking occurred during the mornings, and after the day's work was done, many of the workers would go into town, usually Koshkonong seeking what meager entertainment there was to find. In 1913, about all Koshkonong offered in the way of amusement was a traveling theatrical show, horseshoe pitching, or a game of mumbley-peg.
Land in the Koshkonong-Brandsville district, for those interested in going into the peach growing business, sold for $25 to $75 an acre, depending on such factors as whether the land was cleared or not, exactly where it was located, and the terrain. When clearing the land, a new grower could expect to sell his timber to the lumber industry for enough money to pay the cost of the clearing.

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