Whirlwind Hill was once crowded with trees whose lavish spring blossoms ripened into round, bright fruit in late summer. The orchards that were already starting to diminish in the 1950’s are completely gone from the hill now, replaced by fields of hay, acres of new houses with long driveways and tidy lawns, and a winery and vineyard.
For many years peaches brought work and cash to my ancestors. There were apple orchards on the farm for decades when, sometime after 1875, my great-grandfather, William Ellsworth Hall, introduced peaches. But by around 1920 my grandparents were concentrating on dairy cows and apples, and the peach trees were few.
In 1912 my great-grandmother still writes about selling peaches.
Wednesday, August 21, 1912 – “Another close day. Picking peaches. Sold twenty-four baskets for seventy cents a basket. Pretty good for the first.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Thursday, August 29, 1912 – “We have been very busy canning peaches besides our usual work. Canned eleven quarts. They look very nice.” – Lydia Jane Hall
By 1921, other farms on the hill had taken over the commercial selling of the crop.
Monday, August 29, 1921 – “A nice day, warmer. September days are coming. Apples and peaches are ripening fast. Large truck loads of peaches going past to the depot toward evening.” – Lydia Jane Hall
Saturday, September 10, 1921 – “Nice day and a busy one for all. Agnes has canned peaches pears & tomatoes. We have had all our peaches off the few trees that were left on the hill lot, which were very nice to eat and can.” – Lydia Jane Hall
For the past two years I’ve been slowly transcribing journals kept by my great-grandfather William. His journal entries tell me very little about him, and I’ve hesitated to try to sum up his life from sentences like this.
January 10, 1861 – “Went to New Haven with apples. Mother spent the evening at Widow L. Hall’s. Put up some cider in the evening.” – William E. Hall
January 11, 1861 – “Finish putting up cider.” Went to the mountain after wood in the afternoon.” – William E. Hall
But I learned more about him through a speech and poem he wrote to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Wallingford Grange. Paper-clipped to the speech was a letter of sympathy to my family from the Grange written after William’s death in 1920. In this letter, the writers call my great-grandfather “The Father of the Wallingford Grange.” This photo of him as a young man was taken before he and thirty-one other people founded the town Grange in 1885.
Granges were organized to bring farmers together. It was through the Grange that Wallingford became home to so many fruit orchards. When I buy peaches at the farmers’ markets here in the Pacific Northwest, or buy beets and carrots at the markets in Alaska, I feel the same spirit that must have driven the early farmers of Wallingford to respect the land and to work together as a community to bring their produce to market. In his speech to the Grange, William said:
“Our hills are covered with fruit trees. Wallingford has come to be recognized as a center for great peach orchards. There is no fairer sight than the hills covered with blossoms, no more earnest sight than the industry of gathering and sending to market the product of our labor. For years much of this land had gone to waste. It has been recognized as pasture or at least, barren hill. But now there are everywhere vineyards and orchards. Our Grange has done more than its share toward bringing this about. Because from the first the organization has aimed to support conservation of all natural resources…Every possible precaution for preserving the soil should be taken, and the fact that no one has a right to become robber of the soil should be taught in the home, the school, the church, and the Grange. For in this and all other things we say, ‘The greatest good to the greatest number.’ ” – William Ellsworth Hall
On Monday: The Porch