CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Great Heirloom Apple Adventure: Part I of...?

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

I have been bitten! By what? By the heirloom apple bug.

Historically, the Front Range of Colorado was flush with apple orchards. One of the first and arguably most successful was started by a man named Charles Pennock. From what I have learned, he was born in Livingston County, NY and in the spring of 1866, after a stint in the US Army, he came west to Colorado. Over the years he was involved in the construction of the High Line ditch around Bingham Hill, northwest of Ft. Collins, CO and then with building the roads through the Poudre Canyon, west of Ft. Collins, CO. In 1881 he retired and purchased land to homestead in Pleasant Valley, Bellvue, CO which he named “Apple Grove Fruit Farm”. He proceeded to plant acres and acres of fruit where others said nothing would grow. In the end, he had what some considered at the time to be one of the best orchard businesses in the area, trialing new varieties and experimenting to discover what would work well for Front Range fruit growers. His story is one of many heard all over the state. Jesse Frazier did the same near Canon City, CO. Jasper Hall was growing fruit down in Montezuma County, and there were many others. All were planting what they knew from home and seeking out new varieties to try as well. Most of these orchards no longer exist, however some of the trees still stand; their stories untold to newer generations. There is a small, but mighty group of people who are working to rediscover these lost stories and weave together the fabric of these forgotten orchards.

Pleasant Valley, Bellvue, CO

Now, back to the bite! I am not only fascinated with the plants, but the rich history and stories are what have captivated me recently. There is a never ending treasure hunt with clues to be found and linked together. As I have been getting more and more interested in all of this, I have come to realize that it is not a new found passion, but something that goes back a looooonggg time ago. I think it all started when I was a little girl…It was late summer and my mom and I were on a trip to the Western Slope of Colorado visiting friends and I had been promised a trail ride. One thing lead to another and we found ourselves nearing the end of the trip and NO trail ride had happened. I was devastated. Parents, when you promise a 7-year old a pony ride and don’t come through, well, it’s just not okay! Anyway, we were touring around the Delta area going to different orchards and came across one (I wish I could remember the name!) with an old man sitting on an apple crate with boxes and boxes of beautiful red apples piled around him. Just off to the side was a scruffy white pony tied to one of the apple trees, lazily grazing on grass. Again, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, the old man had fashioned a bridle out of orange twin and I was on the pony riding bareback through the orchard all on my own! It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I swear I saw fairies flitting around the trees and dancing on the ripening fruit. The sunlight was shining through the leaves, with long rays highlighting all the little specs of dust and pollen and insects creating a world that I wish I could go to again as an adult. I’m telling you, magical!

Tree near the post office
Okay, fast forward a few years. I’m living in Bellvue, CO with my family. During the summers on our daily walk to the little Post Office to collect our mail, we would stop and pick a few apples off the gnarled, ancient tree that was along the path we took. Sometimes we’d pick just a few, sometimes we’d take a pillow case and fill it up with the small, hard green apples and my mom would make applesauce. When I had friends over it was always a favorite adventure to go pick apples from this tree and have an afternoon snack. Just this past weekend I was in Bellvue and decided to go see if the tree is still there, and it is. Could this tree be one of Pennocks???

Fast forward again, many, many years and I am living in Corrales, NM on one of the area’s oldest, continuously operational farms, the Curtis-Losack Farm. Evelyn, the matriarch of the farm and family, and my former landlady, grows all sorts, but namely apples. She is famous in the area for, among other things, her apple pies that she sells at the Grower’s Market on the weekends. While I lived there, I was lucky enough to get to help Evelyn peel buckets of apples in preparation for those pies and hear stories about the days of ol’ when she was a girl picking apples from the same trees she picks from today at the age of 85. To learn more about Evelyn and the history of farming in Northern NM, I highly recommend the book “If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying: Learning to Make the Perfect Pie, Sing When You Need To, and Find the Way Home with Farmer Evelyn”, winner of the 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards for Biography (New Mexico subject) and Best Book.

Move ahead in time again and I’m visiting my family over the summer of 2012 in Ft. Collins and I go to an “open-house” at the old Water Works out toward LaPorte, CO. It is being preserved and used as a historic educational site. As I’m wandering the grounds, I come across a small, old orchard. Again, my interest is piqued, but I just file the experience away and enjoy the rest of my day.

Old orchard at the Water Works

Finally, here we are at present day. I’m a new CSU Horticulture Extension Agent, living along the Front Range again after some time away. Once again I find myself being drawn to learning more about these old apples, orchards and the early settlers who brought them here. Over the course of the next few months and perhaps years, I plan on continuing down this path of learning all I can about this subject and sharing my journey with you, the reader. Stay tuned for Part II of The Great Heirloom Apple Adventure…!!  

Historical information about Charles Pennock:


  1. Well you've certainly peaked my interest! Looking forward to part II and beyond. Love those historical plant stories!

  2. You probably already have this website by Colorado Heirloom Apple Grower Jude Schuenemeyer, but just in case:
    Delicious article, can't wait to hear more--yum!!