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February 18, 2014 > History:Along Alameda Creek

History:Along Alameda Creek

By Philip Holmes

The land bordering Alameda Creek had become known abroad as the Niles fruit district. Charles Shinn wrote in an article published in 1889 that Niles had become the leading point in Washington Township for shipping fruit, partly because of the excellent soil, but mostly because of the nurseries there. Local nurseries encouraged constant tree planting and replacement. William and F. P. Flint Sim grew some of the first fruit trees on their squatter claims along Alameda Creek where Shinn Park is now. SimÕs first peaches sold for $1 each. He even hired a man to guard his peaches at night, but in the morning, the peaches and the men were gone. Sim planted a couple of orange seeds at his front door and they grew and bore fruit. His orchard became part of the Shinn property.

Joseph Nichols began importing and planting trees in 1853. He planted a row of pear trees known as Mission. They were soft, early pears that grew well on trees that lasted for years when grafted. Nichols originated the Nichols orange cling peach which was widely planted.

The Sweetzer family planted one of the largest orchards along Alameda Creek. It was an excellent orchard that became the parent of many others and was purchased and operated by Howard Overacker.

Shinn recalled that B. D. T. Clough started a pioneer almond nursery. His talks about the almond led to several successful almond orchards in the area. He had a flourishing nursery business. Clough was also one of the first trustees of the Niles school. He bought the Moore house and remodeled it.

Captain C. C. Scott planted trees on what became the Sanborn Farm. When he sold the farm to Daniel Sanborn, he bought the ranch at the mouth of Niles Canyon which he called ÒMizzen Top.Ó It was reported in 1892 that the almond field was larger than first expected and quality was improving.

Dr. Joseph Clark purchased 250 acres from Sim and brought his sister and her husband, Lucy and James Shinn from Texas to manage his ranch. James and Lucy purchased 150 acres from Sim and expanded the ranch to 300 acres. Shinn and Clark formed a partnership and started one of our first nurseries. They imported rare plants from around the world and introduced special varieties of fruit. They originated ShinnÕs Rare Ripe, an early variety of freestone peaches. Shinn sold the nursery stock in 1888 and operated the ranch as a fruit orchard. Neighbors who saw James expanding his orchard would come to see if they could purchase a few trees.

Lida Thane wrote that there was a row of the wild plums used for grafting. They were usually brought from France as tiny seedlings.

Charles Kelsy owned the farm near a popular ford of Alameda Creek where people crossed to go to Centerville. One of the first trustees of the Presbyterian Church and the cemetery by the church, he was remembered as a popular pioneer farmer. He was a tailor in Connecticut before he came to mine gold and then farm here. Kelsy was more famous for his kindness, interest in reading and his sack clothes than his farming. He said that as a tailor, he had been a walking advertisement for clothes, but here Òhe could wear gunny sacks.Ó

Lida Thane wrote in 1891 that the fruit industry was yet in its infancy in many respects. The ordinary farmer did not do much experimenting, but planted trees that were good producers. At this time, orchards around Niles appeared to be the home of apricots. The Moorpark and Hemskirt appeared to be the largest and handsomest, but had produced only one crop in seven years. Many of the trees had been grafted to other varieties.

A question often asked was; ÒHow many acres of fruit does it take to make a living?Ó The answer at Niles in the 1890Õs was that good bearing trees would yield about $100 to $200 per year. However, the trees must be healthy, the right varieties and properly cared for. There is spraying, pruning, plowing and cultivation to be done well to insure a good crop the coming season. A variety of four kinds of fruit would spread out the harvest season. Many orchards in the Niles area were 10-acre farms. Much of this valuable orchard land near Alameda Creek had been acquired by pioneers in the early days and planted to orchards in the last 20 years.

William Mortimer owned a 20-acre plum orchard on the north bank of Alameda Creek. One year he lost money on the crop, not from the flood, but from water shortage. He shipped 55 tons of French prunes to Eastern markets in 1891.

Lida also wrote about Women Orchardists. She noted that from the many letters she had received, it was fair to state that almost every fruit section had a fair proportion of women orchardists: probably as large a percentage as any other occupation pursuit. She also wrote about grafting, stating that it was Òa very simple process which any lady could learn to do as she can to bud her roses.Ó

Pests had become such a problem by the 1890Õs that when an orchardist declared that his trees had no pests, he was probably either ignorant or non-observant. Borers had become an especially difficult problem to combat. Farmers organized the Niles Farmers Alliance Club in 1891. Their united efforts helped to solve pest, marketing, shipping and labor problems.

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