Historic Amherst

Peach Farmers in 19th-Century Amherst

BY KATRINA HOLMAN

 

      One of the pleasures of late summer here in southern New Hampshire is eating locally-grown produce, especially corn – and peaches! As I write in September, I savor “local” peaches from farm-stands, grown by  professional farmers in Hollis, Milford and Lyndeborough, and a box-full from a little private orchard in Wilton.

      Back in the 19th century, edible-peach trees were common in Amherst, both in private gardens and on farms growing them for market. An historical detective, attempting to figure out the locations of those peach orchards, can find names of peach growers in the local newspaper, the Farmers’ Cabinet, in four types of items:  farm-for-sale notices; exhibitors and/or winners at annual agricultural fairs; acknowledgments by the newspaper editor for gifts of locally-grown produce; and reward notices by irate victims of fruit larceny. Even with a focus on peach growers, a picture emerges of the agrarian community that Amherst once was.

Productive Peach Farms

      Here are seven Amherst farms that produced peaches for market in the second half of the 19th century; and one nursery.

      In the western part of Amherst, on 65a farm of Loea Pratt (1785-1875) with house at 14 Green Road, his son William Pratt (1830-1920) & Chas. Twiss ran a commercial nursery in 1853 offering “a good variety of the various kinds of Fruit Trees, such as Apples, Pears, Peaches, Cherries and Quinces, of good size for transplanting.” As of 1881, William was a farmer still living there and still growing peaches.

      At the northern edge of the Village, at the large farm associated with house (originally tavern, built 1760) at 18 Jones Road (labeled “L. Jones” on 1858 map), Peter W. Jones

Bowl of fresh peaches

(1817-1886) raised peaches. In the fall of 1852, the newspaper reported: “Col. Levi Jones [1799-1858] of this place [Amherst] [presented the editor with] a basket of most superb Essler Sweets, from the Peach Orchard of his son P. W. Jones, Esq., on the farm near the village, in the occupancy and improvement of which they are associated. This orchard under skillful management has furnished over 100 bushels of splendid peaches for the neighboring markets the present season (fall 1852). [F]rom the same source, beautiful specimens of Bartlett Pears, and a variety of Apples.” The peach crop that year was so bountiful “that some of our farmers have fed them out to their hogs.” That farm was owned by Levi Jones since 1824 and subsequently owned & occupied by his son Peter until the end of his life. The younger Jones, a heavy man, became one of Amherst’s

top livestock raisers, cattle and sheep; breeder of pedigree horses; owner of race horses; and also (1860, 1865-1875) was railroad express-package agent. (He also owned lots more acreage further north in Amherst.)

      In the north-most part of Amherst on the west side of Chestnut Hills, 6 miles from Amherst Village and 1 mile from the No. 9 schoolhouse (still standing at 97 Chestnut Hill Road), on 100-acre farm (now off-limits as part of the 2600 acres in three towns of the Air Force station established 1942), Capt. Charles Melendy (1797-1883; buried Chestnut Hill Cemetery) grew “apples, pears, peaches and grapes in abundance,” living in a 2-story house with ell, and utilizing two barns (one 38x60 feet and the other 25x30 feet, cellar under both), corn barn, and blacksmith shop. Chas. Melendy regularly exhibited fruit at the annual Hillsborough County Fair held at Milford, usually winning in some fruit category or another: in 1856, best “show of fruit” overall; in 1857, best specimen of seedling apples ($1 premium); in 1860, “most interesting exhibition of fruits of all kinds” ($3, where $3 was highest amount for fruit prizes but other crops and livestock earned higher) and for “best and largest quinces” ($3); in 1867, was the leading fruit exhibitor, having 3 varieties of peaches, 3 of grapes, 3 of plums, 1 of quinces, 4 of pears, and 66 of apples, 40 autumn and 26 winter, winning best show fall apples ($2), best show winter apples ($2), and best native grapes (50 cents); in 1868, Melendy displayed 75 varieties of apples, and took first place on fall and on winter apples ($2 each), and 2d best native grapes (50 cents); in 1869, 2d best show of fruit of all kinds ($3, whereas first place got $5) and 2d best winter apples ($2),and best native grape ($1) while a farmer from Lyndeborough won best plate of peaches

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