Editor’s note: Following is a collection of snippets about Montezuma County’s orchard history, from various sources, including The Montezuma Journal.
- Jasper Hall and his brother Norman Hall came very early to McElmo Canyon and were influential citizens and known as the fathers of the fruit industry in Montezuma County. They brought in a wagon load of trees from Cañon City, Colorado, and planted them and were producing some phenomenal fruit. (History of Montezuma County by Ira Freeman)
Howard Antes and his wife, Eva Antes moved to the property and planted many fruit trees. They had been living in the Bluff Area but wanted to start a mission among the Navajo. The Rev. Antes came second with strong conviction of having an orchard where he was building the Navajo Mission. He took over the Jim Giles place and planted the trees. (Blue Mountain Shadows, Centennial Issue, Summer, 1996, Bob McPherson, guest editor.)
- W.T. Bozman, manager of McElmo Orchards, 10 miles south of Cortez, having been awarded the gold medal at the St. Louis International Exposition for an exhibit of 6,000 pounds of apples shipped in 1903, which were exhibited throughout the summer of 1904 and retained their pristine freshness and color better than any of their cold storage competitors. The orchard which has since been known as the Gold Medal Orchard, also exhibited at the State Fair an apple weighing 30½ ounces. Four gold medals from World’s Fair Exhibits are the trophies won by the medal orchard. Also from the orchard came a Wolf River apple weighing 27½ ounces. (Lillian Hartman’s Colorado Apple Show Edition for Montezuma County published Dec. 29, 1909)
- “Today the Mayer and Bingham Cannery will begin operations. It is located on the Hall ranch in McElmo Canyon 12 miles due west of Cortez and when in operation is expected to turn out about 1,000 cans of peaches daily. The promoters of the enterprise are ex-County Judge Brigham and M.D. Myers of Mancos, a tinner and skilled factory worker. These gentlemen are the ownership while Commissioner Giles and J.D. Hall are contributors of buildings as well as the principal furnishers of fruit.
The main structure, while only temporary, is admirably arranged for the work. Three fruit cooking vats, each with a capacity of 31 cans, are arranged along one wall connected with the boiler on the outside by pipes through which the hot steam passes. Instead of the fruit being cooked in the bulk, it is placed in cans but not sealed. The cans are then placed in a basket made on the principle of an old-fashioned bread steamer, which later is swung into the cooking vats.
In the meantime, the syrup is being made separately in what is called the tipper, a porcelain-lined kettle with furnace attachment which can be tipped at will and the proper amount of syrup poured into each can. As the cans are cooked and filled a tinner puts on the final cap, labels are then pasted on, boxes are filled, and the fruit is ready for market.
There are now about 11,000 cans ready to be filled, while a workman is constantly employed making more. The first order of tin weighed 4,500 pounds, while 1,200 pounds of fine cane sugar was the first order for syrup stuff. Peaches, which will be the principal article canned this fall, cost $1 per 100 delivered, and all that fruit from the Giles and Hall Orchards suitable for canning will be used. The peach cans are a trifle large than standard cans for that fruit, being in fact the same size as tomato cans, the peach labels are nicely lithographed picture of that fruit bearing these words: “Colorado select – put up by Mayer and Brigham, Montezuma County, Colorado.” Tomatoes will also be extensively canned this fall.
When the cannery is in operation, it will employ at good wages from 12 to 15 persons – mostly women. It will probably be run about two months. Besides peaches and tomatoes, jellies, jams and marmalades will probably be put up.
A cannery is a big thing for any country, but it is particularly a blessing for McElmo. It not only gives the fruit growers a chance to dispose of the products at a fair price, but it enables the San Juan Country to purchase canned goods cheaper than ever before. It makes work for home people and the money paid out for labor and freighting remain at home. (Montezuma Journal, Sept 14, 1897).
- The McElmo Canyon canning factory is now in operation and the product will no doubt be extra select as the fruit is taken from the trees fresh and sound and canned on the same day it is picked. This is a home industry that should be patronized and protected even at an advanced price. (Sept. 21, 1897 - Montezuma Journal)
- The canning factory is turning out a first class first product of the factory to be sent out – and it came straight to the Journal Office.
Judge Brigham was up from the canning factory today, and reports the work going ahead smoothly. About 4,000 cans, mostly peaches, have been put up this week.(Sept. 21, 1897 - Montezuma Journal)
- There was also a canning factory at Arriola as it was suggested that the canning factory building and boiler at Arriola might be used as a creamery for the dairy business. This would allow the people living in the area to turn in their cream check weekly until the cows were paid for. (Montezuma Journal – Feb. 18, 1915)
Lebanon was first called Hardscrabble. The townsite became Lebanon in 1909 when about 250 shareholders came from Pueblo and bought 1,100 acres of land. They laid out a town and established a post office, cleared land and put out several 10-acre tracts to orchards. In 1911, Lebanon had a bank, school, post office, store, hotel and canning factory. Later years the bank and canning factory burned and the hotel was torn down. No evidence found that canning factory opened in Lebanon.
The Gold Medal Orchard, in later years, was known as the Bill Vencil Orchard, 17772 Road J. Cortez. The Jim Giles property is the home of Philip and Vivienne Kenyon.
June Head, Historian of Montezuma County Historical Society can be reached for comment at 970-565-3880.