The oldest orchards in Colorado are here! The first apple trees (brought across the Great Plains in oxcarts) were planted in the Florence area by Jesse Frazer in the late 1860’s and later by Italian families, along with grapes in Spring Creek/Brookside area. The Arkansas River and its streams were the source of early irrigation works and the area’s elevation, climate, sheltering hills and tillable soil provided a good setting for orchards, farms and ranches.
Initial markets for Fremont County’s agricultural products included early Colorado mining camps, such as Cripple Creek and Leadville, for fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other provisions. By 1888 total fruit shipments from Fremont County were over 700,000 pounds of primarily apples but also including pears, grapes, plums, peaches, strawberries and other berries. Fremont County’s 40,000 bushels of apples, compare to that year’s production of 60,000 bushels for the entire state!
Private investment stimulated the development of the agricultural industry, providing irrigation canals, storage reservoirs, and land preparation. By 1893 over 45,000 acres of land was in agricultural production. Irrigation was provided by 13 canals from the Arkansas River, Grape Creek, etc. Businessmen, schoolteachers and other residents had small orchards or gardens producing fruit, berries and other crops for seasonal sale as supplemental income. Italian workers enjoyed a taste of their home country thru wine from grapevines they grew as a family tradition.
Associated enterprises like packing houses, flour mills, an ice plant, a Libby-McNeil-Libby pickle plant, cider mills, a creamery, soda bottling companies prospered. In 1905, Armour & Company of Chicago marketed Fremont County fruit and produce in major cities from Coast-to-Coast as part of their extensive distribution network. An average of 800 rail cars (some refrigerated) per year of agricultural products were shipped to market.