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Historical Markers
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York Imperial Apple Historical Marker
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Name:
York Imperial Apple

Region:
Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region

County:
York

Marker Location:
S. George St. (SR 3001, old US 111), 2 miles S of York

Dedication Date:
April 5, 1948

Behind the Marker

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Imperial Apple marker dedication ceremony, York, PA, 1920.
Crisp, juicy, sweet, and tart - delicious! That's how people have described the York Imperial apple. In the 1820s Quaker nurseryman Jonathan Jessop developed this variety of apple on his "Springwood Farm" near York from grafts of a tree from John Kline's farm at Hellam. Although it had a funny, lopsided, almost rectangular shape, this new variety of fruit generated a great deal of interest in the first half of the nineteenth century because it had other qualities that made it important to people back then.

The York Imperial was a great all-purpose apple, excellent for cider making and cooking. Most importantly, it "kept well," which meant it could be stored for a long period of time without losing flavor. This was no small matter in a time without refrigerators. In fact, the York Imperial got sweeter in storage. After harvest in fall, the apple could keep throughout the winter months stored in wooden barrels or boxes in root cellars and basements up until April or May.

According to the York Daily Record, in the 1820s, the apple was originally known as "Jonathan's Fine Winter," named after the man who propagated it. It thrived in the fertile soil of York County and even grew well in stony ground. Many people sought young trees or "whips" as they were called, to start their own orchards, and this new apple very quickly spread from Pennsylvania into Virginia.  Andrew Jackson Downing, the famous nineteenth-century horticulturist, landscape architect, and nurseryman, in the 1850s called it the "Imperial of Keepers" because of its excellent storage ability. That assessment was no small praise from a man who was an expert on raising fruit trees - especially apples. It is from that moniker that the fruit became better known as the York Imperial.
Color image of an apple
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York Imperial Apple

In the 1800s, it was widely grown in backyard orchards as well as by commercial growers. The York Imperial is a great producer and if properly cared for, a mature tree could average up to twenty bushels a year. No doubt its prolific nature helped to make it a very popular variety.

Today, the York Imperial is designated an "antique apple" because it has been raised for more than 180 years. Few apple varieties that old are still being grown. A medium to large-size apple, it is known for its odd shape, off-white flesh, crisp, firm texture, and its juiciness. You also can recognize a York Imperial apple by its color, which ranges from a yellowish-green with a light red blush and yellow stripes to almost fully red with reddish-brown at the top or bottom. This old-fashioned apple is still grown on farms and orchards across Pennsylvania and the continental United States.

Although York Imperial apples are not commonly seen in the fresh fruit bins of major supermarkets, they can be found at orchards and roadside stands throughout the state. Some of us enjoy apples descended from Mr. Jessop's stock without even knowing it. Many are raised in Pennsylvania specifically to be processed into apple juice or applesauce.
 
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