Historical Markers
Adams County Historical Marker
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Adams County

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
Old Courthouse, Baltimore and W. Middle Sts. , Gettysburg

Dedication Date:
October 6, 1982

Behind the Marker

When Confederate soldiers invaded Adams County in late June 1863 they found lush farms, endless rolling acres of crops, fields of fat cattle and horses, cellars and pantries full of all kinds of food, and an abundance of orchards - some with cherry trees loaded with ripe fruit. As they marched on their way toward Gettysburg where they would battle Union troops, they liberally helped themselves to the dark, sweet little globes. Fresh fruit was a rare treat for any soldier and many ate too much. Those who overindulged discovered that they had a stomachache (or worse) the next day!

After they recovered, some of these young men fought and died in what is known today as "The Peach Orchard" on the Sherfy farm during the second day's fighting. On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, many Confederates formed up for Pickett's Charge in the shade of apple trees and, before being ordered into the fight, they passed the time by pelting each other with small, unripe apples.

Union troops also enjoyed fruit they found in the area but it seems likely that few troops realized they were fighting in a county that was a center for commercial fruit growing. While Adams County remains an important place for the production of fruit, today other counties, including Erie, Lancaster, and York, are known for their bountiful orchards and vineyards.

Almost every farm had an apple orchard "for home use," but in the 1840s and 1850s, many farmers in Pennsylvania began to expand their orchards so they could sell fruit in growing urban markets made accessible by new roads and canals and later by railroad transportation. Initially, they raised more apples, but few were sold fresh. In keeping with tradition, most were turned into cider or fed to pigs. But farmers also experimented with different kinds of fruit trees - pears, plums, and peaches. Peaches were probably the most popular fresh fruit at the time. Farmers in Adams, Allegheny, Beaver, Lancaster, and York counties planted large peach orchards. The State Agricultural Society Report for 1857 confirmed that "the peach has probably been the most valuable product of the soil."

After the Civil War, Pennsylvania orchardists continued to raise
Apple pickers: men, women, and children in the field, with apples in barrels.
Apple pickers in Adams County, PA, circa 1890.
great quantities of fruit, especially pears. In 1867, the Fruit Growers' Association of Pennsylvania determined that "the pear was the most certain of tree fruits" in the state. In the 1870s and 1880s, commercial fruit farmers in the state suffered some major setbacks. Overproduction drove prices down, and a proliferation of pests and diseases devastated orchards - borers, codling moths, curculios, fire blight, and various fungi that many growers had rarely seen before and had no effective way to control. Furthermore, the railroads brought competition as fruit from the South and West glutted markets. The State Horticultural Association summed up the general situation in these years: "fruit grown in Pennsylvania is not now a profitable business."

As the fruit industry suffered, markerFrederick Watts and the markerPennsylvania Grange pushed the federal government for help. Their efforts prompted Congress in 1887 to pass the Hatch Act, which funded the creation of agricultural experiment stations in the states. Within three months Pennsylvania's state legislature accepted provisions of the act and created an experiment station at Pennsylvania State College to address the problems farmers faced. Other developments that followed in the 1890s also began to improve the future of fruit growing in the state: chemicals to control diseases and pests, a greater use of cold storage, and increased commercial canning.

In the early 1900s, increased consumer demand and improved
Black and white image of farmers spraying fruit trees from atop a stand attached to a wagon which is  drawn by two Morgan horses.
Farmers spraying fruit trees.
orchard management techniques led to major growth in Pennsylvania's fruit production. Demand for apples and peaches rose significantly. Farmers planted new orchards in Adams, Allegheny, Berks, Chester, Franklin, markerLancaster, Montgomery, York and other counties. By 1910, Pennsylvania farmers had planted more than two million apple trees. Soon some fruit farmers earned up to $1,000 per acre for their crops. But the boom went bust in 1920 as overproduction and a post-war economic slump combined to deliver a heavy blow to the commercial fruit-growing industry.

The 1920s and 1930s were years of change and challenge for fruit-growers. Trucks - and later refrigerated trucks - carried Pennsylvania apples to new markets in adjacent states and eventually the entire nation. But bananas, cantaloupes, grapefruit, oranges, and other produce grown outside the state offered serious competition for Pennsylvania fruit. State farmers continued to sell most of their apples, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums at their orchards, at roadside stands, and in chain stores. The economic collapse of the Great Depression hurt farmers everywhere. Unable to pay their mortgages, many Pennsylvania fruit growers faced foreclosures and forced sales of their farms and orchards.

During World War II, with many men off to fight in Europe and the Pacific, women became the primary laborers in orchards across the state. The global conflict also brought stability in fruit prices and the state produced record quantities of fruit from 1942 through 1945: 28 million bushels of apples, 6 million bushels of peaches, 1.25 million bushels of pears, and 28 million tons of cherries. But the 1940s also brought additional hardships for fruit growers - heavy frosts in the spring of 1945 nearly destroyed the fruit crops that year. In the years after the war, orchard owners began more widespread use of a new pesticide called DDT, which revolutionized insect control.

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, fruit growers adopted innovations and technology brought about by new scientific research to improve their crops. Orchardists continued to use DDT and an increasingly wide variety of pesticides. After the publication of markerRachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 brought the government's attention to the impact that DDT had on the environment, the use of the pesticide was eventually outlawed. But chemists developed new chemicals to take its place. Science also played a much greater role after the harvest as the development of controlled atmosphere in fruit storage to limit spoilage was perfected and became standard practice for growers.

Scientific agriculture has enabled orchardists to increase production, but there are always new challenges in fruit growing. In the late twentieth century, orchard owners continued to face the perennial problems of insect pests, weather, and plant disease, For example, in September 1999, trees in several Adams County orchards were infected with plum pox virus, a disease never seen in North America until then. The disease is incurable and affects apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, and other fruits that are grown in orchards across the state. At present, a significant portion of the fruit-growing industry in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in great jeopardy. To stave off what could be major catastrophe, scientists at markerPenn State University and experts in the state and federal departments of agriculture are seeking ways to eradicate the disease and teaching farmers how to identify it.
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