Famous for Fruit
Barrelling apples at the Webber orchard southeast of Springdale, 1911. Rogers Historical Museum Collection (S-2008-1-1)
Once the railroad came through Northwest Arkansas in the early 1880s and was able to provide nationwide delivery, fruit production—especially apples—became the backbone of the local economy. Benton County set a national record for a single county in 1901 with production of 2.5 million bushels. The Arkansas apple exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis produced 209 medals. In the bumper year of 1920, Washington and Benton counties together produced over five million bushels; that’s more than half a trillion apples!
Over 300 local apple varieties were produced in Northwest Arkansas. The Ben Davis variety (also called the “striped Ben”) reportedly accounted for 75% of local acreage. Other favorites included the Arkansas Black, Gano, Jonathan, and Winesap. There was even a seedling variety called Springdale. Apple production brought with it a number of related businesses, such as barrel manufacturers and cider vinegar production.
Disease, insects, and late frosts started to hit the industry in the 1920s and the Depression ended the apple’s glory days. By 1930 Northwest Arkansas apple production plunged almost 85%. Farmers began to diversify to end their dependence on fruit production and soon poultry became the leading agricultural product of the region.