In Knox County, summertime has long been the time for fresh peaches from the many commercial orchards that once dotted the county. While the county still has peach orchards, they aren’t as numerous as they were in the early part of the 20th century. One peach producer was the Simpson Orchard Co. While the Simpson family mainly grew apples, they had a 50-acre peach orchard on the east edge of Vincennes near the old Lakewood amusement park. In fact, it was informally known as the Lakewood Orchard. In 1921, the company, then managed by Harry Simpson, could boast of record-size peaches, some of which made their way to the White House.
That summer of 1921, the peach crop in Knox County was small, due to a spring cold snap. On March 19, the local temperature reached a record-breaking 83 degrees, causing the peach buds to burst into bloom. Then, toward the end of the month, a cold snap damaged the blossoms, especially in low lying areas. On the night of March 28, the Simpsons lit some 250 fires to help protect their crop. In the wee hours of that morning, the temperature dropped to a frigid 24 degrees and a bit lower in some areas.
That August, they would get only 400-500 bushels from an orchard that had produced 15,000 bushels the previous year. Still, despite the fact that the crop was small, those peaches that were on the trees were especially large and of high quality. Some limbs were weighed down heavily with fruit. There were peaches that measured 12 ½ to 13 ½ inches in circumference and weighed one to one and a quarter pounds. Hale and Elberta peaches were grown at the Simpson orchard.
Since the peaches were so large and fine that season, Thomas H. Adams, editor of the Vincennes Commercial, had the idea of sending some of the Simpson peaches to Washington, D.C., as a means of generating publicity for Knox County agriculture. On Aug. 8, twelve peaches each were chosen for President Warren Harding, Indiana Senator James E. Watson, and Indiana Governor Warren McCray.
After receiving his peaches, Sen. Watson requested 50 more to photograph for publicity purposes. Washington newspapers, along with the Indianapolis Star, carried a photo of Watson’s 12-year-old son presenting the peaches to Secretary of Agriculture Henry C. Wallace, providing a bonanza of positive coverage for Knox County. Moving pictures were taken, as well. A challenge was issued to other states to show such quality fruit.
A thank-you note was received from President Harding’s secretary for his peaches.
Large peaches continued to be found. On Aug. 13, the peach harvest was almost complete for the season when one of the Simpson workers picked a single peach hanging on one of the trees in the orchard in an area where much of the crop had been lost. The peach, of the Hale variety, weighed 22 ounces (two ounces more than the largest that had been picked that season). It measured 14 inches in circumference in one direction and 13 inches in the other. Its shape and color were described as “perfect.” The peach was said to be “possibly the largest ever grown in Knox County.”
As far as what customers had to pay for the Simpson peaches that year, in an Aug. 13 advertisement, the Roughan Grocery Co. was selling a bushel of Simpson peaches for $4.75.
Decades later, the Simpson family phased out their orchard business and today operate a wholesale ornamental plant nursery. The company was originally a nursery when it was founded in the mid-19th century.
Brian Spangle can be reached at email@example.com. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County”, published this year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.