The history of Palisade peaches began with pioneers, explorers, and town builders who breached the backbone of the continent—the Rocky Mountains—in the Territory of Colorado. The question is how did they know in the 1890s that peaches would be a juicy contributor to Colorado’s $40 billion plus and growing agriculture industry of today?
They had vision, motivation, and a market.
Mining interest cut into the mineral-rich mountains of Western Colorado, extracting gold, silver, and coal. They laid out communities close to their mother lodes and far from their markets. Enter next the railroad companies like the Denver & Rio Grande (D&RG) and the Colorado Midland Railway (later Railroad) who set tracks within the precarious passes to export the precious commodities. The BLM’s Cultural Series No. 10 by O’Rourke, Frontier in Transition, explains:
“The construction of railroad lines in southwestern Colorado during the 1880’s and 1890’s was determined by the desire to connect gold and silver mining camps with the rest of the state, but was also motivated by the necessity of securing locomotive fuel from the many rich coal fields in the area.”
“It is uninviting and desolate looking in the extreme.” That is what the Denver Tribune wrote in 1880 of the Western Slope, as cited in Ingersoll’s legendary 1885 book Crest of the Continent.
Yet, elephant-skin colored cliffs and dusty, brush-covered terrain is not what Colorado agriculture and irrigation expert William E. Pabor saw. He writes in his twelve-year agriculture study Fruit Culture in Colorado, published in 1883, “We see, through the mists of the present, the fruit-lands of the future.” His extensive interviewing of fruit growers, coupled with his knowledge of irrigation opened his eyes to the possibility of a fruitful future in Western Colorado’s semi-arid landscape.
The world was moving west at a pace as fast as the railroad could lay tracks. Once the U.S. government relocated the Western Slope Ute Indians (again), the west was open for business. Town founders like George Crawford (Grand Junction) and Pabor (Fruita) set up orchards and communities. They, among others, recognized that the isolated Western Colorado was ripe for development. They untied their motivation with their vision to tap into the nearby market.
“The miners pay cash. The harvest gathered from the soil, under the genial influence of the sun and water, is as golden as that taken from the hills, whose supposed wealth attracts so many prospectors…. The mines furnish a very profitable market, and towns are springing up in every direction,” Pabor wrote, adding that food imported from California, Utah, Kansas, and Nebraska “ought to be raised at home.”
As so it was. In the 1880s, and as the end of the century neared, Harlow, Bowman (owner of the peach-picking sack patent), Blain, and Steele planted the roots of an iconic legacy.
This legacy is celebrated each year in August at the Palisade Peach Festival in Riverbend Park. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce, the Palisade Historical Society (run by chairperson Priscilla “Bowman” Walker), and author of Western Colorado Fruit & Wine: A Bountiful History will honor that history at the 2015 festival August 14 & 15th with a special “Palisade’s Peach Past” booth—a journey through the people, places, and tastes that have made Palisade a juicy destination.
The Grand River Diversion Dam—the irrigation icon of the Grand Valley on the Colorado River—turns 100 years old this June. To celebrate, the Palisade Historical Society is throwing one big, okay, dam big birthday party.
- Took roughly (figurative and literal) 20 years from start to finish.
- Provides H2O for five irrigation canals
- Innovative “roller” design at the time (1897)
- Affectionately called “Roller Dam” by locals.
The Palisade Historical Society (a.k.a. Priscilla Bowman Walker) is the historical source and tells the dam story best at the event. Activities include How the West Was Watered video by Larry Seibert (InFilms & Design, Inc.) and his photographer and editor, Scot Stewart. There will be speakers, an information booth (look for me and say hello!), historical photos, and more to add to the hydro-historic narrative. To wet your palette check out Melody Gonzalez’s news report, “Grand Valley Diversion Dam Celebrates 100 Years” on Westernslopenow.com with Fox 4 News television shout-out.
- When: Saturday, June 27, 2015
- Where: Veteran’s Memorial Community Center (8th & Main)
- More when: 9-5 “
- What else: “Dam Art Show,” Slice ‘O’ Life Bakery “Dam” birthday cake by Dorothy Carver Hines; Bookcliff Harmony Barbershop Chorus
Visit the Palisade Historical Society’s Dam birthday party site for additional programing details and activities.