Owatonna’s Role In A Developing Industry
Over the last decade or so the total apple production each year in Minnesota is around that 20 million pound mark. While the number sounds impressive, it isn't enough to make us a major player in the apple game. However 20 million pounds is still quite a hefty number.
The University of Minnesota has been feted for its development in numerous crops including the apple. It's been stated that before 1868 about the only apple you might find growing in Minnesota was the crab apple. That changed when Peter Gideon developed the Wealthy apple. A fruit breeding station was established near Excelsior in 1878 but by 1889 it had been pretty much abandoned.
Enter Owatonna. It was 1887 that the Experimental Tree Farm began in Owatonna under the supervision of E.H.S. Dartts, for whom Dartts Park is named. It wasn't until 1907 that a second fruit breeding station was established near Excelsior. This left Owatonna as pretty much it, as far as research on apple and fruit streets for an 11 year window. The success reported in Owatonna appears to have been somewhat minimal. Dartts did a lot of work on girdling apple trees. This is the practice of cutting out a strip of bark and forcing the energy towards the fruit, making it hopefully bigger. Dartts also believed a north slope with a tipping to the north or north east was built for growing apples.
The Owatonna station located at West Hills was later under the charge of Thomas Cashman. He reports some 1,500 varieties of trees which he slowly cut back on starting in 1903. He tiled a north east section of the tree farm in 1906. Among the visitors to Owatonna included a Mr. Haralson who was to become head of that second fruit breeding station and later to be honored with the naming of an apple variety for himself. Cashman spent quite a bit of time grafting young trees.
While it's difficult to calculate how large a role the Owatonna station played in the development of the apple in Minnesota, there was that window between the 2 Excelsior stations when Owatonna was it. They at least kept the research and the interest in the apple alive.
One interesting side note is that in 1920 an appeal was going to be made to the city of Owatonna to build a fence around the orchard. It seems a number of citizens were stealing apples and a number of folks felt that the apples should be used to feed the youngsters in the orphanage.
Here's a link to a photo of a young Thomas Cashman