South Haven and the Fruit Industry: A Success Story
In the early 1800’s, South Haven was shaped by the lumber industry and drew in many residents with the hint of potential that the Great Lakes, arable land, and growing businesses provided.
The cultivation and shipping of fruit was the next major industry that helped the town’s growing prosperity. The efforts of many people helped South Haven gain its recognition as a part of Michigan’s fruit belt. The ample amounts of produce resulted in the creation of new businesses, new jobs, and a new recognition that is still alive today.
South Haven was catching wind by 1853. The town had established saw mills, a hotel to house workers and residents, a post office, and a schoolhouse to educate the growing population. In addition, resident Stephen B. Morehouse planted the first fruit orchard full of peaches at his homestead. His wife is credited for shipping the first baskets of this fruit in the area, serving as a preface to what was yet in store for South Haven’s future.
The first commercial orchard was developed four years later in 1857. Four acres of peaches were planted by resident Aaron S. Dyckman, a popular figure in the town. Dyckman arrived in 1838 from New York and helped build the Forest House hotel and had partnerships in two sawmills. His home was the site of these peach orchards, which still stands today at 718 Superior Street. Three years later the first shipment was made, and the fruit industry was launched.
The following years resulted in more developments. Liberty Hyde Bailey Sr., the father of the esteemed pomologist Bailey Jr., moved to a forty-acre farm in the Bangor area in 1845 and purchased eighty acres of land in South Haven ten years later. Only one acre of that purchased land was used for people and animals – the rest was for his orchards, which received many awards of excellence (check out the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum - the farmhouse is still standing, and in use!). Whereas his son went onto study pomology, the science of growing fruit, the Sr. remained in South Haven. Both Bailey and Dyckman were pivotal in the establishment of the South Haven-Casco Pomological Society in 1871. The Society aimed to help further develop and improve the growth of fruit in the area.
Several companies established themselves in the 1890’s for the preservation, canning, and shipping of fruit. The Dunkley Canning Factory canned fruit with no added preservatives and was claimed to be the largest canning factory in the world. The South Haven Preserving Company served a similar function, which sent canned fruit across the country with the brand names of a couple resorts in town: Sleepy Hollow (still a resort today!) and Cold Springs. The Pierce-Williams Company created baskets and containers for shipping fruit. Their logo and motto was, “The Package SELLS The Fruit,” exhibiting how important providing containers for the fruit was in the function of the fruit industry.
The late 1800’s and early 20th century saw plenty of scientific innovations. The Experiment Station was established in 1889 by Theodatis T. Lyon at his farmstead and he appropriately served as the first superintendent of the Station. While the development of peaches and blueberries receive most of the attention from historians, credit is also deserved for the development of strawberries, raspberries, pears. At one time South Haven had the best collection of pear varieties in the United States.
Stanley Johnston became the superintendent of the Station in the 1920’s and further revolutionized the development and growth of peaches in the area. He aided in the development of eight varieties of the Haven peach: Halehaven, Kalhaven, Redhaven, Fairhaven, Sunhaven, Richhaven, Glohaven, and Cresthaven. The Haven varieties were unique in the fact that the harvest period for them was seven weeks in comparison to the usual three-week harvest. Johnston also attributed to the development of the high bush blueberry, leading to the radically populated blueberry industry we still know today in South Haven and its surrounding areas.
The fruit industry has effects that are still highly visible today. The National Blueberry Festival is celebrated annually in honor of these achievements, which has been celebrated for over fifty years and counting. South Haven is a known part of Michigan’s fruit belt and produces millions of pounds of blueberries each year. Many farm markets are set up selling local produce every summer, and the ample amount of production provides jobs for many people in the area. It is important to recognize where the city began, having experimented and developed over time to get to where we are today – a hub for delicious fruit and an industry that benefits the local economy.
Photographs courtesy of the Historical Association of South Haven
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Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum903 South Bailey Avenue
South Haven, Michigan 49090