Big Orchard: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In 1906 a group of men, each one belonging to a corporation, decided to form a new corporation for the purpose of planting a big orchard in Faulkner County.

After much discussion and investigation they bought a 160-acre tract of land in southeast Faulkner County from the Railroad Company. They also purchased 40 acres joining the 160-acre tract from an individual, making it a 200-acre tract for an orchard.

There was one house on the 40-acre tract they had bought which consisted of one huge log room, one end room and a long side room extending across the big log room and the end room. McPike Cemetery was next to the house. An old pioneer Baptist preacher, J.W. McPike, his relatives and others were buried there.

The men needed a horticulturist to plan and design the orchard so they eventually hired a Mr. Brown, a German immigrant who lived in the area. When the big orchard was ready to be planted, four thousand fruit trees were set out. Several varieties of apple trees, some cherry trees, many pear trees, some pecan trees, English walnuts and almonds trees were planted.

Seven acres was planted in grapes. Several varieties of grapes were grown–white, blue, red, and purple. A large L-shaped arbor was also built at the back of the house joining the kitchen. It extended out from the kitchen about 20 feet to the west and then 40 feet to the north. This arbor was covered in scuppernong vines, a vine that belonged to the grape family and produced a very mellow and delicious fruit. People liked to visit the arbor and eat scuppernongs to their hearts’ content.

As times were very hard then, the people of that community were glad to have a chance to work for pay. Several men were hired to set out trees and grape vines, and also to keep the orchard land tilled. Drying sheds were built for the purpose of drying the peaches and apples. The women of the community were hired to cut and dry the fruit.

A school house nearby soon came to be called “The Brown School House,” named for the horticulturist. In the summer months, the women of the community used the school house for a canning kitchen. People were also hired to gather and pack the fruit into crates. Two big trucks came from Little Rock twice a week to haul the fruit back to Little Rock where it was shipped all over the United States.

The pay for working at the “Big Orchard” was one dollar a day but a dollar had a lot more buying power in the early 1900s. People felt fortunate to have work during those hard times. Many came from surrounding communities to buy peaches, apples and grapes during the fruit season. The prices ranged from fifty cents to one dollar per bushel according to the grade of the fruit. Some of the blemished or bruised fruit was sold for twenty five cents per bushel.

Mr. Brown supervised the pruning and cultivation of the orchard as long as he was able. When he grew old and his health failed, he was no longer able to supervise the “Big Orchard.” The orchard began to deteriorate and was less profitable. In the early twenties, the “Big Orchard” sold at auction at the Faulkner County Courthouse. J.A. Hooks, a cattleman at Saltillo, bought the “Big Orchard” for
$2,000.

Bud Smith, who lived three or four miles west of the “Big Orchard” and owned a very large farm, traded his farm to Hooks for the orchard since Hooks was interested in grazing lands for his cattle instead of a fruit farm. Smith’s half-brother, Jess Black moved back to Faulkner County to help him operate the orchard.

When the Great Depression struck, the orchard declined further and was finally sold to Brice Brockinton. He never tried to sell the fruit. The orchard changed hands several times and a man from another state owned it for a while.

The “Big Orchard” eventually disappeared. Both houses burned. A few cherry trees came up from seed and a couple of old peach trees were still there in the 1980s. The “Big Orchard” was truly a landmark in Faulkner County in its day.

Note:: This story was paraphrased from a story told by Tressie Bush in Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986).

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