By Steven Branting
A special introduction to his book, “Our Fruitful Dreams: The Orchards the Way It Once Was”
Pictured above: The intersection of Sixth Street and Bryden Avenue, circa 1915. Photo courtesy of the Nez Perce County Historical Society
The open country between Lewiston, Idaho, and the brow of the Camas Prairie to the south cried out for water, and water was nearby in a lake born from the remnants of a volcanic vent, waiting for those full of faith to overcome the obstacles of bringing irrigation to scrubland many miles away. Grandiose schemes had blossomed and withered since the 1880s. Fortunes had been risked and wisely withdrawn.
Finally, in 1905, the Lewiston Land and Water Company, along with its partner, the Lewiston-Sweetwater Irrigation Company, sprang from the foreheads of well-heeled Portland, Oregon capitalists, the like of Harry Powers and Walter Burrell. They soon bought up more than 6,000 acres of land at a cost of what today would more than $168 million, all in the hopes that people would come from across the nation to what they now advertised as the Lewiston Orchards.
Two new lakes were created to act as reservoirs. Miles of new streets were plowed. Thousands of board feet of lumber went into the manufacture of wooden pipe held together with loops of heavy wire. By 1907, five-acre plots were selling rapidly, and water rights were being secured. Thousands of fruit trees were imported from the Christopher Nurseries near Auburn, Washington. In a flurry of activity, fields were planted, acre upon acre, with apples, peaches, pears, plums, nuts, grapes, strawberry, celery and lettuce — nourished by what seemed to be an endless supply of water. The Morning Oregonian of March 4, 1907, commented that “the great reservoir, held behind a dam as mighty and as permanent as the everlasting hills, holds a volume of water so vast that if all the hydrants on all the pipes were turned on at once, and there was no water running into the reservoir, the supply could not be exhausted in six months.”
Soon, a true abundance came to pass. In September 1911, a visitor wrote home that she saw a peach “that weighed a pound and three-eighths.” Elberta peaches were fetching $17.30 a pound in today’s value, all because the growers had mastered the techniques of refrigerated shipping. Lettuce growers were realizing profits of $28,000 an acre.
All that money went into beautiful bungalows, many of which were designed by M.I.T.-trained architect and local resident Ralph S. Loring. The development had its own school, church and governing body. It was managed for peak efficiency and production, but eventually failed in the 1940s from drought, competition from other areas of the Northwest and residential development.
It’s a story never before told in any detail until now. The fifth volume of the popular Lewiston series — Our Fruitful Dreams: The Orchards the Way It Once Was — explores the culture, businesses, personalities, neighborhoods and legacies from the days of its founding to the late 1950s. The 8-1/2 by 11 inch volume has 164 pages, 35,000 words of commentary and 390 images, many of which have never been published. Some have not been seen in more than 100 years.
To be released on October 8, copies may be ordered by mail from “and BOOKS, Too!” 918 6th Street, Clarkston, Washington 99403, (509) 758-3626, at $26.99 plus shipping and handling. Call for personalized copies. Residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley can obtain copies from “and BOOKS, Too,” The Owl Southway and the Nez Perce County Museum. Books are also available at the Arnzen Drug stores in Kamiah and Cottonwood, Idaho.
Find more books by Steven Branting on Amazon.com.