A Legacy of Premium Peaches
“The ‘Ashland peach’ was known all over the Pacific Coast and marketed in the Eastern states and in Canada. (The Max Pracht orchards on Ashland Street took World’s Fair premiums in Chicago.) From a few hundred boxes of peaches shipped prior to 1890, the industry grew until the 1899 output was 75,000 boxes, more than 60 railroad boxcar loads.” (O’Hara page 64)
Max Pracht peach box label, likely late 1800s
“Pear Paradise” or “Peach Paradise?”
Today we know the Rogue Valley as a “pear paradise.” I had no idea peaches were such a huge part of Ashland’s economy in the late 1800’s until I started researching Pracht Street for this article.
“60 railroad boxcar loads” of peaches shipped out in 1899 alone! That is amazing.
Max Pracht owned the premium peach orchard in Ashland. Indeed, you could say his was the premium peach orchard in the country!
Take a look at this excerpt from an 1897 essay extolling Oregon fruit: “In this connection the fact may be noted that the largest apple, the largest pear and the largest cherries, exhibited at the Columbian Exposition [1893 Chicago World’s Fair] were grown in Oregon, and that a special gold medal was awarded to Max Pracht of Ashland for the largest and best flavored peaches.” (The Overland Monthly, June 1987) (emphasis added)
Max Pracht’s House in 1900
Here is what his home and surrounding orchard looked like during the pruning season in 1900.
Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)
It stands to reason that Pracht Street, where his home and orchard were located, was named after Max Pracht.
According to a July 25, 2013 Facebook post by the Ashland Historic Railroad Museum:
“Do you know that if you live around Pracht Street you are probably living on the old Peachblow Fantasy Orchard land? It was 120 acres of peaches right here in central Ashland. The largest peach orchard in the entire state of Oregon. The peaches were enormous. 20 ounce peaches were common with some as large as 26 ounces.”
Walking Pracht Street
Pracht Street is only two blocks long, with its two ends at Liberty Street and Euclid Avenue. If you like alleys, you can find one that heads south to Ashland Street and another that goes north to Pennsylvania Avenue.
There is a small one story apartment complex at 800 Pracht Street, and from there to Euclid it’s all single family homes.
Apartments at 800 Pracht Street
As I walked from Liberty uphill to Euclid Avenue, I searched to see if Max Pracht’s house was still standing. First, let me tell you about the yard art, chickens and skunk that I spotted along the way.
Chickens and Skunk
Ashland allows backyard chickens, and these are among the first I have seen in my walks around town. Then I spotted an unusual afternoon visitor…a young skunk.
First, I was surprised to see it just three feet from the chickens. Is that normal? Second, I was surprised to see it out and about in the mid-afternoon. Pet skunk? That seems unlikely, considering their potent aroma. Maybe it was just excited about exploring the trash area.
Beauty on Pracht Street
I enjoy finding yard art and other man-made beauty, as well as nature’s beauty. As I walked the two blocks of Pracht Street, I found both.
Artistic door at 710 Pracht Street
Yard art next to 715 Pracht Street
Lovely, rhododendron filled garden at 640 Pracht Street. I’d like to come back here in April or May when the flowers are in bloom.
My favorite tree on Pracht Street (at the corner of Pracht and Morton)
Max Pracht’s house?
I will finish the article with more about Max Pracht, who was an amazing man and a great booster of early Ashland. I think I found his house toward the top of Pracht at 660 Pracht Street. Take a look at the two photos below. The large yellow house at 660 Pracht is much larger than the Pracht house shown in the 1900 photo, but it is not unusual for houses to be expanded over the years.
To me, these two clues give it away:
- The shape of the two windows facing the street on the third floor attic is identical in the current house to the shape of the same windows in the 1900 photo.
- The triangular wall section between the two attic windows and the roof is identical in the current house with the shape in the 1900 photo.
What do you think? Am I right or is this just coincidence?
660 Pracht Street…formerly Max Pracht’s house?
Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900 (photo courtesy of Terry Skibby)
Max Pracht’s Life
Max Pracht was “a Republican of irrepressible enthusiasm,” back when the Republican party was the party of Lincoln, the party that had the courage to hold our country together and outlaw slavery.
He was born in Palatinate, Germany in 1846. There was unrest and revolution in Germany in 1848, which caused his father to immigrate to America with the family, including two-year-old Max.
According to the Republican League Register of Oregon: “He served in the navy during the Rebellion, and is a comrade of Burnside Post No. 23, G. A. R.”
In other words, he was in the Union Navy during the Civil War. Then, as a veteran, he joined the Ashland (Burnside) post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Civil War veterans group.
Max moved with his wife and three children from San Francisco to Ashland in 1887, purchased land, planted an orchard, and harvested his first crop of peaches in 1891. As of 1896, he was still waiting to receive the Gold Medal he won as first prize for his peaches at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
In addition to being a grower and marketer of premium peaches, he also developed some of his land for housing after the opening of the railroad led to a population increase in Ashland starting in 1888. On top of that, this busy businessman owned the huge Hotel Oregon downtown in 1891-1892, and his son Alexander went on to own the Ashland Depot Hotel [see Ashland Depot Hotel article here] after 1901.
Pracht Marketing “Secrets”
The Jacksonville newspaper wrote a detailed article in 1893 explaining in part why Pracht orchard peaches sold for 25% more than the market price for peaches, and why they were shipped all over the country. In addition to growing large, flavorful peaches, Mr. Pracht also took the extra step of communicating their premium nature to customers on each individual peach wrapper. In the process, he was a huge booster for Ashland and Southern Oregon.
“People who are fortunate enough to obtain peaches from the ‘Peachblow Paradise Orchards’ of Max Pracht this year will be fully apprised of the celestial character of the fruit, no matter in how distant a clime it may be unpacked and eaten. Mr. Pracht has just had nearly 100,000 peach wrappers printed, each bearing in blue ink on white paper his orchard trademark designed by himself. It advertises the climate of southern Oregon, the city of Ashland, the orchard business of Mr. Pracht, and there will be no danger of retail dealers in Oregon, Washington, Montana or elsewhere selling his peaches as ‘California fruit.’ Neither will there be any likelihood of any scrubby peaches being shipped in those wrappers. Mr. Pracht’s method of paying the strictest attention to the details of selection, packing and marketing, proves its value from the fact that he is able to ask and receive for his peaches 25 percent above the market price.“
(Democratic Times, page 3)
- References Quoted:
- Democratic Times, Jacksonville, Oregon, August 18, 1893, page 3
- Fulton, R.L. article “The Yamhill Country,” pages 498-503 in The Overland Monthly, January – June 1897, Overland Monthly Publishing Company, San Francisco, California.
- O’Hara, Marjorie. Ashland: the first 130 years, Northwest Passages Publishing, 1986.
- Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Original Sketches of many well known Citizens of the Past and Present, Chapman Publishing Company; Chicago, 1904.
- Republican League Register of Oregon, The Register Publishing Company, 1896, page 260.
COLLABORATORS AND FRIENDS
My thanks to Terry Skibby for the historic photograph.
The Southern Oregon Historical Society is a great resource. (1) If you like history, SOHS can always use volunteers to help with research, digitizing and transcribing. Learn about SOHS here. (2) Second, I encourage you to join SOHS as a member to support their work. The JOIN link is here.