Monday, June 20, 2011

Alfred Marshall, Marshall's Apple Farm

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I've never thought of Central Massachusetts as "Apple Country", but the more I think of it, perhaps it is. I can think of four apple orchards off the top of my head in Worcester County and I'm sure there is more. I know that "A is for Apple" and "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" but I'm still curious as to what makes the apple so popular around here.
Local lore suggests it could stem from one of Leominster's more legendary characters, John (Johnny Appleseed) Chapman.
Fig. 1: Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed is believed to have planted many of his apple trees in Ohio and Illinois, but Leominster is still proud of her native son. Each year there is a Johnny Appleseed parade in town and I even attended the elementary school named for him.

Fig. 2: Johnny Appleseed School in Leominster, Massachusetts
The apple orchard I remember visiting the most when I was younger was Marshall's Apple Farm in Fitchburg. Located on Marshall Road, the apple farm is situated on a tall hill that gives a great view of Fitchburg. The farm was also a popular destination in the fall to check out the foliage and pick up pumpkins for Halloween. I think I begged my mother to buy me a cheap pumpkin carving kit almost every Halloween. They would always be the kind with the tiny tools and illustrations that you could tape to your pumpkin of choice and trace with a knife. As I got older, I remember the farm adding a petting zoo and having inflatable play areas for kids but it still never lost its scenic charm.

The house up on Marshall Road wasn't designed by Francis, that had been built many generations prior. The house that was designed by Francis is on Prospect Street.

Fig. 3: Alfred Marshall's Prospect Street Home (photo courtesy of
I believe the house was built in 1880 and is a Queen Anne. The 1903 Fitchburg City Directory listed Alfred Marshall as being a "pulley covering mfr. and fruit grower." According to a 1990 Sentinel and Enterprise article about the Marshall Farm, Alfred grew strawberries and peaches prior to 1903 when the first apple trees were planted. The article quotes a genealogical book in saying that, "Alfred Marshall became known as the Apple King of New 1914, the crop produced 7,000 bushel boxes of apples. out of 7,000 trees on the farm, 1,200 were Baldwin apples, 3,500 bear the Macintosh reds name, the remaining trees were equally divided between Sutton Beauties and Wealthies."

Fig. 4: Some apples waiting to be picked
A 1964 advertisement for Marshall Farm reads, "History, romance, success and fame are built into this outstanding Fitchburg institution where pride of product has been upheld for over sixty years. There's an enviable reputation, too, that surrounds this tremendous fruit-growing atmosphere that reflects pride of product so well-known to us locally. Marshall Farm has long since earned its place on the Roll of Honor of Fitchburg accomplishments."

In our increasingly technological world, it's important to remember how important agriculture was to citizens in prior generations. There is still a great number of U.S. citizens who devote their time and way of life to farming, but before the Industrial Revolution that number was much higher. The next time you want to take in autumn air, head up to a local apple orchard and support your local agriculture. The bag of apples and gallon of cider you bring home will be well worth the trip.

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