Vol. IX, No. 1, 1996


Preservation Corner

The Haseltine Orchards Historic Area

by Robert Flanders



December 2, 1899. Christmas was coming, the goose was getting fat in England. In the Ozarks, a Springfield, Missouri newspaper for that day reported a buyer from Birmingham, England in town to procure apples for John Bull's holiday feasts. He would load 4,000 barrels of Ingrain apples bought from the Haseltine brothers out at Haseltine Station just west of town, and ship them out on "the Memphis line." The Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railroad went all the way to Mobile, Alabama, from whence the apples would cross the Atlantic. In three weeks or less, Ozarks apples would be in the markets for English shoppers. Four thousand barrels! And, the story added, an equal quantity was expected to be added to the purchase in a day or two.

The Haseltine orchards, some 1600 acres and tens of thousands of trees, stretched along both east and west sides of Haseltine Road five miles west of the Springfield Public Square. The apples had been tended, from before blossom to harvest and shipment, by hired workers, many of them from the rough country south of Springfield--Bradleyville, Long Run, Walnut Shade.

Many apple workers boarded in the Haseltine's own worker housing. Ozarkers often left home for harvests the wheat harvest in Kansas, the corn harvest in Iowa, and to work in the mines of Joplin and Granby during the winter off-season. Wages were low, but it was cash money, always in short supply among families whose chief economy was "raising a living," i.e. raising their own food, cutting their own wood for fuel, housing themselves with dwellings of logs or boards (board houses were sometimes called "sawmill houses," after the sources of the material). Even clothing came from wool sheared and cotton picked at home, then washed, carded, spun, woven or knit into cloth, then cut and stitched into socks, shirts and trousers. Boots were made from leather tanned at home or by a neighbor, then cobbled by the men at firelight of a winter's night.

Boots were for the men first, whose feet were most at risk in work. Women and children wore shoes only in the coldest weather--if then. One elderly Ozarker reported a neighbor family in his childhood whose children ran down rabbits in the winter snow, both for food and for the nickel apiece the skins would bring. Having no shoes, the children's feet became so numb from cold that they had no feeling. So they heated short oak planks by the fire, wrapped them, and took off running with the planks under their arms. When needed, the planks were unwrapped, and the children stood on them until feeling returned.

But by 1899 in the Ozarks, times were changing--indeed, had already changed. A first generation of rural children attended school regularly. Crude homemade clothing in school marked the wearers as old-fashioned and poor--synonymous conditions as far as the young were concerned. New country stores, supplied by freight wagons with goods from the railroad towns, sported not only attractive clothing but attractive everything--tools, wagons, harness, stylish shoes for girls and women, ribbons, even canned fruit and town-baked bread. All for sale, all available for money. The great American revolution of expectations that had swept the nation by the turn of the twentieth century was coming to the Ozarks. Rural men, whose fathers and fathers' fathers had come here seeking economic independence in a subsistence lifestyle, more and more farmed for money and worked out for wage.

Ira Sherwin and Augusta Haseltine, 1890's
Manager and seasonal worker house, Sumner Haseltine Orchards, "Clover Dell." Razed 1994.

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Money flowed in the Ozarks, too, perhaps a trickle by our standards, but an abundance compared with the time before the Civil War. Why?

The answer was complex; but it clearly included, sine qua non, railroads and entrepreneurs like the Haseltines. Indeed, the two went together.

By the Christmas of 1899, the Haseltines had been in Greene County, Missouri, just shy of thirty years. Ira Sherwin Haseltine, founder of the family business here (he died in 1899 at age 79), arrived in 1870, the same year as the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (later the

St. Louis and San Francisco, the "Frisco Line"). At least his money arrived, to buy land west of Springfield where a north-south township line road crossed the tracks. The road has ever since been Haseltine Road; the crossing place has been Haseltine Station. With Ira Haseltine came wife Augusta and eight children ranging in age from 21 to two. A ninth and final child was born that year, 1870.

Ira Haseltine and his sons planted apple trees. Inasmuch as it took trees about ten years to bear, considerable financial staying power was required to wait. The cattle and land business helped bridge the gap.

The climate and soils of the Ozarks were considered favorable for heavy fruit, and land was cheap. The railroads touted the region as "The Land of the Big Red Apple." In 1880, the K.C., F.S. and M., the Memphis Line, arrived from the west, to cross the Frisco a mile east of Haseltine Station. Probably the best known of new apple growers along the Memphis Line were Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almonzo Wilder, who came in 1894 from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, 40 miles east of Springfield.

Thousands of acres of apples, peaches, pears, and plums (known as "pome fruit" after the French word for apple) were planted along both Frisco and Memphis lines. New towns dependent on the new industry sprang up along the rails. Ninety miles east along the Memphis line one such, in Howell County, took the name "Pomona," for the Roman goddess of fruit. So important was the industry to the region and the state that the Missouri General Assembly in 1899 established a State Fruit Experiment Station at Mountain Grove, some sixty miles east on the Memphis line.

Ira Haseltine was a Vermont-born Yankee who made money in Wisconsin platting his farm into the new town of Richland Center. Then, like so many New Englanders after the Civil War, he took his money and his money skill south and west. In Springfield, one thinks of such compatriots as J.F.G. Bentley, the banker; Jonathan Fairbank, founder of the Springfield Public Schools; and Homer Fellows, founder of the Springfield Wagon Company. All were Massachusetts-born officer veterans of the Union Army in the late war, who became builders of the City of Springfield. Haseltine seems not to have been in the war, but he was a founding member of the Republican Party that conducted it. He was at the 1860 party convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln its presidential candidate. A son born to him in 1868 he named Lincoln Abraham Haseltine. As an abolitionist and a reformer he had previously named sons Sumner Charles (abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner), Seward (abolitionist Senator William Seward) and Louis Kossuth (Hungarian revolutionary of that name). Ever active in the Grand Old Party, in 1880 Ira Haseltine was elected to Congress from southwest Missouri on the Greenback ticket, a progressive wing of the Republican Party. While in Washington he proposed landmark legislation for the protection of working men. He also took with him sons Seward and Sumner, who attended the George Washington School of Law, their gateway to successful careers as attorneys in Springfield.
Elizabeth Kirchgraber Haseltine and Sumner Charles Haseltine, 1880's
Spurgheim Haseltine house, Haseltine Station, probably 1880's. Spurgheim Haseltine was station agent at Haseltine Station.

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Ira Haseltine believed in doing good; and he did much good. He also believed in doing well, and he did that too. Like other 1 westering yankees of New England origin, he grasped the opportunity to provide patrimonies for his children and his children's children. During his near thirty years of life in the Ozarks, he accumulated land--more and more of it. Apparently he and Augusta lived modestly. Their house is gone now, one of at least five Haseltine houses at Haseltine Station--lost to the construction of 1-44. We do know that they permitted themselves the luxury of summering in Wisconsin to escape Missouri's heat. When Ira died, a favorite Methodist minister from Kansas City was brought down to conduct funeral services in the Haseltine home.

Several of the Haseltine siblings seem to have married well. Seward Haseltine married into the distinguished legal family Livingston. His wife's father was mayor of Joplin. Their ancestor was Chancellor Robert Livingston of New York, one of the three authors of the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. Seward and his wife named their son Chancellor Livingston Haseltine.

Sumner Haseltine married Elizabeth Kirchgraber, whose German father was a pioneer orchard and nursery man in Springfield, and a successful one. Their wedding, at the Kirchgraber's home, was marked by a served dinner for 150 guests, "the highlight of the social season for the German community," as the newspaper put it. The Kirchgraber's present to the couple was a new house next door, in which they lived the rest of their lives. Though Sumner did not reside on his large farm along Haseltine Road, son Kirk Graber Haseltine did, managing the orchards until the business ended in the 1930's. The 280 acre Clover Dell Farm, as it was known, had three great apple storage barns, a stock barn, a large tenant and overseer house, and a small tenant house, in addition to the owner's fine house. All were of stone or concrete block.

Gertrude Haseltine Clarke, a sister, married twice and is remembered both for her fine house and barns at Haseltine Station and for her luxurious Cord automobile. Sister Nellie married a Kansas City man (the family sold a lot of apples there) and moved to that city.

Sister Rosa also married a Kansas Citian, Adolphius (New York-born) Dreyfus, whose family was in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business. But instead of Rosa going there, Adolphius came here. In 1897 they began to build on Haseltine Road what was then, and probably remained until recent years, the largest and most luxurious house in Greene County. They named it "Hazelcrest." The Haseltine-Dreyfus house contains 22 rooms of some 5000 square feet, plus full basement and a third story. Its front and side porches, paved and roofed, occupied another 1500 square feet. Finally an elegant roofed porte-cochere welcomed carriage-borne guests in high style. The house was architect-designed, and was similar to many mansions being built then in the North Benton Boulevard district of Kansas City.

Louis Kossuth Haseltine Sr. house, ca.1905. Water tower at left.
The style of the Haseltine-Dreyfus house was not ignored by siblings who raised houses in the next few years (the decade centered by the turn of the twentieth century was the zenith of apple orchard prosperity). Brother Lincoln's house, built ca. 1905, next door to Rosa, had floor plan, wrap around porches, and porte-cochere similar to Rosa's, only smaller. "The Gables," as Lincoln called it (the naming of great country houses added a touch of elegance), burned around 1914, but was rebuilt inside its remaining stone walls as fine as before, if not more so. It was renamed "Ivy Place."

1930's aerial photo of eight acres orchard of Spurgheim Haseltine, one mile north of Haseltine Station

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Brother Louis Kossuth built a house nearby about the same time as Lincoln; and though the floor plan was plainer and more countrified, it did have a big pillared, wrap-around porch and delicate bellcast roof eaves. Louis Kossuth Junior built nearby about 1911, and repeated his father's wrap-around porch, as well as a side bay, a feature of Rosa's and Lincoln's houses.

An amenity of these four houses (as of a neighboring fifth, home of sister Vinnie Haseltine Hinton) was their household pressure water systems. Domestic running water was unknown to most of the rural Ozarks until the 1930's or later when the REA finally brought electricity. Three Haseltine houses had adjacent stone and concrete water towers, and the fourth had a water tank in the attic. "The kids used to go up there and swim in that tank," declared one informant.

The commercial orchard business developed during the 1870's and 1880's in southwest and south-central Missouri; it declined in the 1920's and 1930's. Diseases, competition from West Coast fruit, the aging-out of trees (many planted a half-century earlier), and finally drought and the Depression were the causes. From a peak 540,000 Greene County fruit trees in 1900, the number in 1940 had dropped to only 100,000.

Clearing played-out orchards for other uses was difficult. One informant remembered as a youth in the 1930's trying to cut down old trees in a Haseltine orchard. His grandfather had taken a contract to clear it for eight cents a tree, wishing to turn the labor of unemployed grandsons to some profit. However, the wood proved to be so hard and unyielding that the contract price bound them to virtual indentured hard labor. The grandfather was finally able to get the contract nullified.

Near the end of the twentieth century a debate exists over the question, to what extent are "economic pressures" and "family values" related? For the Haseltines in the last part of the nineteenth century such a question might have been surprising, if not downright absurd. Making a living, they might well have said, is essential to a cultivated life, even a moral life. Schooling, for example, was not so easily accomplished then as now. For the Haseltine children it was gained nevertheless, at some pains and expense. The younger children were transported to school in Springfield, the rural schools of their neighborhood being considered unsatisfactory. They then attended Drury College, founded in Springfield by a New England Yankee in the historic year 1870. (Eldest son Spurgheim had attended the University of Wisconsin before the family moved to Missouri.) Studying at Drury meant studying the liberal arts: Bachelor of Science degrees for Seward and Nellie; English for Lincoln; and English and music for Rosa. Vinnie, the youngest, attended the Springfield High School when it first opened in 1893, and took the College Preparatory curriculum. Seward and Sumner both went on to George Washington School of Law.

Notwithstanding urban educations, six of the nine children as adults made their homes among the orchards, as did at least three of their children. Five of those dwellings remain today, together with a number of immense stone apple storage barns, now mostly in ruins. In 1996, all will be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as the Haseltine Orchards Historic Area.

Haseltine-Dreyfus house, 1897.
Haseltine Station apple storage and shipping shed. Car siding ran along side of building. Main tracks, Frisco railroad (now Burlington Northern), foreground.

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