Fruit Picking

The photo is of an apple picking crew. It was taken in Washington Township, likely somewhere south of Bristol, circa 1917. Copyright Elkhart County Historical Society

The public is invited to join the staff of the Elkhart County Historical Museum Friday, Sept. 21, at 6:30 p.m. for a walking tour of the Bristol Fruit Hills.

The museum has partnered with Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard to provide tour-goers with the opportunity to see the inner workings of Northern Indiana’s fruit growing industry from past to present. Today the farm operates as both a winery and orchard, and visitors will have the opportunity to sample the wine at the conclusion of the tour.

The cost for this tour is $7 and includes a glass of wine or sample tasting (for those 21 and older only).

Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard is the only fruit farm remaining in what is still referred to as the “Bristol Fruit Hills.”

Museum officials stated in a press release, “The farm, which began growing fruit in the late 19th century, has been known historically as the Judson Fruit Farm. The farm has remained in the Judson family for over 150 years, and today is operated by David (a descendent of the Judsons) and Michelle Muir.”

“Elkhart County residents have been buying fruit from the Bristol Fruit Hills for over a century,” Museum Manager Matthew Schuld said. “Many of the farms helped supply major urban areas like Chicago and Indianapolis with fruit in the early part of the 20th century.”

The tour will highlight the environmental, economic and cultural factors that make-up the history of this fruit growing region.

Museum Curator of Collections Liz Haeuptle said that the museum holds a large collection of research materials that help people better understand fruit growing in Elkhart County. Many of these items, including journals, photos and ledgers present one-of-a-kind research opportunities.

The family opened the winery and tasting room on the farm property in 2009. According to the Muirs, the winery is the outgrowth of a larger trend in agriculture known as agritourism. Through the 1950s and 1960s, large-scale fruit growing became steadily less profitable, and generations of would-be farmers found better paying jobs in industries like recreational vehicle manufacturing. Those who remained in farming turned to selling fruit at small roadside stands, local markets or to cider mills. Others opened “U-Pick” orchards where visitors could explore orchards or take a hay-ride.

“Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard and similar business ventures help to preserve our farmland while providing consumers with a better understanding of where our food comes from,” Schuld said.

The tour will meet at the entrance to Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard tasting room. The walk is approximately a half-mile along a gravel and dirt road. It will conclude in the tasting room where visitors may sample and purchase wine or fruit.

Reservations are required and can be made by calling the Elkhart County Historical Museum at 574-848-4322.

Reservations should be made by Thursday, Sept. 20.

For more information about the museum, visit elkhartcountyhistory.org.

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