Prune Hill Views
10/17/2009

93 walkers was not a great turnout, but we were severely hampered by a dire weather prediction which really didn’t pan out.  There were some excellent Fall colors and a few Halloween themed decorations and we received compliments on the route. 

pictures: Carol Jensen

 

 

This walk was held once before in 2001 in the Spring.  For what was seen then, see http://www.allweatherwalkers.org/phv.htm

The following brief history of prunes on Prune Hill was developed thanks to material originally found by Grant and Iona Flagan for the 2001 walk (and thanks to Jill McLean for preserving it), the History of Clark County published by the Columbian, and a few web sites I researched:

Come up on the Hill and get a little good fresh air.  Cast your eye, if you will, on the apple or the pear. Even the birds will welcome you with their merry whistled tunes, and before you leave the Hill I’ll bet you are full of prunes.

In a good year, more than 15 million pounds of dried prunes were shipped from Vancouver packing houses.  S. W. Brown, a Vancouver nurseryman, planted the first local prune trees at 19th and D Streets.  He sold the fruit for 16 cents a pound.

If the prunes were extra sweet the dryer tracks became so sticky that a tractor had to be hooked up to winches to pull the prunes through the dryer, a 24 hour process.  Dryers were fueled by wood, which involved many workers to cut and supply the dryer. Later, dryers were fueled by oil.

 

The Thomas Gilliheen family in front of their prune dryer in Fisher’s
Landing

 

Pickers could earn $25.00 to $30.00 a season plus a bonus of 1/2 cent a box if they worked the entire season. 

 

1876: Arthur Hidden planted the first prune orchard in Clark County near 26th and Main Street in Vancouver.

 

 

The Knapp homestead at Grass Valley, at the foot of Prune Hill, looked like this in the 1880’s. Cecil Knapp recalls that he, his brothers and sisters, and their father were all born at the home. Cecil’s father was born in 1868, and died in 1950. The house burned to the ground in the 1930’s.
 
December 7, 1934: Mr. Knapp’s parent’s farm was at Grass Valley, 3 miles from Camas, a big place of 475 acres, and it was there that he was born in 1868. The Grass Valley school is on land that formerly belonged to the Knapp farm and so is the Camas dairy.

1887: A. Cook and Son received orders for 10,000 prune trees.

 

1888: A. Cook and Son shipped 200,000 pounds of dried prunes.

 

 A dozen chimneys vented the heat from the Blair prune dryer as workers posed in this 1890’s photo.  

 

Kelley-Clarke Company was one of two prune-packing plants constructed in Vancouver in 1901, following agitation by growers for better packing and marketing conditions. The company employed about 60 persons, mostly women, in 1901. This plant and Porter Bros. plant packed 40 tons of prunes daily. Low 1901 prices, 4 cents a pound, curbed the enthusiasm of the plant operators.  

Porter Bros. Packing House, September 30, 1901
The prunes are received in sacks on the first floor, weighed and thrown into a bin.
They are carried by a steam run prune carrier to the third floor where they are run through a grader and steam processor. On to the second floor where women pack two layers of prunes in boxes.  Men take the boxes and nail on covers and take them back to the first floor where the boxes are labeled and shipped

September 1905: Prune Day at the Fair.  Each visitor is given a little
basket of choice prunes.

 

 

Dec. 17, 1910 There are about 5,000 acres of prunes in Clark
County
and between 500,000 and 600,000 trees.

October 11, 1911: President William Howard Taft spoke for ten minutes at the Vancouver Railroad station. He was given two boxes of choice Clark County prunes.

 1914: Local man, Samuel Scott sets record for prune picking 125 boxes in 10 hours of work.  Scott was paid 7 cents per box to net a day’s pay of $8.75 for 10 hours of work.  


In 1916 the humble prune was “King” and Clark County was covered with orchards as far as the eye could see.

 

February 2, 1916 severe “silver thaw” severely ruined many
prune trees and the industry never fully recovered.  

 

1916:    Prune pickers lived in tents, “Bachelor’s all”, during the four to five weeks of harvest and drying.

In 1919, the Prunarians were organized. This group of Vancouver boosters wore white suits, straw hats and gloves and paid homage to the Italian prune.  September 23, 1926: 6,000 attended the elaborate Prune festival sponsored by the Prunarians.  http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7206

September 1926: Three day “Prune Festival” in Vancouver -
Dancing
Parade
Crowning of the Queen of Prunaria
http://www.ccrh.org/comm/camas/etown4.htm

http://retro.columbian.com/history/prunarians.cfm

By 1929, these causes decreased prune sales:
1. Refrigeration in transportation.
2. California had many plum orchards.
3. Nature problems with growing and poor farming methods here, blight and over plowing under trees. 

Through the 1930’s & 1940’s prune orchards and dryers became almost extinct in Clark
County