A 143 Year
California Apple Growing History
In late summer of 1880, just after the fifth harvest of the fledgling Gowan’s orchards, the heady scent of freshly picked apples and peaches hung in the air. A six horse team stood ready as George Studebaker finished loading his wagon with the luscious fruit. The horses were alert in their harnesses with the excitement to be off as he climbed up and took the reins. Trotting west, their first deliveries provided apples to communities along the Mendocino Coast.
In the following summers and autumns, Mendocino residents would listen for the harness bells that meant the Gowan’s fruit-filled wagon was about to pull into view. Those bells meant more than just Fall Pippin, Gano, Ben Davis, Rhode Island Greening and other sought after varieties of apples, more than just lucious peaches from the flourishing orchards. They meant fresh crisp apple slices, warm apple pies, spiced applesauce and probably a peach cobbler or two. They meant the taste of the harvest included in family meals and gatherings.
The variety and offering of delectable fruits and vegetables expanded in 1922 when son-in-law M. Cecil Gowan, along with his wife Alice, took over the family orchards. Soon even more towns along the beautiful Mendocino coast started listening for the jingle of approaching bells from Fort Bragg to Gualala.
Travelers passing by couldn’t help but notice the thriving orchards laden with ripening fruit. In the 1930’s, Alice began selling boxes of apples at the roadside near their home for passersby who didn’t want to miss out on the fruit picked fresh from the orchards. As people returned year after year the site became known as Gowans Oak Tree, named for the tree which still overlooks the family fruit stand.
Shortly after World War II, James Gowan returned to the Anderson Valley after serving in the Army Air Corps, the precursor to our modern Air Force. He brought with him his new bride Josephine and they settled into life amongst redwoods, oaks and rolling hills. The newlyweds were greeted not only by their loving family but with warm days, cool evenings and the most extraordinary star-filled night skies. These beautiful nights were also excellent growing conditions for the apples that grew in the quiet orchards nearby.
Cecil and James began working together. When 1947 rolled around they loaded the farm truck with the recent harvest, just as George loaded his wagon in 1880 — but this was no leisurely trot along the Mendocino Coast. Rumbling across the Golden Gate Bridge, a mere ten years after its completion, the Gowans became some of the first California apple growers to ship fresh market apples to the San Francisco wholesale market.
Together with their children, Cecil and James ran 150 acres of apple orchard and 25 acres of vegetable garden. Soon the Gowans became known for their high quality and exceptionally flavorful apples, including the Gravenstein, Fall Pippin, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and a special variety called Sierra Beauty.
With the addition in 1982 of a modern packing facility, the Gowans are able to ship 1800 tons (90,000 boxes) of delicately handled top-quality apples to leading produce retailers throughout Northern California. We’ve come a long way from that first wagon ride... But oh, what a ride we've had!