Editor’s note: This is Part IV of an ongoing series examining the “Orchards” era of the 1900s in the southern Willamette Valley. The Chronicle is proud to publish the first excerpts of Pat Edwards’ new book, “Picking The Orchard Clean.”
PHOTO PROVIDED A historic image of the Fruit Lands arch – once the gateway to Creswell.
In 1910, a magazine published in Hood River, Ore., called Better Fruit, contained a letter-to-the-editor from “E.R.L.” that spoke of a conundrum that needed to be addressed by all of the Pacific Northwest fruit growers:
“Complain About Northwest 1909-1910 Apple Pack”
“One of the humiliating charges that has been frequently met in the East this year has been the statement: ‘The apples of the northwest were undersized, not well-graded, and the pack was slack: you are falling down in the tone of your output.’ … “Other dealers have made substantially the same criticisms, and out of a score of instances, only one complaint specifically cited Oregon and Washington, though Mr. F. Wagner of Chicago … intimated that the whole northwest pack was in the same class the past year and that the entire section would lose heavily as a result. The conditions implied by Mr. Wagner appear to have been actually evidenced only by the Colorado and some other intermountain shipments.
“It is unfortunate for Oregon and Washington at present that so many dealers are in the habit of speaking of the fruit of that whole region as the Northwest. …
Then, the following year, in 1910, the apple market began to waver.
According to The Cooperative Movement in the Oregon Apple Industry, 1910-29, by Joseph Waldo Ellison: “… A veritable apple boom took place between 1906 and 1912, especially in the Umpqua and Willamette valleys … So great was the demand for Northwestern apples that in localities like the Hood River Valley, the buyers arrived in July and August and placed their bids in sealed envelopes which were opened at the local banks. The crop usually went to the highest bidder. It is not surprising that the apple growers of the Northwest became confident that their fruit was unexcelled in size, color and quality and would always be in great demand. They laughed at those who expressed the possibility of overproduction and advised caution.
“… In 1910, however, dark clouds began to appear on the horizon. The apple market began to waiver and the losses on Northwestern markets made buyers cautious the following year. Quantity shipments to several eastern cities glutted the markets, resulting in lower prices. Many cried that the failure of the market was due to overproduction; others were convinced that the solution of the problem lay in more intelligent marketing with wider and more economical distribution …”
Because Oregon and Washington, especially, were beginning to be impacted by the reputation and failings of some of the other states producing these fruits, and because there was no way of managing overproduction, it was obvious that something needed to be done. These circumstances brought about the beginning of the cooperative movement among Oregon fruit growers who patterned their cooperatives after those formed earlier in California.
Locally, the slowdown in the demand for Northwest apples, began to affect Bohrnstedt’s Creswell operations. Local history books and profiles of A.C. Bohrnstedt painted him in later years as a version of Snidely Whiplash, the mustache-twirling archenemy of Dudley Do-Right, who eventually left Creswell high and dry and only a shadow of its former self. But, it has been unclear whether A.C. was a victim of circumstance or, as some claimed, he was involved in a “frenzied finance” fraud, claimed in a 1913 lawsuit.
An article entitled “Suit Is Filed for $100,000; Bohrnstedt Alleges Minneapolis Men Failed to Comply With Contract” that appeared on Aug. 17, 1916 in the Statesman Journal, shed some light on the period in 1910 when A.C. was formulating plans to develop the Waldo Hills Orchard property:
“Declaring that he has been damaged to the extent of $100,000 because Mr. A.E. Benjamin and W.G. Benjamin of Minneapolis failed to comply with an agreement by withholding funds for the development of orchard tracts in Marion County and for the maintenance of development organizations, A.C. Bohrnstedt yesterday instituted in the circuit court $100,000 damage proceedings against the Minneapolis men.
“According to the complaint, an agreement was entered into between the plaintiff and the defendants in Minneapolis on March 11, 1910, by which the plaintiff agreed to enlist his services and time in securing lands and property interests in Marion County and in the improvement management and development of the lands.
“It is alleged that agreement was formally made that in the promotion of the work Bohrnstedt should have the right and authority to organize corporations and companies and to employ all necessary help in the accomplishment of the purpose of the agreement.
“The allegation is made that the defendants defaulted in the observance of the provisions of the contract in that they failed and refused to supply the plaintiff with funds. Costs and disbursements are asked in addition to the $100,000 damages. The land is in the Waldo Hills section.”
All mention of this in later years indicates that Bohrnstedt lost the lawsuit and went forward with his own financing. This must have been what was referred to in a Jan. 12, 1922, large, front-page newspaper article about A.C. Bohrnstedt in the Salem Statesman Journal. If it can be believed, it would seem as though A.C. did not deserve that “Snidely Whiplash” comparison.
The last paragraph in the article states:
“There is an interesting business romance connected with the coming of Mr. Bohrnstedt to Salem as a resident. While living in Minneapolis, ten years ago, he became interested in the Waldo Hills orchard planting company and also a corporation that did some extensive orchard work in Lane County, near Creswell. He came out here as president and manager with no obligation or expectation of investing further. But when his eastern associates got cold feet following a temporary slump in the fruit business, and it looked as if an ignoble bankruptcy was inevitable, Mr. Bohrnstedt, because his name and moral credit were involved, took up the load.
He has carried it for nine years without profit, without hope of reward, save his own approval, until now it is practically paid up and off the books. There are not enough of that type of men in business in Salem or anywhere else!”
But there was the 1913 lawsuit, and there is evidence of other financial situations and lawsuits involving the A.C. Bohrnstedt Company through the ensuing years, so what were those all about? There was definitely more to consider.
Next week: A closer look at Bohrnstedt’s businesses.