Niagara County Peaches
Even before Niagara County was established in 1808, a limited number of peaches were grown there, more for their use in fermented drinks than for eating. Peach brandy was the peach beverage of choice. As early as 1779, the Sullivan Expedition to the Seneca Indian villages was amazed to discover large orchards of peach and apple trees. However, it wasn’t until about 1850, that the first commercial orchard of peaches in the county was planted by John Burdette.
The success of the Erie Canal after 1825 enabled area farmers to take advantage of eastern markets for apples, but peaches were too perishable to withstand the slow canal transportation process. With the advent of the speedier New York Central Railroad in 1852-3, travel time was greatly reduced and peach growers now had a chance to ship their fruit to New York City and beyond. As a result, Niagara County farmers began to plant peach orchards in the shade of the Niagara Escarpment as it stretched out to Lake Ontario. In 1862, a prominent lawyer, Luman Nicholls, bought land in Warrens Corners and planted 3,000 peach trees. Others followed, and by 1890, Niagara County farmers raised more and better quality peaches than anywhere else in the United States. The resulting, “Niagara County Peach Belt,” became well known both among fruit growers and distributors and with general consumers.
By 1909, Niagara County farmers shipped some 5,000 boxes of peaches all the way to European markets, with a seven-day shipment from the farm to the consumer. Shortly thereafter, the International Electric Railroad (IRC) was completed to Olcott and the rail line established a special “fruit train” that would leave Olcott and make several stops at various strategic locations to pick up peaches and deliver them in the early morning hours to the Buffalo markets. The advent of cold storage in the 20th century added appreciably to the longevity of the peaches and in 1938, the Kramp Cold Storage in Burt was holding 41,445 baskets of peaches in their facility.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094