Take a look back at 40 years of history at Wilson's Orchard and how our farm has changed over time.
The site of the Orchard was purchased by German immigrants, Leonhard and Catherine Degen Brack, in 1855-1856. The Bracks had met and married in Brooklyn, New York. Their path West took them West to Ontonagon County, Michigan. There, Leonhard worked in the mines. Their first born son, Peter, arrived in 1854. Shortly afterwards, Leonhard left his wife and infant son and traveled by boat to Dubuque, Iowa where he worked in the Mines of Spain.
Highway 1, the military highway, surely brought him to Johnson County and the land that would later become their farm and the start of what you see today. He sent for his wife and infant son and the couple choose the land because it reminded them of their country of birth. Their second child, daughter Emma, was born in September 1856 in Johnson County. They built a house with a barn attached in the German style. Sadly, there are no known photos of their homestead.
The 1865, U.S. IRS tax assessment records indicate that he raised hogs. No doubt they were self-sufficient and raised all the food and income they needed from the resources on their farm. Per his daughter Katie Fuhrmeister's obituary, Leonhard also hauled limestone from the nearby Dingleberry Quarry to Iowa City to be used in construction on the University of Iowa campus. The couple raised 10 children, and their descendants still live in Johnson County to this day.
Leonhard died in 1895, and Catherine died in 1899. Their son Peter, as administrator of their estate, listed the farm for sale in an advertisement in the Iowa State Press January 17, 1900 edition.
The land was purchased by James Krall in March of 1900, and throughout most of the 20th century the land was owned by the same family. The land features a large spring and pond, which were popular places for fishing and picnicking in the community.
The property was purchased by Robert (Chug) and Joyce Wilson, who were looking for a scenic spot to plant an orchard. In the following years, they built a facility to house their farm, business, and living quarters. Then, they set to work on building a landscape suitable for growing apples that tasted like apples should -- hiring an excavating company to fill in erosion channels which were large enough to use as tractor sheds. They also planted a small, 2-acre orchard comprised of over 100 varieties of apples. This served as their “test orchard”, with which to evaluate apples for their flavor and growing pot. Most of the trees they planted they grafted themselves, using bud wood from the test orchard.
Wilson's Orchard opened its gates to the public for u-pick sales, and Joyce began making pies and turnovers from any excess fruit.
In its early days, Chug Wilson began testing a variety later known as Honeycrisp, an apple with superb crunch and sweetness. Knowing that he had a real winner, Chug began rapidly grafting and planting Honeycrisp apple trees all over the orchard. Today, it's one of our most sought-after u-pick varieties, ripening most years in Early September.
When Paul Rasch and Sara Goering took ownership of the orchard, they continued the work of caring for the over 100 varieties that had been planted over the years. The Wilson's continued to live on the grounds and help out on the farm for 2 more years.
Paul and Sara grew the operation and scale of Wilson's Orchard, including expanding the farm market and building a pole barn to accommodate equipment and supplies.
Orchard renovation began, replacing older semi-dwarf apple trees with dwarf trees on trellis, and adding new, disease-resistant varieties including Gold Rush.
Rapid Creek Cidery was built in 2016. The structure was built from one relocated barn, nearly a century old, as well as pieces of reclaimed wood from several other barns collected over the years. Today, the building serves as a full-service restaurant and event space.
Wilson's Orchard and Farm grows more than just apples. Choosing crops -- such as pumpkins, strawberries, corn -- that not only provide our community with locally grown food, but also contribute to the sustainability and health of our farm's ecosystem.
Additionally, value-added products like sweet cider, apple cider vinegar, and hard cider help to diversify our offerings and extend our seasonal business.