Westborough’s hills once abounded with apple orchards

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Westborough’s hills once abounded with apple orchards
All of the streets in Westborough off Adams Street are named for apple varieties in tribute to the town’s former apple orchards (Photo/Laura Hayes)

WESTBOROUGH – A brisk walk on Westborough trails brings the scent of ripening apples; in the spring a glimpse of pink blossoms appears. Although there’s no orchard in sight, Westborough hills once abounded in the colors and smells of apple trees. Westborough’s frost-free elevations, good soil moisture, and climate were suitable for the fruit to flourish.

There were nearly ten commercial orchards in town by the 1940s. These were Dick Gilmore on Adams Street; the Nourse family on Nourse Street; Ed Emery on Chestnut Street, Kenneth Craig on West Main Street; Walter McTaggart on West Main Street; Carl Henry on Fisher Street; the Baldwin/Whittemores on Morse Street; Mr. Sanford (later George Parker) on Lackey Street; and Perry Arnold on Spring Road.

Apple varieties offered at roadside stands or at the orchards included MacIntosh, Macoun, Baldwin, Cortland, Gravenstein, Empire, and Delicious. In the early 1900s, families earned pocket money by picking these apples. During World War II, however, most farm hands had been drafted.

Jane Forsey Dunphy (age 94) remembered when Dick Gilmore recruited Westborough High students to help harvest Westborough’s largest orchard. After picking the fruit, the teens―managed by Carl Henry―sorted them for packing.

“The apples went by on a long conveyer belt. It had holes sized to let either large, medium, or small apples fall through,” Dunphy recalled. “We packed the apples by size and were very careful to pack them with the red, shiny side up. We had so much fun,” she said. Some orchards later switched to “pick your own” due to labor shortages.

Former Selectperson Leigh Emery recalled stories about her family’s orchard. “For added revenue, my grandfather Ed Emery sent cider to France to make brandy after World War I, and again after World War II, when French grape orchards had been destroyed,” she said.

The Hurricane of 1938 devastated many orchards, Leigh added. “The hurricane toppled about 150 apple trees on our farm,” she explained. “Ed’s sons, Belknap, Richard, and Ra, with Bob Hennessy, Joe and Donald Nason used block and tackle, tractors and horses to pull almost all the orchard back upright. However,” she continued, “the Tornado of ’53 destroyed the orchard as a working one―the trees were not just toppled, they were torn out of the ground or just completely smashed.”

By the 1980s, only a few orchards remained: Zane And Evelyn Arnold on Spring Road and George and Helen Parker on Lackey Street. Joe Quick had bought the Gilmores’ Fay Mountain Orchard in the 1970s. Seems every senior class plotted how to move the tremendous fiberglass steer standing before Quick’s store. Hot cider and doughnuts also enticed folks to Quick’s.

The history of Westborough orchards dates back to 1876 to Benjamin Alden Nourse (1862-1897). “Benjamin was one of the most successful Nourses of the eight generations who have farmed here,” said Tim Nourse.

Benjamin Nourse was elected to the Westborough School Committee, and―from
1882-1886―to the Select Board. In 1885, Benjamin was elected representative to
the Massachusetts General Court and was appointed to its Standing Committee on
Agriculture.

On his farm, Benjamin Nourse diversified crops by planting a 49-acre apple orchard.
“He cultivated as many as 57 varieties of apples,” said Tim. “We still sell a few of
them on our farm.”

Benjamin Nourse marketed not only apples but also byproducts like cider and
applesauce. “Eventually he sold apples as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, and even
overseas to Scotland,” marveled Tim. Besides apples, Benjamin added berries to his
crop. “Over the three centuries of the Nourse farm, each generation has changed
according to the market, focusing on dairy, fruits, or vegetables,” Tim explained.
“Their story reflects the constantly evolving nature of farming in America.”

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