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Apples: A Symbol of American History and Chatham Township Local Farm Lore

Contributed by Sheila Goggins, Chatham Township Historical Society

Apple picking and apple cider are a New Jersey fall tradition. Families flock to New Jersey farms to participate in this activity. For generations the process of making apple cider was a thriving business in Chatham Township. Apple Orchards were a frequent sight throughout the town. Locally grown apples were used not only as a food source, but to make homemade cider and alcoholic hard cider also known as applejack. Applejack is apple cider, which is distilled and made into apple brandy and was first produced in New Jersey by William Laird. The Laird family has produced applejack in New Jersey since 1698. In 1780, Laird’s descendants commercialized his product and sold it under the name Laird and Company in Scobeyville, New Jersey. During the Revolutionary War, Robert Laird served under George Washington. The Laird family provided George Washington and his troops that passed and settled at Loantaka in Chatham Township with applejack.

Cortright's Natural Apple Cider Bottle

The Chatham Township Historical Society has a gallon cider bottle at the Red Brick Schoolhouse museum that is labeled “Natural Apple Cider Contains No Preservative Distributed by Cortright’s Southern Boulevard, Chatham Twsp. N.J.” Ancestry. com and the Fishawack Papers tells us that the Cortright’s lived on Southern Boulevard in Chatham Township and had an apple orchard and apple cider business. The Cortright’s were active members of the Chatham Township community. Lincoln and Maria Noe Pierson had a family apple orchard on their farm. The Chatham and New Vernon News stated that the Schwartz family who came to Chatham in 1893 from Far Rockaway, New York, and ran a successful dairy farm and sold corn, string beans and asparagus, also had an apple orchard on their farm. The sale of apples and cider kept the family financially sound until they established their successful vegetable and dairy business. The Schwartz apple orchard was located on the west side of Long Hill. The dairy farm operated till 1969 when it was sold to Mr. Kaplan who developed the land as Arrowhead estates. The Schwartz farm was located in what is now Wickham Woods in Chatham Township. The Louis Noe family also had an extensive apple orchard on their farm.

An aerial view of the Lincoln Pierson and Maria Noe Pierson property with the family orchard on the upper right side of the photo.

The Volstead Act of 1919 mandated prohibition, thereby forcing local farmers to dismantle their distilleries for alcoholic cider. The Laird’s produced non-alcoholic beverages until they were granted a federal license under the Prohibition Act. Louis Noe and Louis Doremus, a Chatham Township resident, were brothers-inlaw. Together the two men manufactured alcohol. The Chatham Township Historical Society has a photo of the Noe Doremus alcohol still in The Great Swamp. During prohibition that still ran as a local meeting place for men in Chatham Township.

Noe Doremus Alcohol Still in the Great Swamp

Apples have a significant history not only in Chatham Township but also in the world. One of the earliest types of apple cider was developed in New Jersey and the apples trace back to trees planted in the 1630s. In the 17th century when the English colonists arrived in North America there were only crab apples. English settlers brought apple seeds with them to plant more varieties of apple trees in America. Apple seeds were also known as pips. Some colonists would save the cores, which contain apple seeds to plant seeds for more trees. When Isaac Newton discovered gravity, it is said it was while he watched apples fall from a tree. The Lenni Lenape Indians that once inhabited Chatham used apples for food and made juice to drink. Apples for the Indians were known to be good for the digestive process and to clean the teeth.

Apple trees were often planted on farms to mark property. The folklore hero, Johnny Appleseed, an apple farmer, whose real name was John Chapman was known for planting apple trees from apple seeds, giving apple seeds to farmers heading west and for his friendship with the Native American Indians. When one planted apple trees on their land they indicated an intention to stay on the land. The apple trees were a way for settlers to stake claim to their land till they could go through the proper channels to acquire the land.

Water in Europe was not always suitable for drinking and apple juice, cider and brandy provided a hydrating alternative beverage. During WW2, journalists would ask soldiers why they were fighting the war. A common slogan was, “For mom and apple pie.” Apple pie is a popular American dessert. Apples can also be canned, dried or frozen giving them a long shelf life. Today apples, cider, apple pies and other apple products can be found in most supermarkets and farm markets. Apple brandy and hard cider have become popular industries again and are sold in stores across the United States. Apples though not indigenous to the United States have become a symbol of American history and Chatham Township local farm lore.