Washington Apple Country History


Chelan: the beautiful Indian word means "deep water." Lake Chelan commands the northeast section of the county which bears its name, and is one of the most pristine bodies of water in the United States. Traversing just over fifty miles, this deep water habitat provides a natural conduit between the mountain peaks up-lake and the lush, fertile down-lake valley. At 1,486 feet, Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the nation, extending nearly 400 feet below sea level.

Chelan County is one of the larger counties in Washington, encompassing an area of more than 2,900 square miles. This mountainous region stretches from the Colockum country in the south to the North Cascades highway, and from the Cascade Crest east to the Columbia River. Its largest city, Wenatchee, lies nestled in an orchard-rich bowl, surrounded by the arid, rolling foothills that shield the valley from harsh weather. The city is located at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers, both of which provide the waters necessary for irrigation of crops and, in recent years, for a growing number of recreational activities.

While thousands of visitors who flock to the Lake Chelan Valley every year tend to think of the area primarily in terms of recreation and relaxation, in the agricultural community the shores of Lake Chelan are recognized for producing some of the very best apples cultivated anywhere in the world.

The first commercial apple orchard in Chelan County is believed to have been planted sometime in the early 1880s. As irrigation ditches and canals were constructed to supply more water to the orchards, apple production quickly expanded over the next twenty years. By the turn of the last century, other water resource projects were well underway. The first of these, the Highline Canal, was carved directly through the center of the Wenatchee Valley in 1902, and extended across the Columbia River into Douglas County. This irrigation network laid the foundation for agricultural development in the Wenatchee Valley. In time, tree fruit production, primarily apples, came to dominate the county's industrial base.

The topography surrounding the lake creates something of a 'micro-climate' along the lakeshore which moderates the temperatures during the colder months of winter and the hotter months of summer. Protected in this way from excessive heat damage, the apples which come from this fecund valley are remarkably crisp and juicy. In addition to the more popular apples found here--Red and Golden Delicious--two saporous new varieties have been introduced within the last few years: Gala and Fuji.

Lake Chelan varieties are known for their excellent taste, long shelf life, and superior color. Between 9,000 and 10,000 acres of the Chelan Valley are devoted to the cultivation of apples and other fruits. The majority of the nearly four hundred farms in the valley are small family organizations, with a handful of orchards belonging to large fruit-growing corporations. The average orchard in the Chelan valley is comprised of 30 acres or less.