Levi Tower displays a branch laden with peaches, n.d. (NPS/Whiskeytown NRA, from the IOMP).
Historic apple tree in the Tenant House Orchard at the Tower House Historic District (NPS).
The same historic fruit tree after careful pruning by NPS orchardist Laurie Thompson (NPS).
Restoring California’s Legacy: The Orchards of Tower HouseHistoric District
Shasta County, California
Theorchards of Tower House Historic District (THHD), part of the WhiskeytownNational Recreation Area, contain a variety of fruits and nuts which includeapple, cherry, cherry plum, crabapple, grape, pear, persimmon, quince, andwalnut. The assortment of fruit and nut trees planted throughout the orchardsrepresent the surviving cultural landscape of Whiskeytown’s pioneer past.
The orchards’ wide spacing and geometry of treelayout illustrates the nation’s transition from the “golden age of pomology”(1880-1880) to the “industrial revolution” of agriculture (1880-1945).Surviving orchards offer a repository of historic varieties planted by Levi Tower and Charles Camden.
Open bowl pruning style in the French Gulch Field (1880-1945) (NPS/Whiskeytown NRA).
By the mid-1800s, American pioneers on the West Coast were cultivating fruit, both in family farm orchards and at a commercial level. Often, California orchards during this period were established using stock from early Missions, scionwood carried from the East Coast, and from trees provided by Pacific Northwest nurseries.
The orchards, first developed by Levi Tower and later by Charles Camden, illustrate a transitional period in fruit culture in the West. Located within four orchard areas at the THHD, including the Back Field, French Gulch Field, Tenant House, and Camden House Yard, these orchards represent California’s long and continuing agricultural tradition.
Historic drawing of the Tower House with surrounding orchards (NPS/Whiskeytown NRA).
A Plan for Orchard Management
Admiredfor their beauty and historic significance as the showplace of the TowerHotel during the mid-1800s, many of the fruit trees have recently been assessed as in poor condition. In light of this, the National Park Service has published a new2016 interim orchard management plan that seeks to stabilize and preserve the four remainingorchards within THHD.
The Tower House Historic District Interim Orchard Management Plan was developed by a project team with members from the Park Cultural Landscapes Program, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and other consultants.
Pruning techniques used to rehabilitate historic fruit trees (NPS/Interim Orchard Management Plan).
Recommended treatment of the orchards and associated fruit trees includes enhancedirrigation, fertilizing, and pruning, among other interventions. The park is striving to maintain existing historic trees associatedwith the district and rehabilitate representative areas, supportingthe park’s effort to depict the character of the cultural landscape as isappeared during the period of significance.
Visitors to the park also may have theopportunity to participate in public events, such as Whiskeytown’s Annual Harvest Festival, which was most recently held September 17, 2016.
- Plan your own visit at the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area park website.
Learn more about the Tower House Historic District and the Orchard Management Plan:
Grace Richards, daughter of Charles Camden, among apple trees, ca. 1902. She assumed ownership of the property after his death in 1912 (NPS/Whiskeytown NRA, from the IOMP).
So, where’s the Camden House Historic District?
Identified as the Camden House Historic District in the Cultural Landscape Inventory, the area is listed as the Tower House Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. After Levi Tower’s death in 1865, the fruit and nut trees on the property were maintained by Charles Camden and his family.
You can discover more about the orchards and landscape history in the Camden House Historic District Cultural Landscape Inventory above.