Last Bite - The Guinan Story
Part of Alfred Guinan's orchard formed the beginnings of Zirkle Fruit Company.
Both Guinan labels are rare.
I can no longer recall exactly how many fruit box label articles Good Fruit Grower has published since the Yakima Valley Museum began preparing them. However, there have been enough that a certain pattern has emerged in the background of the individuals who entered into the commercial fruit growing and packing business. Many were born and raised in the Midwest, usually had a farm background, pursued enough education to qualify as a teacher, and even participated in the Klondike Gold Rush. Many also went into business at an early age—in fact, usually, many businesses, including service as bookkeepers associated with milling or timber companies. A case in point is Alfred F. Guinan, a farmer and a teacher in the schools of Iowa, a miner and prospector in Alaska, and, finally, a very prosperous orchardist in the Selah Heights area of the Yakima Valley.
Guinan, born in Iowa in 1868, was the son of an Irish father and Canadian mother. He received a standard public school education and worked on the family farm during summer vacations and for a year or two after graduating from high school. He then spent a year teaching in Iowa, but in 1890, he moved to Montana and taught there for another year. He then served as a bookkeeper at the Blackfoot Mining Company and the Mammoth Gold Mining Company, both in Montana. In 1899, he went to the Alaskan Klondike, moving from Dawson to Nome in 1900. During his stay in the far north, he located a group of claims near Nome, and retained those claims even after he left Alaska. He also owned a large dredge, which was still working in Alaska in the 1920s.
In the fall of 1907, Guinan, like so many others seeking their fortunes in the irrigated lands of eastern Washington, moved to Yakima and bought land on Selah Heights. He soon had 80 acres planted to apples and pears. And since fruit trees take a number of years to mature and produce a commercially viable crop, Guinan adopted the popular practice of planting an annual crop between the rows of trees. He chose alfalfa as his fast-growing cash crop, and eventually was able to reap the rewards of both fruit and alfalfa sales. In 1911, he built an ornate, six-bedroom house on the ranch. This house is still being used today.
Guinan used two labels to market his fruit. Both are extremely rare. The first is The Guinan, of which only one copy is known to exist and that is owned by a private collector in Wenatchee, Washington. The other is Sunkist Orchards, of which there are only two known original copies, one in the Philip St. Martin collection and the other in the Smithsonian Institution's archives.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the ranch was acquired by Prentice Packing & Cold Storage, which managed the ranch until World War II, when an orchardist named Sewell purchased the property. The ranch then passed through an interesting phase. In the fall of 1945, Allan Marble of Seattle acquired 50 acres of the original ranch. Marble, who had just turned 65 years old, sold his store fixture business in Seattle and retired to Selah Heights to satisfy his long-term ambition to farm. He convinced his two sons—Dick, who had spent almost two years working on the Alcan Highway during World War II, and Ed, an architect—into forming a partnership. The three men took over the ranch on January 1, 1946, farmed the original trees for the next three years, and even made money. But both of the boys had trained for other occupations, and after those three years, each left and each sold his 15-acre share. Their father continued to farm the orchard until he passed away. Ed became the architect he had studied to be, and Dick became a businessman in Yakima, retiring as head of the Yakima Hardware Company. Dick's 15-acre share was sold to Les Zirkle, who had been in the real estate business. These 15 acres were the beginnings of today's very successful Zirkle Fruit Company.