Washington’s oldest nursery turns 100
A fourth generation of the Snyder family is involved in the business.
Richared, one of the first red sports of the Delicious apple, was discovered in the Monitor, Washington, orchard of Jack Richardson (crouched, center). Every apple on this five-year-old tree, pictured just before harvest in 1928, was Extra Fancy grade. Al
C&O Nursery, Washington State’s oldest nursery, celebrates its centennial this year. It is probably the third oldest nursery in the United States, after Stark Brothers of Missouri and Adams County Nursery in Pennsylvania (which is one year older), guesses company president Jack Snyder.
In 1905, Jack’s great-granduncle Andy Gossman, a pharmacist from Minnesota, came to Washington to seek his fortune and began growing nursery stock in the Hiawatha Valley, between Ephrata and Moses Lake. The following year, he moved to Wenatchee for easier access to the railroad and began growing nursery trees in several locations, including Monitor, Orondo, and Chelan. He named
the nursery Columbia and Okanogan Nursery Company.
The catalog for 1907 listed many varieties of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, prunes, plums, nectarines, grapes, various berries, strawberries, mulberries, and nuts, and offered a complete line of ornamental plants. First class apple trees, 4 to 5 feet tall, cost 25 cents each, or $15 for 100.
In 1909, Gossman convinced his nephew Bert Snyder (Jack’s grandfather) to join him in the business. In the 1920s, C&O commercialized one of the first red strains of the Delicious apple. L.J. “Jack” Richardson of Monitor noticed a tree in his Delicious orchard that produced solid red apples that colored earlier than the fruit on the rest of the trees.
Richared became a major variety across the country. In 1951, the American Pomological Society awarded the variety its Wilder Medal, in recognition of its outstanding merit. Only one other fruit has ever received the award, which is usually given to individuals or organizations for outstanding service in pomology, and particularly in the introduction of new fruit varieties. “It’s a big honor. It’s the Nobel Peace Prize of fruit,” Jack said. “It was probably the best Red Delicious of its time, for its color and size.”
In 1932, Gossman patented Candoka, a fuzzless peach. Assigned plant patent number 51, it was probably one of the first peaches to be patented, Jack guesses.
C&O continued to look for newer and better Red Delicious strains and patented the Shotwell Delicious in 1934. This was one of the earliest Red Delicious strains patented.
But in the late 1950s and 1960s, Top Red and other spur Red Delicious strains began to dominate, and eventually Van Well Nursery’s Scarlet Spur became the Red Delicious strain of choice.
About 20 years ago, C&O moved its nursery stock production back to its roots in the Columbia Basin, where Gossman started out a hundred years ago.
Gossman died in 1940, leaving no will. Wenatchee businessman Walt Plough bought Gossman’s share of the business from his relatives and was involved in the business for a few years until Bert’s three sons, John, Bob, and Gene Snyder bought him out. John’s sons Jack, Dick, and Gary, Gene’s son Todd, and Bob’s son Jim all joined the business. Jack’s son Shad is the fourth generation of the family to be involved.
The land that the company owns or leases in the Columbia Basin is rotated into other crops, such as corn, wheat, carrot seeds, or onion seeds, in order to rebuild the soil after nursery trees have been grown. Shad runs the farming operation as well as the company’s organic orchard, which is also in the Columbia Basin. C&O has about 450 acres of orchard in total.
The nursery’s top-selling apples today include Gala, early Fuji (September Wonder), Granny Smith, and new Braeburn and Jonagold strains. The company still sells a lot of peach, cherry, and pear trees, and has seen renewed interest in plums, particularly from growers in Michigan and New York.
While there are fewer growers than in the past, there are more nurseries and other sources of nursery trees, Jack observes. “There’s definitely more competition.”
Nurseries are no longer growing whips. They’ve had to adopt new techniques to produce the large caliper, well-branched, uniform trees that growers prefer today.
“It’s making the nurseries do the best job they can of producing the best quality tree that the grower wants at the most affordable price,” he said.
John (90), Bob (85), and Gene (81) are looking forward to marking the centennial on October 10 this year, the 100th anniversary of Columbia and Okanogan Nursery Company’s first official meeting. The nursery is also planning celebrations in December during the Washington State Horticultural Association convention and the Great Lakes Expo in Michigan.