Project Overview

The aim of this project began with the intent to provide a case study of economic changes in agriculture as they affected apple farming in northern Dutchess County. During the two weeks of the project's production, however, we realized how studying the cultivation of apples instead demonstrated the economic changes.

New York State is the second largest apple producer in the U.S. and the home to a large variety of apple cultivars. In 1825, the Erie Canal opened up the "Big Apple" of New York City to the farmers of New York State, which caused apples to increasingly become the lifeblood of these local farmers. Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook, New York, is a prime example of how apple farming became vital for farmers in New York State. In order to study the rise of apple crops in Hudson Valley agriculture, we traced a family tree of the Fraleighs, the owners of Rose Hill Farm, from the 18th century to the present, alongside the history of apples as they emerged as an essential crop on Hudson Valley farms. This trajectory was not a straight line; rather, what we found was an interesting circling back of practices that began with the diversified agriculture of 18th-century farms for sustenance, passing through 20th-century commercializing farms, to 21st-century farms reformed to accommodate agri-tourism.

Of course, with apple growing also came the production of apple cider. Throughout America's colonial era and through the early Republic, hard cider was as common (if not more so) than beer and wine consumption. Indeed, it was relatively easy to produce, especially for home use. Only recently hard cider has become popular in the United States again, but the historical significance of it has not reemerged with its resurgence. Complementing a series of steps in making cider in the early 19th century, we have provided some more recent scientific research to help explain how and why cider could so easily be produced on the pre-Prohibition American farm to provide a context for its former popularity. The database of more than 800 cultivars demonstrates not only the incredible variety of apples that have been grown in New York State but also points to the extraordinary diversity of types that has narrowed with the commercialization of apple crops.

Project Timeline

Over two weeks during the winter break of 2017, five Bard College students (with the guidance of the Experimental Humanities Digital Projects Coordinator and the expertise of the Experimental Humanities Developer) conceived, designed, and built the content of this interactive website on the subject of apple cultivation in northern Dutchess County, New York. The students enriched their project, connecting it to place and their experience, by building relationships with local historians at Historic Red Hook as they worked in their archives, as well as a community of apple growers in Dutchess County, informally interviewing them on visits to their farms.

Work for this project included a range of contributions. We began our work in the archives of Historic Red Hook, researching in the recently acquired Fraleigh Collection (donated in 2015 by Dave Fraleigh) with the generous assistance of Claudine Klose and Emily Majer. In our decision to trace the Fraleigh family, we relied on the extraordinary genealogical work of Clara Losee, included in the Fraleigh Collection. (Read more about Clara in a biographical note written by her granddaughter, Sarah K. Hermans) Over the centuries, other large families of Red Hook married into the Fraleigh family. One ancestor of Clara's, John Curtis, owned a hardware store in Red Hook and kept a diary of his life. Excerpts from his diary give us an idea of life in Red Hook during the middle of the nineteenth century. We built a database of cultivars from three resources, covering the early 19th century, early 20th century, and the late 20th century. We also entered the approximately sixty varieties grown on Bard's campus at Montgomery Place Orchards, under the cultivation of Doug and Talea Taylor. The enormous amount of data collected, all of which was hand-entered from the texts, provided a number of points from which to analyze the 800+ cultivars that have been grown in New York State. Students created graphic visualizations, including graphs and maps to aggregate this data into readable and interactive formats. The economic history required research in secondary sources in order to build the larger picture of agriculture in the United States. The Fraleigh Family Tree becomes something of a "structural spine," giving immediacy and locality to these rather complex histories. Throughout the second week of work, the students also visited the farms of two apple growers, Doug Taylor at Montgomery Place Orchards and Chuck Mead at Mead Orchards, and spoke with former Rose Hill Farm owner, Dave Fraleigh, about the changes in apple farming in their experiences.

Project Credits

The Apple Project Team would like to thank many wonderful and generous people for their contributions to the project. We owe an enormous thank you to Claudine Klose and Emily Majer for their expertise and enthusiasm about local history as well as the time they spent with us in the Historic Red Hook archives in the Elmendorph Inn. We would like to also express our gratitude to local growers for sharing their experiences with the students: Dave Fraleigh for spending time talking to students via video chat from North Carolina; Doug Taylor at Montgomery Place Orchards for inviting the students to visit his operations and share in some of the goodies and histories produced there; and, Chuck Mead of Mead Orchards for spending an entire morning giving a tour of the family's historic barn and cider press and also sharing his experiences with the students. We are also grateful for the generosity of Sarah K. Hermans, for sharing her personal collection of family photographs and biographies. And, our thanks to Gabriel Perron, Assistant Professor of Biology at Bard College, for meeting with the students before the project began to help imagine the possibilities.

Funding for this project was made possible through a grant to Bard's Experimental Humanities from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and from Bard's Center for Civic Engagement. We are grateful to the EH Steering Committee,  Maria Sachiko Cecire (Director of Experimental Humanities, Assistant Professor of Literature at Bard College), and Erin Canaan (Vice President for Student Affairs Dean of Civic Engagement/Deputy Director, Bard Center for Civic Engagement) for their support in continuing the winter session project this year.

Our Team

Arti Tripathi

Year: Junior/Senior

Major: Computer Science with a concentration in Experimental Humanities

Research interests: cool women in history

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: A bit of this and a bit of that and a lot of John Curtis

From: Elmhurst, New York

Favorite Apple: Hidden Rose

How do you like them apples?: with peanut butter or apple cider doughnuts

What do you want to be when you grow up?: Proud Dog Owner

Emma Popkin

Year: Junior

Major: Written Arts

Research interests: Food writing, food history

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: Genealogical, agricultural, and local history

From: Doylestown, PA

Favorite Apple: Seek-no-further

How do you like them apples?: PIE

What do you want to be when you grow up?: Making lots of pies

Mary Verrelli

Year: Junior

Major: Biology

Research interests: food science, agricultural science, fermentation

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: Resident biology major. Prof. Gabriel Perron referred me for this project after I showed an interest in fermentation processes. Also super into the local food system.

From: Oneonta, NY

Favorite Apple: Northern Spy

How do you like them apples?: In hard cider.

What do you want to be when you grow up?: A farmer? A brewer? An aerialist? A cheesemaker? A researcher of agricultural techniques or food microbiology?

Noah Segal-Gould

Year: Junior

Major: Computer Science and Experimental Humanities

Research interests: Machine Learning on Text and Images; Digital Humanities

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: Local History, Archival Research, and Data Manipulation

From: North Haven, Connecticut

Favorite Apple: Seek-no-Further

How do you like them apples?: In the company of loved ones!

What do you want to be when you grow up?: A good person.

Sahal Hussain

Year: Junior

Major: Computer Science

Research interests: automation and artificial intelligence; its impact on economy and society

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: farming technologies

From: Bangladesh

Favorite Apple: Sansa apple

How do you like them apples?: hard cider

What do you want to be when you grow up?: happy

G. Ryan Sablosky

Role at Bard: Developer for Experimental Humanities

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: developer

From: Doylestown, PA

Favorite Apple: the red kind

How do you like them apples?: as food

Gretta Tritch Roman

Role at Bard: Digital Projects Coordinator of Experimental Humanities

Research interests: architectural and urban history, agricultural landscape history, nineteenth century

Role/Interest in the Apple Project: I enjoy working on anything to do with local history...and the people and historic landscapes here are full of stories to explore

From: Northeast Arkansas

Favorite Apple: that I know so much more about apple varieties, how could I say? Honeycrisp?

How do you like them apples?: hard cider, for sure

What do you want to be when you grow up?: doing what I do

HRH working
HRH working