We’re not absolutely sure when the Palisade Peach Festival began, but early historical records from The Museum of Western Colorado indicate that “Peach Days” was a popular event held in the late 1800s. The photo of the Peach Queen dates from the 1920s and harkens back to a time when such festivals were celebrated with more formality!
Some of the first peach trees in the area were planted in 1882 by John Harlow and his wife, Jean. Besides farming, Harlow served as road overseer and local justice of the peace.
He was interested in Grand Valley agriculture and, like most of his contemporaries, knew that the arid conditions would need help — by designing and building a canal system to bring water from the Colorado River. This system was completed in the late 1800s, although Palisade was one of the last areas to receive canal water. However, by the early 1900s, more than 25,000 pounds of peaches were being shipped daily from Palisade to destinations around the region.
Palisade soon grew as a town and other fruit crops followed: apples, apricots, and cherries, to name a few.
Today, Palisade peaches are the pride of Colorado, world-famous and shipped far and wide. They are sought after by people who drive hundreds of miles to taste the best and take several bushels home to preserve and enjoy throughout the year. Palisade has also become the home of many award-winning wineries, 100s of acres of vineyards grace our area and add to our wonderful agriculture legacy. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce welcomes all visitors to our area and hope that you enjoy our area fruit stands and wineries.
History of the Palisade Peach Growers
(Quotations in this article are from the book
A History of Rapid Creek by William Kirk Bunte.)
Plaques often honor people who help establish towns and cities. Or they may have fountains, parks, streets or even bridges named after them. But one of the most influential men in helping to make Palisade, indeed the Grand Valley, what it is today has no such recognition.
His name is John Petal Harlow who was among the first white settlers in the area. Harlow began farming at Rapid Creek in the early 1880’s and this was to become the first successful peach farm in the region. His endeavor can be credited for shaping the history of Palisade and the entire valley.
In 1882, John Harlow began testing the quality of the soil to support various crops. He planted a large vegetable garden and the Grand Valley’s first fruit trees. The garden was a huge success. “…grasses, cereals, and roots of all kinds under his care yielded a harvest which more than satisfied the prospective farmers of the valley as to the fertility and productiveness of the soil.”
The fruit trees, however, died in large numbers. Through his knowledge of agriculture and his commitment to correcting the problem, Harlow learned to fertilize the soil. He used burnt bones and leached ashes as fertilizer and by the next year, he had a successful fruit crop.
By this time more people were moving to the valley. There were pioneers seeking their fortunes and of course the land speculators. More farmers, ranchers, miners and finally homesteaders followed them. They found the valley to their liking and they all contributed to the region as it is today.
In 1886 Judge Harlow and his wife had the most successful fruit farms in the area. Their peaches “ripening in the sun acquired a brilliant color not found on peaches in the east or even in California.” Harlow’s success in 1887 was even greater. Not only did he have a bumper crop he also won first place for his peaches at the Mesa County Fair. And he won a blue ribbon at the Denver Exhibition.
In the spring of 1888, Harlow again predicted another outstanding year. He estimated a crop of about five tons — five tons of peaches that rivaled any in the land. And so began the fame and success of Palisade peaches…
Photos top and second, courtesy of the Museum of Western Colorado. Top photo Palisade Queen, 1921, Palisade Library Collection, Loyd Files Research Library, Museum of Western Colorado, 1979.23#109; Photo above, A.R. Loyd and Family c. 1900, Palisade Library Collection, Loyd Files Research Library, Museum of Western Colorado, 1979.23#3