Cross Orchards Historic Farm, tucked into the eastern edge of Grand Junction, is a working apple farm and historic site that gives visitors a glimpse of farming life in the Grand Valley in the early 1900s.
In its prime, the ranch was operated by the Red Cross Land and Fruit Company, and the orchard was one of the largest in the state, covering more than 200 acres with over 22,000 trees, bearing heirloom varieties of apples such as Black Twig, Gano and Ben Davis.
Come harvest-time, locals would come from around the region to help with pruning, apple picking and packing of the harvest. Many would set up camp on the orchard grounds, while a few slept in the bunkhouse on the property.
Along with sleeping quarters, the restored bunkhouse contains a kitchen, pantry and cook’s quarters, a dining room and offices. Nearby, a large barn and packing shed served as the center of attention during harvest. These buildings are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
These days, the orchard is more modest, with 24 acres and 50 or so trees. Locals still come to the site, but they come to volunteer as docents, or costumed interpreters, performing tasks at the orchard as they were done at the turn of the last century and opening a window on the past to visitors.
Zebulon Miracle is one such individual. He spends time working the orchard and coordinating activities for visitors. “Our No. 1 activity is the orchard,” he explains. “We also give tours and demonstrations while we work, including the blacksmith and wood working shops.”
Visitors can observe, ask questions and maybe help out with baking in the antique wood stove using period recipes and watching spinners, weavers and knitters practice their craft. “There’s a lot of direct contact between the docents and visitors,” says Miracle. “It’s a very interactive place.”
For kids, the beauty of Cross Orchards is that they get a glimpse into life from days gone by, yet the site is comprised of a number of buildings and green spaces so that they can be active and move around while taking in the sights and sounds. One kid favorite is the water cycle display, with a working, albeit shallow, well. Youngsters can use a hand crank and lower a bucket into the well, then bring their full bucket up out of the water. They never seem to tire of it.
Since Cross Orchards was first restored about 25 years ago, the museum has acquired several other collections from the surrounding area. One large display, from the Swanson family in nearby Fruita, consists of dozens of pieces of farm and ranch implements, large and small.
“It’s amazing to see just how many things it took to run an entire farm in the 1880s,” Miracle says. “This was a pretty isolated part of the Grand Valley in those days; people out here had to be pretty much self sufficient.”
The collection has everything from tractors to saddles to, well, the kitchen sink. “The manure spreader, used to apply fertilizer to the fields, is a hit with kids,” says Miracle. “They are amazed that something like that even existed.”
A re-created train depot and Uintah Railway exhibit will capture the attention of train buffs of all ages. The Whiskey Creek Trestle soars into the air, and close to the ground the Grand Valley Model Railroaders have built a display of HO scale trains that winds its way around the exhibit.
A few yards away, a line of tractors, horse-drawn wagons, graders and other vintage farm and road-building equipment comprise the Wallace “Boots” Corn collection. Dozens of pieces, some which will have folks guessing about their purpose, stand quietly in the sun, having been retired from duty decades ago
“Some of these pieces sat idle in fields for more than 50 years,” Miracle says. “Our volunteers have invested their time to bring many of them back to working condition.”
One arm of the Museum of Western Colorado, Cross Orchards is open May through October. Many activities fill that short window of time. Visitors can drop in for a visit at any time, or kids can attend day camps, where they will take part in cooking, craft-making and other heirloom activities.
One of the highlights of the season is the Fall Day on the Farm, held in September. “It’s a classic harvest celebration,” says Miracle. The weekend’s events include live entertainment on two stages, raucous gunfight re-enactors, and plenty of games and crafts.
Cider pressing is one of the most popular activities of the weekend. Apples fresh off the trees are pressed and strained, with cider available for purchase fresh off the assembly line. “The best cider is made from a blend of apples, which we grow here at the orchard,” says Miracle.
A country store offers modern trinkets as well as period pieces, including handmade sunbonnets identical to those worn by women of the time period, rustic wooden toys and wall hooks and other items wrought by the blacksmith.
“One of the things I love about this place is the ability to unplug and really feel what it would have been like to live in those days,” says Miracle. “You’ll never see me answering my cell phone when I’m on the grounds.”
Sounds like a refreshing change of pace.
If You Go
Cross Orchards Historic Site
3073 F Road, Grand Junction
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.