Autumn brings about many fall festivals, but one with a long history in Arkansas is the Arkansas Apple Festival. The festival has been held in Lincoln, Arkansas since 1975, but the history of apples in Arkansas, and celebrating their goodness, reaches deeper into Arkansas history.
Apples were not native to Arkansas. Settlers brought apple seeds with them when they first moved into the state. Early growers planted across Arkansas but soon found the climate and soil in Northwest Arkansas to be the prime spot to grow apples. Many planted trees on their land along with their personal gardens.
After the Civil War, interest in growing apples commercially increased, but growers in Northwest Arkansas were limited to selling their apples regionally. Wagon trains took produce south to Little Rock, but the industry didn’t take off until railroad lines were established. By 1901, railroad lines reached Fayetteville and Springdale and farther west to Lincoln. These new lines allowed growers to transport Arkansas apples all over the country. Northwest Arkansas farmers saw the opportunity to profit from the sweet fruit and soon both Benton and Washington Counties had thousands of acres of apple orchards. Arkansas became one of the largest producers of apples in the country.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Arkansas apple growers created twenty-five varieties of apples. Most were never sold outside the state or exist today, but you can still find the Arkansas Black apple, a variety created in 1870 in Bentonville. Lincoln had its own variety known as Summer Champion. In 1901, the apple blossom became Arkansas’s official state flower, a nod to how important the apple industry had become to the state.
Unfortunately, with all those apples came pests and blight to attack the trees and fruit. Apple production began to decline in Arkansas after 1919. Competition from growers in California and the Pacific Northwest affected the demand for Arkansas apples, as well as tighter regulations from the USDA and buyers who desired higher quality, more uniform apples. After the Depression and World War II, not many growers continued to produce apples and the industry shifted away from Northwest Arkansas.
Today, only a handful of orchards still exist in the state, but you can still celebrate Arkansas’s apple history by visiting the Arkansas Apple Festival. The festival has been held in Lincoln since 1976 and always falls on the first weekend in October. Lincoln is only twenty miles from Fayetteville down Highway 62 and was once in the heart of the apple industry.
This year’s festival takes place Sept. 30-Oct.2. Vendors, crafters and apple lovers will fill Lincoln’s picturesque town square for three days of apple centered fun. Free apple slices are served, peeled by a large, old-fashioned apple peeler and apples are available for purchase. If apples aren’t your favorite snack, you can find other mouth-watering fare at the food trucks and booths selling baked goods, kettle corn and other goodies. The festival offers the opportunity to peruse local craft items, including fall decor, hand-carved wooden items, jewelry and more.
Caption: Lincoln’s Town Square fills up each year with vendors, apple products and festival-goers.
Though the festival celebrates apples, there are plenty of other fun events. The festival hosts a talent show for kids in two categories, ages 8-12 and 13-17, with cash prizes. On Saturday, Oct. 1, the festival begins with a parade. Don’t miss the tractors on display around the square or the chance to catch a ride on a pony. Children and teens can also compete in a pageant.
After you’ve had your fill at the apple festival, stop in at the Appletown fruit stand on the east side of Lincoln to sample locally made apple cider and purchase local honey, jams and other treats. Appletown will offer free samples the weekend of the Arkansas Apple Festival.
Visit arapplefestival.org for more information or to enter the parade, pageant or talent show. Enjoy an apple and a taste of Arkansas history!
Photo credit: Arkansas Apple Drawings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.