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A glimpse at the North Fork Valley in 1952

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Dear Editor:

My mother was a keeper. I was going through some of her clippings, pictures, etc. and I came across a paper I had written. It was about 1952 and I would have been in the sixth grade. I thought people might be interested in what life was like in the North Fork Valley back then.

"Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies is the pretty little town of Paonia (pay-own-ya) Colo.

Paonia has a population of 1,245 according to the 1950 census, and a high altitude of over 5,300 feet. Because of the rugged mountain peaks this area of Colorado is often called 'The Switzerland of America."

Paonia is famous throughout Colorado for its black sweet cherries. It's one of the few places in the world that can raise these cherries. Paonia also raises other fruits. Shipped annually out of Paonia are: 325 box cars of peaches, 500 box cars of apples, 35 box cars of pears, 20 box cars of cherries, 20 box cars of miscellaneous fruits, 20 box cars of hay, grain and mill products and 450 box cars of livestock.

The 5,500 acres of cropland is irrigated by the waters of the North Fork of the Gunnison river and its tributaries.

Average season between killing frosts -- 160 days. Average annual precipitation -- 17 1/2 inches.

Paonia has never been hit by flood, drought or other disasters.

One of the early settlers in Paonia was a flower lover. He brought with him numerous shrubs, etc. He found that peonies grew beautifully, so he planted many rows of them. This small town needed a name for the post office. Mr. Wade decided it would be very nice to send in the name "Peonie." The word can be spelled with a "y" or "ie."

Mr. Wade sent in the name but because of his crude way of printing, the post office officials misread this "e's" for "a's" and the town was officially named Paonia instead of the originally intended Peonie.

Today as you pass through you see very few yards without peonies. They can grow as big as dinner plates.

Now, a large seed company has found the rich soil is also good for the growing of hybrid petunias. This company now has the largest payroll in Paonia. There are 20 acres of petunias and it employs over 60 people."

Some added thoughts: "Switzerland of America" actually refers to Ouray. When I tell people that we shipped fruit out of this valley by the box car load they look at me like I am crazy. Sadly, over 90 percent of those beautiful orchards are gone. The trees that are planted now don't even compare to what we had then.

On some of the large apple trees in the Blanchard orchard it was not unusual to get 100 picking boxes off of one tree.

The mines only worked in the winter so some of the farmers also worked the mines.

Pan American was the seed company mentioned. The petunias were beautiful in the summer.

I grew up on a fruit farm three miles northeast of Paonia. We packed out our peaches, apples and pears. There used to be a siding at the southeast end of our orchard where the train could offload box cars for farmers in that area to load their packed fruit. I doubt if the siding is still there. I cannot bring myself to go out there as the orchards are all gone and most of the land is grown up in weeds and dead trees. Fortunately, the farm where I lived has been taken care of pretty well, but the orchards are gone. It is very sad for me to see what has happened to this valley and Paonia too. The town is in terrible shape and the streets are in disrepair.Yards have been left to die and weeds are everywhere. With the mines going down the economy is just getting worse. Unfortunately, it is no longer the pretty little town where I grew up.

Earlana Sims

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