A Brief History of Sandhills Peaches

— Written By
en Español / em Português

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.


Inglês é o idioma de controle desta página. Na medida que haja algum conflito entre o texto original em Inglês e a tradução, o Inglês prevalece.

Ao clicar no link de tradução, um serviço gratuito de tradução será ativado para converter a página para o Português. Como em qualquer tradução pela internet, a conversão não é sensivel ao contexto e pode não ocorrer a tradução para o significado orginal. O serviço de Extensão da Carolina do Norte (NC State Extension) não garante a exatidão do texto traduzido. Por favor, observe que algumas funções ou serviços podem não funcionar como esperado após a tradução.


English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

rows of peaches in baskets for sale

I’m waxing sentimental about peaches these days. We’re at the threshold of what might be one of the largest peach crops we’ve seen in many years, as there were no spring freezes to thin the crop (or destroy it, which happens). Over the past few decades, North Carolina has dropped from being one of the largest peach growing states in the country, to not even registering among top states of peach production. In NC, Peach farmers primarily sell their peaches at their own produce stands and at farmers markets. The industry today looks substantially different from the peach industry when it began here over 100 years ago. It’s an interesting history.

The peach industry first developed in the Sandhills due to a serendipitous alignment of factors. There was little agriculture here in the 1800s. The sandy soils had little to no water or nutrient holding capacity; the longleaf pine towered over the land for thousands of miles. After the Civil War and with increasing industrialization, by the late 1880s, the longleaf pine was harvested almost to extinction. Photographs from the period show a treeless landscape, as if destroyed by a bomb. Farmers and landowners survived primarily off lumbering and turpentining. Most were share croppers and subsistence farmers who worked the trees, tended their free range cattle, and scratched out a meager vegetable patch.

Beginning in the late 1870’s, things began to change. Through the efforts of an audacious entrepreneur, John Patrick, portions of Moore County were developed into health resorts for northerners. At the same time, new scientific research on the benefits of fertilizers was being developed at the new land grant college in Raleigh (now NC State University). With the benefits of fertilizers, it was possible to create improved pastureland. Well-to-do newcomers turned the technology to growing grass for the creation of golf courses for the nascent tourist industry. These fertilizers could be used for the production of horticulture crops as well. Commodity prices of cotton and corn were low; horticulture crops such as grapes and tree fruits were bringing good prices. The use of new fertilizers and pesticides were making these ventures a success for those who could afford to use the new technology.

Through connections to well-heeled locals and various networks based on shared school backgrounds and family ties, a number of disenchanted Northerners moved to the Sandhills in what may be called a romantic “back to the land” movement. Ralph Page, son of Walter Hines Page, an Aberdeen NC native and US Ambassador to Great Britain, was looking for career and life direction along with Yale University pal Raphael Pumpelly. Page received life guidance from no less than the Father of Cooperative Extension, Seaman Knapp, a friend of Page’s father. Knapp advised Ralph Page and his friend to seek out inexpensive farm land in the south and create a life of freedom and independence. Page and Pumpelly were among the first to buy tracts of land in the Sandhills to farm on a large scale (Pumpelly’s farm, Samarcand, is located off Hwy 211 and still stands today). Roger Derby was another Northern transplant who came to the Sandhills to find a meaningful life farming. In 1911, he bought land in Richmond County, and began growing cotton. After a few years, with prices dropping, Derby replaced cotton with peaches, planting his first orchard in 1917. There were already some peaches in the Sandhills. HR Clark, a native Bostonian, by 1905 had planted 200 acres of peaches in Candor, and was one of the earliest of the northern transplants to put his hand to growing the tree fruit. Renown memoirist Katherine Ball Ripley, herself a transplant and hopeful peach grower, noted there were 50 or more peach orchards in the Sandhills during the 1920s, all started by non-farmers and primarily northerners.

It was a short if heady run. By the late 1920’s, the majority of northerners who began peach farms were broke, and sold out to whomever would buy. There were several factors that caused this. Overproduction was one: between Georgia, South Carolina, and the NC Sandhills, there was often a peach glut on the market, suppressing prices. Early census USDA records show that in 1920, there were 4,869,409 peach trees in North Carolina, primarily the four Sandhills counties of Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, and Anson. In South Carolina at this time there were 1,207,575 peach trees. The majority of peaches were shipped up north by rail to the urban centers, a costly and often risky venture, and many growers had the unfortunate experience of having deliveries rejected or receiving a lower price than originally agreed upon. Perhaps the most serious challenge of peach growing in North Carolina was the frequency of late spring freezes which killed or greatly reduced the developing crop, resulting in financial loss or even economic devastation. By the 1930s, the industry began to change. That is a story for another time.

We have those early pioneers of the peach industry to thank for the delicious “Queen of Fruit” locally grown today, and which gave rise to the development of peach varieties named for Sandhills communities, such as Derby, Norman, or the beloved Windblo peach. Take advantage of the bounty of peaches this summer, as we never know if we’ll have them next year. For more information on growing, cooking, or preserving peaches, contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office, Richmond County Center, at 910-997-8255. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook.