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Fitchard-Wolfe Hop Ranch

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1903 to 1920
Location: Independence, Polk, Oregon, United Statesmap
Surname/tag: Wolfe, Fitchard
Profile manager: Jill Foster private message [send private message]
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Fitchard-Wolfe Hop Ranch

Hops grew well in the fertile soil and the mild climate of the Willamette Valley. These plants are vining perennial plants which in this region could produce a small crop of hop cones in the first year of planting. In the early days hop farmers didn’t need to fertilize. The vine can reach up to 25 feet in length in one year.[1]
Lloyd Wolfe, Henry “Bert” Wolfe’s half-brother, in the history of his family described details from time he spent on Bert’s hop farm Polk County, Oregon. This is how Bert got into the hop growing business.
Bert, who decided to remain in Oregon, took the team of mules and $300 which Father gave him and started a life of his own. He became acquainted with a man named Fitchard who owed a hop ranch near Independence, twelve miles south of Salem, on the Willamette River, who persuaded him to become a partner.[2]
Helen Lonski, Bert's daughter, called this place the Wolfe-Fitchard hop ranch which was near Independence, Oregon, 2 miles from the city center, toward the Willamette River on the Salem Independence Road.[3]Helen's birth certificate lists the residence on Independence Road, 3 miles north as the place where Helen was born. [4]
Charles L. Fitchard was a hop grower from New York who had been hop farming in Independence since around 1893. [5]
The hop business was growing rapidly when Charles started farming in the Willamette Valley. A comparison report by a field reporter from the Oregonian surveying the hop farms within a 2 mile radius around Independence shows this early growth. In 1892 there were 16 growers and 107 acres in hops. In 1893 there were 480 acres in hops. Five pickers were needed for every acre of hops grown so in 1893 the Independence area would need 2400 pickers to pick the crop.[6]

Hop Farming in the Willamette Valley

During August the small town of Independence, Oregon went from being a quiet place with little traffic to a busy town filled with hop pickers. Businesses ramped up to meet the demands of these extra people. Whole families came out to pick and some from a distance. Some came on the trains from Portland; some came on steamboats running up and down the Willamette River. Others drove in their own vehicles, horse drawn wagons or motor driven autos. They camped in tents on the hop farms and in those days young children picked. Sidney Newton remembers being expected to pick 74 lbs. of hops a day when he was a child of six years.[7]
By 1910 hop pickers came in August and September to Independence by the thousands. Here is an article from the Oregon Daily Journal supporting this claim.
Hop Pickers Off on Annual Trip to Oregon Field
They're off to the hop fields! Thousands of men, women and children are making the annual trek to the upper valley, where 25,000 acres of hops are ready for picking. The work will continue during September. The first large shipment of pickers to leave Portland went to the Krebs ranch at Independence this morning. Eight coaches made up the train, which left the Union station at 7:20. At Fourth and Yamhill streets about 100 people were taken aboard, packing the coaches to the limit. Two full cars of baggage, consisting of tents, bedding and supplies, were taken by the pickers. At the Taylor street dock at 6:45 the Oregon City Transportation company loaded the Oregona to her capacity with pickers. For a week small numbers have been going out daily by boat, but the movement this morning was a record-breaker.[8]

The location of this photo of downtown Independence taken in 1910 during the busy season is at the corner of Main and Monmouth Streets. This photo was taken from the same location as a later photo showing the paving of Main Street in 1912.[9]


Busy Time in Independence, 1910


This photograph shows the Fitchard family in front of the cook tent. It was probably around 1902 when the Fitchard boys were 11 and 18. Standing on the left side of the tent and starting at the left are Florence Fitchard who was Charles Fitchard’s wife, Harold their youngest son, Charles Fitchard the hop farmer and Thomas their oldest son. On the right are two well dressed kitchen helpers. Likely Florence was the cook as she was known to be a good cook. It looks like the owners cooked for the pickers at this camp.
Fitchard Family
At most hop camps the pickers cooked their own meals but were provided with tents, fuel and even pasture for their horses.
Here is what the cooking set-up looked like in 1913 at the Fitchard- Wolfe Hop Ranch. This time the kitchen crew included Edna Olson, Sigrid Olson and Florence Fitchard.
Edna, Sigrid, Florence
This 1915 photo, taken after Edna and Bert were married, shows Charles Fitchard, Thomas Fitchard, Edna Wolfe, Bert Wolfe, Margaret Fitchard, Harold Fitchard, baby Robert Lewis Fitchard and Dorothy Fitchard. Margaret is the wife of Harold and Robert is their son. Dorothy is the youngest child of Charles and Florence.
Fitchards and Wolfes

Hop Horticulture

In the early 1900s work in the fields was often done with a hoe or with real horse power as shown in this photo of Harold Fitchard with Blackie and Maude.
The process of planting and growing hops was quite involved. Hops needed tall supports after to grow up after they were planted. Here is a photo of workers setting posts. The poles are about 12 feet high. After the posts are set wires are set between the poles.
Setting Poles
Later in the spring when the vines are about 2 feet long, they are trained on to strings which have been connected to the wires. Here is a photo.
Training the Vines
Lloyd wrote about this. He said,
So back to work at Bert’s ranch. First, we had to repair the damage done by the flood. The iron wire trellis and some poles were replaced. Ira being an electrician lineman did the wire work, while others dug and replaced poles. Then the hoeing began at which time we staked each vine and tied strings on which they grew and reached the wires. Then we had to “turn them down”. That was turning the vines and starting them onto the wire trellis overhead, meanwhile, hoeing continued around the base. (Page76)
Most vines twine counterclockwise, but the hop vine is among the 10% of vines that turn and twist clockwise. Lloyd goes on to say while working with hop vines he learned their unusual twining pattern in a hurry.
In September and November when it was time to harvest the hop cones, the hop yard became a noisy place. Calls of “Wire down” and “Box Full” and “Weigh them Up” could be heard up and down the hop fields.
This photo of Bert Wolfe shows the hook at the end of the long pole that he would take the wire down to bring the hops to a level reachable by the pickers. Notice the long pole visible in the middle of the next photo which shows a group of pickers.
Bert the Hop Farmer
Notice the long pole visible toward the right side of this photo which shows a group of pickers. The pickers were a mixed group of women, children and some men. Every acre of hops needed 4 or 5 people to see the hops from vine to bale.
Bert the Hop Farmer
Here is a photo of young pickers and their baskets; a full basket of hops weighed about 50 pounds, hence the cry “box full” and ‘’weigh them up”. The weighing job would go to the stronger bodies.
Pickers and Baskets
After weighing a box full of hops the picker would get a stub listing the weight of their pickings. This could be exchanged for cash at the end of the day. Days often ended with campfires, singing and storytelling. On the weekend there were often dances or “hops”.
This end of the season photo shows Bert in the back row, third from the right. His half- brother, Earl Wolfe, is just right of Bert.
Done
In this “to market” photo Bert and his driver are taking the dried and baled hops to market. The bales each weigh about 100 pounds.
to Market


Sources

  1. Cooler, Kathleen E. Hudson, "Hop Agriculture in Oregon: The First Century" (1986). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 3608. https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4617&context=open_access_etds, pages12 and 23
  2. Wolfe, Lloyd McKinley. Henry Harrison and His Family. Self published by author in 1977. p.37. copy in the files of Jill Foster.
  3. Wolfe, Helen. Personal recollection, 2007, as told toJill Foster in about 2007.
  4. Oregon State Board of Health, "Certified Copy of Corrected Birth Record #64 for Helen Margaret Wolfe," in the files of Jill Foster
  5. "Obituary for Charles L. Fitchard", Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 6 Nov 1926, page 17 (https://www.genealogybank.com/doc/obituaries/image/v2:11A73E5827618330@GB3OBIT-129ED327488AD79F@2424826-1294E2AFC0099432@16-17544FFA9A06AAD3)
  6. "Hops in Polk County," Oregonian ,(Portland, Oregon), p.2, https://www.genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/image/v2%3A11A73E5827618330%40GB3NEWS-1236AC032678B588%402412704-12316ACC70305D60%401-12D51A7DABE895D8
  7. Newton, Sidney, Early History of Independence, Oregon, Panther Printing Co., Salem, Oregon, 1971, p.68
  8. "Hop Pickers Off on Annual Trip to Oregon Field", The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland Oregon), 3 Sep 1910, p. 5, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/84538403/1910-krebs-train-full-of-pickers/
  9. Newton, Sidney, Early History of Independence, Oregon, Panther Printing Co., Salem, Oregon, 1971, p.61




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