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Historical Fruit Growers papers go to SOHS

The papers of the Fruit Growers League have been donated to the Southern Oregon Historical Society, preserving 95 years of an industry that helped power the Rogue Valley economy through the 20th century.

"It's the largest collection of documents on the local pear industry," said SOHS Executive Director Allison Weiss, noting the industry continues to be one of the largest in the valley.

SOHS staff and volunteers will organize and catalog the collection, making it available for use by historians, environmentalists, genealogists, climatologists and others in about six months, said Pat Harper, the society's library manager. The papers were donated to SOHS in November.

The Fruit Growers League archives include the minutes of its thousands of meetings, where growers shared research and strategies about their work.

The archives follow the progression of the pear industry, which covered more than 12,000 acres and "provided lots of jobs and commerce," said grower Ron Meyer, a former league president. The league supported and worked with the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station and hired lobbyists to work with them in the Oregon Legislature and with Congress on international trade issues.

Kay Atwood, author of "Blossoms and Branches," which chronicles the early years of the pear industry, said the value of the league lay in its members "cooperating and pulling together, like the grange, though they were competitors."

Pear growers faced problems of blight, frost and hardships of the Great Depression, which drove many out of business, Atwood said.

"The archives are a wonderful gift, a chance to have resources not only saved but organized as archives that will be accessible and valuable for research," Atwood said.

The archives have been stored at the experiment station, now called the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, since the league disbanded two years ago. Their new home is at the SOHS archives at 106 N. Central, Medford.

Archivists will determine how to organize the documents, chronologically, by subject or other means, and selected items will be digitally scanned, Harper said.

Archivists will create "finding aids" — a short digest of important items — to help researchers find what they're interested in, said Weiss, so they don't have to read everything as they go.

Although the archive will be accessible at midyear, a thorough organizing of the material is an ongoing process and will take longer, Harper said.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.