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Histories & Mysteries: Nation’s best peach came from Ashland

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns by 27-year Ashland resident Peter Finkle, who says he’ll write about “Ashland history, as well as beautiful or unusual or quirky sites and sights around town.”

There is a street in Ashland named after Oregon’s premium peach grower back in the 1890s. He may have been the premium peach grower in the entire country at the time!

His name was Max Pracht. He was an immigrant, a veteran, an accomplished orchardist, a great marketer, an Ashland booster and a family man.

Take a look at this excerpt from an 1897 essay singing the praises of Oregon fruit: “In this connection the fact may be noted that the largest apple, the largest pear and the largest cherries exhibited at the Columbian Exposition (1893 Chicago World’s Fair) were grown in Oregon, and that a special gold medal was awarded to Max Pracht of Ashland for the largest and best flavored peaches” (The Overland Monthly, June 1897).

As I walked two-block-long Pracht Street (one block north of Ashland Street, between Liberty Street and Euclid Avenue), I searched to see if I could determine whether Max Pracht’s house was still standing. I had a clue because Ashland historian Terry Skibby had given me a photo of Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900.

Above is are that photo. Below is one I took of the house at 660 Pracht St. I identified as Max Pracht’s house.

Do you see the two clues that connect the 1900 photo with the 2018 photo?

No. 1: The shape of the two windows facing the street on the third floor attic is identical in the current house to the shape of the same windows in the 1900 photo.

No. 2: The triangular wall section between the two attic windows and the roof is identical in the current house with the shape in the 1900 photo.

Max Pracht’s life

Who was this grower of famous peaches? He was born in Palatinate, Germany, in 1846. There was unrest and revolution in Germany in 1848, which caused his father to immigrate to America with the family, including 2-year-old Max.

According to a report in the Republican League Register of Oregon: “He served in the navy during the Rebellion, and is a comrade of Burnside Post No. 23, G.A.R.” In other words, he was in the Union Navy during the Civil War, and later joined the Ashland (Burnside) post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Civil War veterans group.

The same 1896 report described him as “a Republican of irrepressible enthusiasm.” This was back when the Republican Party was the party of Lincoln, the party that had the courage to hold our country together and outlaw slavery.

Max moved with his wife and three children from San Francisco to Ashland in 1887, purchased land, planted an orchard, and harvested his first crop of peaches in 1891.

Just two years later, in 1893, he won the Chicago World’s Fair Gold Medal.

In addition to being a grower and marketer of premium peaches, he also developed some of his land for housing after the opening of the railroad led to a population boom in Ashland starting in 1888. His son Alexander owned the large Ashland Depot Hotel, built next to the new railroad tracks in 1888.

Max was a master at marketing both his peaches and the town of Ashland. The Jacksonville newspaper wrote in 1893: “Mr. Pracht has just had nearly 100,000 peach wrappers printed, each bearing in blue ink on white paper his orchard trademark designed by himself. It advertises the climate of southern Oregon, the city of Ashland, the orchard business of Mr. Pracht .”

Every Pracht peach he shipped was wrapped in this bright, artistic, printed white wrapper. In contrast, other fruit packers at this time wrapped their fruit in plain dark brown paper. No wonder he got 25 percent above market price for his peaches.

Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street. Visit www.WalkAshland.com to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.

Max Pracht’s house and orchard in 1900. (Photo from the Terry Skibby collection)
Max Pracht’s peach box label (from the Oregon Secretary of State website, produce trademark gallery)