“Hancock and its surrounding area during the main span of the 20th century was one of the largest fruit producers in the nation,” begins the Maryland Historical Marker along West Main Street in that same town. “In 1886 Edmund Pendleton Cohill (1855-1943) began the cultivation of fruit crops. Over the years his planted acreage increased, and Cohill formed the Tonoloway Orchard Company. Other company and family names followed…”
Nowhere does the marker mention Henry E. Van Deman, and that’s a shame, for without him Cohill’s Tonoloway Orchard may not have risen to the dominant market position it ultimately achieved.
Henry E. Van Deman was born in Concord, OH in 1846 with very nearly an apple in each hand; both his father and grandfather were orchardists. Like many farm boys of his era, he never attended college, spending his young manhood instead fighting with the 1st Ohio in Civil War between 1863-65.
After the war he studied for a time with one Dr. J.A. Warder of Ohio, an ‘old-time pomologist.’ He moved to Benzonia, MI, where he helped his brother John develop orchards for several years, then on to Allen County, KS in 1871, where he took up a homestead claim.
In 1876 Van Deman became a member of the Kansas State Horticultural Society, which in turn brought him to the attention of the Kansas Agricultural College. He was invited to teach there in short order, and rose to become chairman of the college from 1878-80. He was during this same period gaining national recognition for his regular contributions to “Gardener’s Monthly.”
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, U.S. farmers were expanding fruit orchard programs in response to growing markets. At the same time, horticulturists from the USDA and agricultural colleges were bringing new varieties to the United States from foreign expeditions, and developing experimental tracts for these fruits. In response to this increased interest and activity, the USDA established the Division of Pomology in 1886.
The USDA recruited Henry E. Van Deman, and brought him from Kansas to Washington, DC as the division’s chief pomologist.
Van Deman’s “Report of the Pomologist” in the ‘Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the year 1886’ directly addressed a crucial aspect of the department’s diversification program — namely, the production of fruits for export. Apples and citrus fruits were seen as particularly significant.
The introduction of new apple varieties required exact representations of the fruit so that plant breeders could accurately document and disseminate their research results. Since the use of scientific photography was not widespread in the late 19th Century, USDA commissioned artists to create watercolor illustrations of newly introduced cultivars.
Many of the watercolors were used for lithographic reproductions in USDA publications, such as the Report of the Pomologist and the Yearbook of Agriculture. From USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection; Malus domestica “Bloomfield”; Specimen No.: 10252; Grower’s State: Maryland ; USDA Artist: Deborah Griscom Passmore; Watercolor Date: 9/28/1895
Edmund Pendleton Cohill was born in Elmira, NY when Henry E. Van Deman was nine years old. In 1861 young Edmund’s mother Mary died, and he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Y. Mapes, in Great Bend, PA. He attended public schools until he was seventeen years old, when he went to Harrisburg to become a clerk in the office of T. T. Wierman, chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Canal Company.
Here he remained two years, making his home with Mr. Wierman.
While in the city he attended night school, and took a course in short hand, telegraphy and bookkeeping. In 1874, upon graduation from Harrisburg Commercial College, he accepted the position of private secretary to George M. Ball, general manager of the Empire Transportation Company, in Williamsport, Pa.
In 1875 Empire sent Cohill to Baltimore as cashier, a position he held for one year. During his time in Baltimore he met Mary Ellen Rinehart of Hancock, MD. The two married, in Hancock, on October 23, 1876, and Cohill resettled there for the remainder of his life.
Cohill partnered with his father-in-law Samuel Rinehart in the mercantile business and manufacture of sumac. Rinehart retired in 1880, leaving Cohill sole owner of the business. In I886, he began commercially cultivating apples.
Van Deman, in the meantime, resigned from the USDA in 1893, to enter the private market. He continued to publish horticultural editorial work, and got involved as an investor and in an advisory capacity with large fruit and nut plantations in Louisiana, Kansas, and Tennessee.
He also served as a judge of exhibitions of nuts and fruit in practically every state in the Union and at all the national expositions.
By 1901 E.P. Cohill was starting to be noticed nationally as a rising star in pomology circles. Guy L. Stewart, Asst. Industrial Agent, B&O R.R., wrote an article in the Maryland Horticultural Society Report of that year titled “Apples in Western Maryland: Their Present Status and Future Prospects,” in which he applauds Cohill’s leadership in orchardry: “The people of this section have only begun to see that their money lays in apples. Mr. EP Cohill, a merchant and himself an owner of a young orchard, has talked and talked to the people to get them interested in apple culture.
“He has illustrated and set the example by planting one hundred trees each year for the past five years, but is now convinced that this is too slow and will plant more extensively. He shipped from Hancock this season nine carloads, 2600 barrels. As example of what can be done Mr. Cohill says that eight fifteen year old trees yielded $1.90 per barrel or $575 per acre of forty trees.”
Stewart concludes that there’s a prime orchardry business opportunity to be had for those who would see it: “A soil so fine and mellow, with a growth of blue grass so heavy as to be difficult to work through, with south eastern exposure, natural air and water drainage, facilities for market, being half way between Pittsburg and New York, and with intermediate points, good wagon roads for hauling and with a standard market variety thoroughly tested, there is no reason why this Tonoloway Ridge should not be known as an apple section.”
Van Deman, who still lived in Washington DC, probably had plenty of contacts in the Maryland Horticultural Society from his years at USDA, and even if he didn’t read this article, he most certainly had heard about the Tonoloway Ridge and its orchardry potential. Indeed, less than a year after the Maryland Horticultural Society article by Stewart appeared, a July 29, 1902 NY Times article reported:
“The Tonoloway Orchard Company was incorporated today by a number of Government pomologists, and work will begin immediately planting an orchard of 800 acres in Winter apples along Tonoloway Ridge, near Hancock, MD. H.E. Vandemen, who established the department of pomology of the United States Agricultural Department, is President of the company.” No mention in that article, interestingly, of E.P. Cohill, who ran Tonoloway on a day-to-day basis from the start.
Cohill’s fruit operation was instantly catapulted to the first rank, able now to tap into Van Deman’s nationwide network of finance, knowledge and contacts.
Other company and family names followed Tonoloway Orchard, among them: Millstone Orchard Company, Locher Orchards, Daniels, Funk, R.S. Dillon, Corona Orchard Company, Round Top Orchard Company, Green Lane, Roy Daniels, John Mason and L. Resley, as well as Hepburn Orchards. Over time, many of them were incorporated into larger companies such as Fairview Orchards.
Hancock went on to become one of the United States’ most productive areas in the apple industry. By 1925 over 5,000 acres of land were devoted to commercial fruit production. At the industrial peak in the mid 1940-60’s, Maryland produced over two million bushels of apples, 25% of which were produced in Washington County.
“A history of Washington County, Maryland: Volume 2, Part 1” By Thomas John Chew Williams, Higginson Book Company, Hagerstown, MD, 1906