Massachusetts

The Legend of the Baldwin Apple

So revered is the Baldwin apple that Massachusetts has not one but two monuments to the bright red winter fruit.

For many years, the Baldwin apple was the most popular fruit in New England and New York. A small hard apple remarkably free of blight and blemishes, people prized it for making hard cider and pie. Commercial growers loved the Baldwin apple because it produced huge crops every other year and shipped easily.

Baldwin Apple

Baldwin Apple

In 1885, an article in the New England Farmer praised the Baldwin apple: “What the Concord is among grapes, what the Bartlett has been among pears, the Baldwin is among apples.”

Wilmington Origins

The Baldwin apple originated as a wild seedling on the farm of John Ball in Wilmington, Mass., around 1740. William Butters bought the farm and transplanted the tree near his house. He called the apple ‘Woodpecker’ because the tree attracted so many of the birds. Others called it the Butters apple.

In the late 18th century, Deacon Samuel Thompson stumbled across that apple tree while surveying for the Middlesex Canal. He told the canal’s engineer, Loammi Baldwin, about the fine red apple. Baldwin quickly recognized its appeal.

The Baldwin Apple

Loammi Baldwin accomplished many things in his lifetime, but he is best known for promoting the eponymous apple.

Loammi Baldwin

Loammi Baldwin

Born Jan. 10, 1744, he was a Revolutionary War veteran who crossed the Delaware with George Washington. Baldwin commanded the Woburn Regiment during the Battle of Concord and Lexington. He conducted experiments with electricity and served in the Massachusetts General Assembly and as high sheriff of Middlesex County.

Baldwin’s most significant achievement was the construction of the Middlesex Canal, a pioneering waterway that connected the Merrimack River to Boston Harbor. He earned the moniker 'Father of Civil Engineering' because of his innovations – and perhaps because his five sons became well-known civil engineers.

While building the canal, he visited the Butters farm and cut scions from the Woodpecker apple tree. He planted a row of trees near his house in Woburn and gave away scions to his friends. Some say the apple was named for him after his death. But according to Woburn historian Rev. Samuel Sewall,  the proposal to name the apple after Baldwin happened at a party he held.

Fittingly, Loammi Baldwin was a second cousin to Johnny Appleseed.

Apple historian John Bunker writes that Baldwin apple trees are especially vulnerable to winter injury. The cold weakens them from harvest time until recovery during the next off season.

The severe winter of 1933-34 wiped out millions of apple trees in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. In Maine, two-thirds of the apple trees died. Throughout New England, the cold hit the Baldwin apple the hardest.

Then in the spring of 1934, the State of Maine organized a tree pool for apple growers, offering two varieties: Red Delicious and MacIntosh.

Monumentally Popular

In 1895, the Rumford Historical Association erected a monument to the Baldwin apple in Wilmington, near the site of the original tree.

Baldwin Apple Monument

Baldwin Apple Monument

The monument's inscription notes the tree fell in the gale of 1815. And it says the apple 'first known as the Butters, Woodpecker or Pecker apple' was named after Col. Loammi Baldwin of Woburn.

Another memorial to the Baldwin apple can be found on a plaque on the base of a statue of Loammi Baldwin in Woburn. It reads, “Disseminator of the apple in honor of him called the Baldwin which proceeded from a tree originally growing wild about two miles north of this monument.”

The New England Historical Society has identified 29 historic apple recipes available to members (click here) and six historic apple orchards. (Click here.)

With thanks to John Bunker, Not Far From the Tree--a Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804-2004.This story was updated in 2018.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Margaret Dragon

    Margaret Dragon

    January 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    One of my favorites!

  2. Molly Landrigan

    Molly Landrigan

    January 10, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Mine, too, Margaret!

  3. Deb Putnam

    Deb Putnam

    January 10, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Love to make Apple Crisp with them!

  4. Larz Neilson

    April 23, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    In the past, there have been other places claiming to be the home of the Baldwin Apple, but after considerable research on this, I firmly believe that the original tree was found in Wilmington. However, it was not on land once owned by John Ball. Will Butter was the first settler (c. 1665) in the area where the tree grew. It was his grandson who was credited with finding the tree. Ball actually lived in Tewksbury, and did grow apples on his farm there. He died on June 1, 1797 in his 78th year (Wilm. v.s.) at the home of his son-in-law, Dr. Jabez Brown, who lived on Hardscrabble, now High Street in North Wilmington. Given that he was born about 1820, it is not possible that he sold land to William Butters.

    • Arthur Scinta

      May 14, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      An historical account published in 1932 states that Colonel Baldwin developed the Baldwin apple from a tree at “The Shrubbery,” Aaron Burr’s estate in Pelham, New York. See Citizen-Sentinel, Ossining, New York, February 6, 1932, p. 4 “Westchester Yesterdays.”

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  10. Dianne Richardson

    September 9, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Don’t know who actually developed the Baldwin, but my favorite is the Macintosh. I was a distant relation to Johnny Appleseed and I know he disbursed the apple tree far and wide. I was also related to the Baldwin family but not as directly. It makes me proud that my family were planters in the Merrimack Valley, but they were also tanners and probablycontributed greatly to polluting the water in Woburn, and surrounding towns.

    • John Ciriello

      October 12, 2017 at 7:03 pm

      Dianne, the very early tanners didn’t use harmful chemicals in the tanning process. They used natural methods that were not hazardous. Unfortunately, in the 1800’s and on, poisonous chemicals made their way into the profession and disposing of them usually meant dumping them into wetlands or a pit in the ground. Few had any idea they would find their way into nearby wells… and those who might have known were too blinded by money to care. Are you any relation to Woburn’s early Bartholomew Richardson?

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