Tales from the Tread: The berry boom
Did you know that even with our short growing season, the strawberry business flourished in Steamboat Springs between 1900 and 1916? It all started in 1900, when Lester Remington grew the soon-to-be-famous Remington berry on his land in the area now known as Strawberry Park.
It was said that no other strawberry could compare to the Remington in flavor, quality and shipping life. What’s more, this mighty berry commonly was 8 inches in circumference. It was a cross between a domestic and wild variety that grew to perfection on the fertile land in Strawberry Park — no mulching, fertilizing or spraying was necessary since there were no natural pests or plant disease.
Most growers thought that the area provided just the right amount of sunshine, altitude and pure, irrigated mountain stream water.
To add to the success, a later growing season in the area meant Strawberry Park growers could supply strawberries to buyers when other national farms’ harvests had ended.
Although the Remington business first focused on meeting the demand of downtown businesses and residents, the arrival of the railroad changed business dramatically.
The market now could extend to Denver, Chicago, New York and beyond. Since no other berry could make the long trip, the Remington berry business flourished. Sales and yields continued to increase while the strawberry land remained fertile and usable.
With word of this success, other area farmers wanted to grow strawberries.
Remington supplied thousands of plants to local farmers, and with the help of investment companies selling “strawberry tracts,” Strawberry Park soon was covered with strawberry farms. Remington’s farm, however, remained the largest.
Despite its seemingly unstoppable success, the strawberry venture began to fail in early 1915. Grace Luekens, daughter of Lester Remington, recalls the failure was caused primarily by two factors: the rising expense of paying workers in comparison to the price that could be charged for strawberries, and several consecutive years of frost.
When thinking back on Steamboat during the successful strawberry years, Grace remembers, “I can see now, those were very good days.”
Of course, our local history in agriculture was not limited to strawberries. Join the Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Community Agriculture Alliance to celebrate National Agriculture Week from March 23 to 30. Come to the museum to learn more about agriculture’s deep roots in Routt County in our exhibits and hear local ranchers Marsha Daughenbaugh and Diane Holly’s presentation, “Naked and Hungry: Where Would We Be Without Agriculture?” at noon March 28 at the museum. The museum is always free for Routt County residents.
Candice Bannister is the executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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