Ripe for Discovery

Fruita Rural Historic District, Capitol Reef National Park

In the sheltered canyon bottoms of south-central Utah, neatly-arranged fruit orchards continue to provide evidence of Euro-American settlement and subsistence practices in the area. Current visitors to the orchards can get a taste of the historic landscape by picking fruit in season. 

A single piece of fruit might have been formed by one season of growth, but it has over a century of development under its skin.

The Fruita Rural Historic District

The Fruita Rural Historic District is defined by two canyons, intersecting at the confluence of Fremont River and Sulphur Creek. The steep canyon walls restricted views and development in the historic community, which encompasses about 200 acres of what is now Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park.  

The period of significance for the Euro-American landscape begins in 1895, marked by the construction of the Leo R. Holt House and the earliest documented irrigation ditches in the valley. Leo Holt was one of four Mormon settlers that filed and received title to homesteads in the area, claiming nearly all the arable land in this region of the arid state. Before long, productive orchards dotted the developing homesteads.

The features of the landscape still illustrate the site’s role in the development of the local fruit industry and its ties to Mormon cultural traditions. The district provides an example of how cooperative agricultural practices allowed Mormon settlers to make a successful living, despite the challenging environment.

Today, the Fruita Rural Historic District contains a cluster of late 19th century and early 20th century Mormon farmhouses and associated features, as well as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)-era rustic style Ranger Station. The landscape’s period of significance continues until 1947, after the park was established but prior to the Mission 66 park development era. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.

The small town of Fruita is the location for the majority of visitor services, as well as park headquarters and operations. The Holt House has provided housing for park staff, and is currently used as a curatorial storage and work area.

An Agricultural Oasis

Mormon settlers were not the first to discover the agricultural potential of these canyon valleys. The earliest documented occupants of the Fruita region were members of the Desert Archaic Culture, dating to about 8,500 to 2,000 years ago. More recently, Fremont peoples (1,500-700 years ago) and then subsequent Paiute groups cultivated the area, growing corn and other crops with the help of irrigation systems. Evidence of storage structures suggests semi-permanent habitation.

The current landscape’s vegetation is dominated by the recent agricultural history of the canyon bottom. The historic district contains approximately 2,500 orchard trees on 40 acres, as well as 25 acres of open fields and pasture lands.

Additionally, vegetation along the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek reflects years of disturbance by flooding, grazing, irrigation works, and other impacts associated with farming practices dating from the 1880s.

Fruita has long been home to the families that lived and cultivated the valley. It also provided a vital oasis to travelers through the arid region with its green fields, orchards, and shady corners offering a splash of lush color against the dramatic canyon backdrop. The area invited visitors from plateau towns to the west and canyonlands in the east, and it was (and still is) a popular gathering place for celebrations and fruit harvests. 

Continuing Harvest: Maintaining and Using Historic Orchards

Although many structures built during the period of significance have since been removed, the overall organization and pattern of the agricultural community remains. The location of orchards and many of the trees in them are historic, dating to the 1940s. Trees in poor condition have been replaced, and in some cases entire orchards of old, failing trees have been replanted to reflect the appearance of the historic landscape.

The NPS has gathered historical documentation of the Fruita District in a Cultural Landscape Report (1997), including acreage, information on historic and current trees, and changes in property ownership. Historic orchards are maintained using current horticultural practices, and fruit is harvested using a “pick-your-own” system and sold to the public.

Learn More:

  • Information about the Orchards is provided at the Captiol Reef National Park website, including history, harvest information, approximate dates for flowering and harvesting, and a list of all the fruit and nut varieties.
  • The park announces regular orchard updates at its Facebook and Twitter pages. Find out when you can get your own taste of Fruita!

Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary:

El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail

The history of European settlement in the United States is traditionally told as an east-to-west journey.

A bi-national trail arches gently over the middle of the North American continent from Mexico City through the central highlands of Mexico to Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) Pueblo, New Mexico, tracing a path towards another perspective of the European settlement story. The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, designated as a National Historic Trail in 2000, emphasizes the shared history and heritage of Spain, Mexico, and the American Southwest in early settlement patterns of the United States.   

 This August, the National Park Service announced its new online El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary. The itinerary provides historical and cultural information, images, maps, and essays to help connect and distinguish the 17 historic sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places  The journey over the Spanish Colonial “royal road of the interior” represents three centuries of cultural heritage and interactions, elements of which continue to persist in the present-day landscape and inhabitants.

 The El Camino Real itinerary is the 58th in the online Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary Series, which supports historic preservation, promotes public awareness of history, and encourages visits to historic places throughout the country. The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and its National Trails Intermountain Region produced this travel itinerary in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.



September 10, 1813.  It is dawn at Lake Erie.  A lookout spots six British vessels beyond Rattlesnake Island! Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry immediately issues a flurry of orders, making preparations to sail forth and engage the British.   

Just before the engagement begins, Perry hoists his battle flag above his flagship, the Lawrence. The broad blue banner bears the final words of his dying comrade Captain James Lawrence, who was killed on June 1, 1813:


Perry’s triumph over the British navy in the Battle of Lake Erie (also known as the Battle of Put-in-Bay) was a decisive event of the War of 1812. The victory secured control of the lake and led to British retreat, culminating in a final defeat at the Battle of the Thames in early October.  Later, during peace talks, the dual victories of Lake Erie and the Thames insured that Ohio and Michigan would remain the sovereign territory of the United States.  

Perry’s words to William Henry Harrison, scratched in pencil on an old envelope, read, “Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”.

If you’re interested in historic farming landscapes and ready for an adventure, take a look at the Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the NPS at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  

The park is soliciting proposals for a long-term lease of the Chellberg Farm outbuildings and fields, and/or the Charles P. Nelson House. Both are National Register eligible properties located just east of Chicago in Porter, Indiana. The Chellberg property includes four fields and a non-extant orchard field for a total of approximately 18 acres. Outbuildings available through this lease include the barn, chicken coop, corncrib, granary, maple sugar shack, and pump house and windmill.

If you’d like to live on-site, the Charles P. Nelson House is available just across the road. Built in 1891, the brick farmhouse has two bedrooms and a 20th century bathroom upstairs, which is the only major alteration to the original house. The Nelson property also contains a workshop/shed and a windmill.

Baker Island Cemetery-Acadia National Park-Maine. Baker Island is an uninhabited 123-acre island, which is part of the Carberry Isles. It was first settled more than 200 years ago by the Gilley family.  The landscape includes the Gilley Farm and its homestead, farm fields and orchard. #nps #culturallandscape #maine #mainers #cemetery #acadia via Instagram

Baker Island Cemetery-Acadia National Park-Maine. Baker Island is an uninhabited 123-acre island, which is part of the Carberry Isles. It was first settled more than 200 years ago by the Gilley family. The landscape includes the Gilley Farm and its homestead, farm fields and orchard. #nps #culturallandscape #maine #mainers #cemetery #acadia via Instagram

Path of History

SCA and YCC at Governors Island National Monument

It can be easy to overlook the bricks of history when they are directly underfoot, pressed neatly together into a long ribbon.

Summertime brings plenty of visitors to Governors Island National Monument in New York Harbor. Positioned at the tip of Lower Manhattan, the island has served as one of the longest continually-operated military installations in the country.  Its strategic value was first recognized in 1755, and it was occupied as a defensive position nearly continuously until the U.S. Coast Guard relinquished control in 1996.  

The site still contains Fort Jay and Castle Williams, two forts representing aspects of late 18th- and early 19th-century American harbor defense systems.  Most visitors to the site explore its history by following the heavily-traveled walkway that runs through the largely pedestrian park.

This July, twelve Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) members and two Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew chiefs learned about historic masonry and Governor’s Island history as they leveled and reset bricks in the historic sidewalk. The critical repairs make the walkway safer for the tens of thousands of people who use it every week, while also helping to preserve a critical thread of the park’s cultural fabric.  

For two days, the crew carefully leveled the bricks to be sure that the path’s surface would be flat. To do this, they removed bricks from damaged areas, dug out the underlying dirt, and layered fresh gravel and sand to create a solid base. They placed bricks into the stable bed, made sure the surface was level, and then swept sand into the spaces to lock the masonry in place.

The group also had a chance to tour Castle Williams, rewarded for their hard work with a rooftop view, rejuvenating harbor breeze, and wider perspective of how their repairs to the walkway fit into the historic landscape.

The crew spends the summer traveling around New York City to participate in natural and cultural resource protection projects at the sites that make up the National Parks of New York Harbor.  It is comprised of high-school aged youth from all five boroughs and beyond. The youth workers’ next destination is Gateway National Recreation Area, where they will construct a new hiking trail in Jamaica Bay.

The YCC program operates in partnership with the SCA, which provides experienced crew chiefs to guide and supervise the youth teams in their activities.

Great work!  

Learn more:

  • You can find more images of this project, as well as other current events happening at Governors Island National Monument, on the park’s Facebook page.
  • Interested in the specific features and history of this cultural landscape?  Read the Cultural Landscape Inventory park report for Governors Island. [If you follow the link, you can download the full report under the “Holdings” tab.]