On the old Blairsden road, just north of downtown Graeagle stands an intriguing stone building that locals will tell you is what remains of an old dairy, that was it’s function.
However, while it did provide fresh dairy products, the community it served was unique in that it was entirely comprised of resident employees of The California Fruit Exchange. When you picture the plump, juicy, sweet oranges that became a California trademark, one’s mind does not readily generate images of snowbound, small mountain villages, but
the fruit industry in its early years depended on something that Graeagle offered in abundance, and that something was lumber.
Fruit was and remains a major California export, and fruit presents challenges in its transport. It requires specialized containers to protect its delicacy until it reaches the marketplace. Thus was born the wooden fruit crate. The California Fruit Exchange needed an unlimited stock of fruit crates and it solved that problem by purchasing small lumber mills which were scattered throughout the Sierra Nevada.
One of these mill towns, Davies Mill, was purchased by The California Fruit Exchange in 1921, whereupon the company, in a rush of acquisition enthusiasm, conducted a contest to rename the town. A company secretary won the grand prize with either mad contest skills or a broken typewriter, by simply omitting the “y” from the name of a nearby creek called “Gray Eagle”, transforming it to the word, Graeagle!
Then the real work began…
The sawmill in our newly named mill town was repurposed to the manufacture of one single product:
The fruit crate and its adorable, if now defunct container/ measuring system, the bushel basket.
If you don’t know how much a bushel was, Doris Day explained it beautifully.
A bushel was A LOT…a peck, icing on the cake.
The measurement functionality of the bushel basket was flawed because it obviously was completely relevant only to what was stuffed inside it. Hence the saying, “You can’t compare apples and oranges”… if you buy them by the bushel, that is. So bushel baskets were relegated to laundry baskets at about the same time as colorfully labeled fruit crates were replaced by BORING cardboard boxes. Here are some California Fruit Exchange fruit crate labels just so you can see what we’re missing:
No longer a viable business, The Graeagle Lumber Company, under the auspices of The California Fruit Exchange, closed its doors in 1956. In 1958, Harvey West, Sr. purchased the then ghost town of Graeagle. Shortly thereafter, seeing an opportunity to preserve this historic site, my father in law, Harvey West, Jr., moved himself and his family to Graeagle and rolled up his sleeves. What you see today is the realization of his vision, a beautiful piece of California’s rich history brought to life again and made available to vacationers, a new wave of residents and future generations to enjoy.