Larry L. McGraw

Home Orchard Society

January 29, 2005
Today is the anniversary of the death of the founder of Home Orchard Society, Larry L. McGraw. 

Larry's obituary stated that pomology was his passion for over 50 years. Pomology is the science of growing fruit.

To preserve fruit trees in the Northwest, Larry began collecting scion wood specimens in his twenties, and he founded the Northwest Fruit Explorers - an organization and clearinghouse for fruit information and fruit growers.

During his retirement, Larry worked as a horticulturist for the Oregon Historical Society. One day, Larry discovered an envelope that contained apple seeds that were a hundred years old. The letter inside the envelope referenced Marcus Whitman and his orchard.

Marcus Whitman was a doctor who led a group of settlers West to Washington State by Wagon Train. His wife was named Narcissa, and she was very bright, a physics and chemistry teacher. Marcus and Narcissa were part of a group of missionaries. They settled in an area now known as Walla Walla, Washington, and apparently, the Whitman's had an orchard.

Beyond that, Marcus and Narcissa's time in Washington was not fruitful. They attempted to convert the local Native Americans to Christianity but were unsuccessful mainly because they didn’t bother to get to know or understand them. Sadly, their only daughter drowned when she was two years old. After that, Narcissa’s eyesight began to fail.

When the Native Americans came down with measles, they blamed the settlers, but they specifically accused Marcus since he was the town doctor. After almost all the Native American children died, the surviving Native Americans attacked the settlers. The Native Americans killed Marcus and Narcissa in their home on November 29, 1847; this event became known as the Whitman Massacre.

The seeds that Larry found at the Historical Society were one of the last pieces of the Whitman legacy. Larry's attempts to germinate the Whitman apple seeds were unsuccessful.

However, Larry successfully obtained apple trees from Russia for his Portland Orchard.

By 1973, Larry had over 300 varieties of apples growing in his garden. Two years later, in May 1975, Larry hosted a meeting with other orchard growers. It was the official first meeting of the Home Orchard Society.

Larry taught thousands of people how to prune and graft fruit trees during his lifetime. During his 50 years of researching apples, Larry estimated he had come across over 2,000 different apple varieties worldwide. 

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Larry L. McGraw

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