Community members invited to plant an old southern apple tree to commemorate Chatham County’s 250th anniversary

Pittsboro, NC – Residents can celebrate Chatham County’s 250th anniversary by planting an old southern apple tree and preserving a unique piece of Chatham County’s history in their own backyard.

Aunt Rachel apple variety

Chatham 250 is excited to partner with Century Farm Orchards to offer a special Chatham 250 bundle of heirloom old southern apple trees. Each bundle will include one Aunt Rachel tree – a rare local variety of apple tree that originated in Chatham County and is deeply tied to the legacy of heirloom old southern apple trees expert and late Chatham County resident Lee Calhoun; and one heirloom old southern pollinator apple tree of the purchaser’s choice (subject to availability).     

“In planting the southern heirloom trees, particularly the Aunt Rachel variety, we are celebrating the rich history of our great and unique county,” says Dr. Carl Thompson, Chatham 250 Co-Chair and Senior Pastor at Word of Life Christian Outreach Center. “The excellence and uniqueness of the fruit reminds me of the excellence and uniqueness of Chatham County. As we plant these heirloom trees, and they produce fruit in the years to come, my hope is that we’ll look back on a most poignant and memorable 250th celebration and be mindful of how blessed we are to live in such a wonderful place!”

More about Aunt Rachel Apple Trees  

The Aunt Rachel apple is a local variety originating in Chatham County, NC. The late Lee Calhoun, a nationally recognized Southern Old Apple expert and proud Chatham County resident, has helped to spread this little-known apple across North Carolina. The tree is disease resistant, a fast grower, and its limb structure is such that pruning is made much easier. The tree begins to fruit early, producing excellent apples of good size. The apples are red with darker stripes. The flesh is white, firm, mildly tart, and juicy. The apple is good for eating and cooking, and it ripens over a period of several weeks in late July and early August.

More about Lee Calhoun

Lee Calhoun

Lee Calhoun is considered the Savior of Southern Apples. A Chatham County resident for many years, Lee Calhoun was an expert in heirloom old southern apple trees and wrote a very popular but now out-of-print book, Old Southern Apples, which gives the history of more than 1,600 distinct southern apple varieties.  As David Vernon of Century Farm Orchards explains, “Lee was a North Carolina native, but was not born in Chatham County.  However, when he and Edith settled in Chatham County in the 1980s they not only made it their home, they brought a special attention to the area so that the name Calhoun and Chatham County are forever intertwined. Whether it was a brief article in the New York Times or a spread in the Smithsonian Magazine, Lee Calhoun and Chatham County were always mentioned together. All across the US, Chatham County became the center for historic apples of the South.”

Lee Calhoun sadly passed away in 2020, but he leaves a long and vibrant legacy in Chatham County and across the American South. “It is fitting to honor Lee on Chatham’s historic birthday because he and Edith did so much to bring a positive spotlight on its history, its people, and its legacy in the nation,” says Vernon.

More about Century Farm Orchards

Century Farm Orchards is a small, family owned and operated nursery specializing in old southern apples located in Caswell County. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture has recognized this farm as having remained in David Vernon’s family for more than one hundred years, hence the name Century Farm Orchards.

Vernon is helping to preserve apples that were once widely grown in the southern US from the 1600s to the early 1900s. Southern farm families grew apples that displayed distinctive qualities. Some were good for eating fresh from the tree, some for cooking, some for drying, some for cider, and others were unique for their ripening period or keeping ability. These apples were important because they were good producers in the warm, humid climate of the South. It is unfortunate that many old southern apples are now extinct, disappearing with family farms that once dotted the landscape. It is the intention of Century Farm Orchards to cultivate old southern apples that are still available today and provide others with the opportunity to grow the apples that older generations grew for necessity.

Planting an apple tree for Chatham County’s 250th anniversary has many long-lasting benefits, as Vernon explains: “Besides the simple historic value of keeping these heirloom apples alive, they are a valued storehouse of genetic diversity that enhances our native foods. Adapted to our climate, they are productive, and the fruit is valued for its usefulness.”

Chatham 250 Webinar: Growing and Appreciating Chatham 250 Apple Trees

Residents are invited to join Matt Jones and Debbie Roos, Extension Agents with N.C. Cooperative Extension – Chatham County Center, for a webinar to appreciate and care for the Chatham 250 heirloom old southern apple trees. The webinar will cover general apple-growing practices, including site preparation and planting, training and pruning, and pest and disease management. Additionally, participants will learn about the history and significance of the Aunt Rachel Apple Tree to Chatham County, and significance of southern heritage cultivars more broadly. Date and time of the webinar will be provided soon.

Orders must be placed on the Chatham 250 order form, available online at Orders must be submitted by Friday, September 10, 2021. Each apple tree bundle costs $42 (no tax). Payments will be made directly to Century Farm Orchards. Confirmed orders will receive an invoice in late September. Payments can be made by check or Zelle (online payment system offered thru most major bank apps). Orders will be picked up in Chatham County in November.

Anyone with questions may contact Hilary Pollan, Chatham 250 Project Manager, at . Information about events and other ways to celebrate Chatham County’s 250th anniversary can be found at