As far as anyone knows, there is only one museum dedicated to the industry of apple growing and marketing, and it’s right here, said Cindy Heller, treasurer of the Biglerville Historical and Preservation Society (BHPS).
The BHPS was founded in 1981 with the goal of establishing a museum to celebrate and honor the apple industry that is so important to the local and state economy. Before a decade was past, they had done it, and the National Apple Museum opened its doors for the first time.
The museum opened for the 2019 tourist season this past weekend. Heller said the BHPS is hoping a renewed sense of energy and ongoing improvements to the facility will help boost visitation to its highest level yet.
Apples have been part of the community’s landscape since before the area was called Adams County. Things really got cranking in the first few decades after the Civil War, however.
Current BHPS President Robert L. Wenger and the late Dr. Bruce Beacher both told the same story about apples in what is now Adams County, and the story is still unfolding.
Beacher, one of the founders of the organization and the museum, died in 2004. He was interviewed by various news outlets back at the time the National Apple Museum opened in 1990.
Apples have been grown on farms for a couple of centuries, back to the days when William Penn made it a point to require the planting of at least one apple tree on every plot of land he sold, Wenger said.
“It was required before you even built your house,” Wenger added. “Penn wanted to be sure that the settlers had a ready source of food at hand.”
Apple production moved along at a leisurely pace, until the railroads showed up.
Rail transport changed everything, practically overnight.
“Starting in the 1880s, apples stored in barrels were being loaded in Aspers, Gardners, Biglerville, Gettysburg for shipment off to market,” Wenger said.
Today, southcentral Pennsylvania is one of the most concentrated fruit culture regions in the U.S., with nationally-known producers and a broad range of support industries, according to BHPS material.
The National Apple Museum opened in 1990, housed in a Pennsylvania Bank Barn built in 1858. The museum’s over-arching mission is to preserve and exhibit the “history and attendant artifacts pertaining to the Apple and Tree Fruit Industry’s history and contributions to the development and growth of Adams County,” according to the BHPS website.
Exhibits include early picking, packing, and shipping of fruit, pest management, commercial fruit processing equipment, early orchard photographs and a recreated 1880’s farm kitchen and a general store. The museum also features collections of farming implements, apple peelers and fruit labels and much more apple memorabilia.
If your luck is running really well, you might find tasty apple-themed treats in the gift shop, and maybe even some of Bob Wenger’s excellent peanut brickle.
The National Apple Museum is open May through October of each year. As the museum is staffed by volunteers, it would be a good idea to call 717-677-4556 for hours of operation on any given day. Group tours may be scheduled by appointment during the week and on weekends. The museum also has a first-floor meeting room with audio/visual equipment, kitchen, lavatories, and a separate outside enclosed pavilion with electrical outlets. Both can be rented for reunions, group meetings, etc. The museum and the pavilion are accessible for the handicapped. Groups often rent the pavilion for cookouts, and some have their meals catered for their events. The museum also has a gift shop, with most items having an agricultural or orchard related theme.
The museum is located on Route 394/West Hanover Street in Biglerville. It is easy to get to by taking Pa. Route 34 north from Gettysburg, or the same route south from Interstate 81 at Carlisle, Pa., as well as the Pa. Turnpike at the U.S. Route 15 south exit, east of Carlisle. Exit from U.S. 15 south to west Pa. 394 and stay on that road. The museum is about a quarter mile west of the junction of Routes 34 and 394 in Biglerville.