White settlement in the Yakima Valley began in the late 1850s. Early settlers sometimes planted orchards for personal use. Fort Simcoe, which was established in 1886, had an orchard by the early 1860s. The Saint Joseph's Mission at Ahtanum Creek is also known to have had a small orchard.
The sources for these original orchards are not clear. Apple seeds brought from England were grown at Fort Vancouver in 1825. The seeds were started in Dr. John McLoughlin's greenhouse and transplanted to the Fort Vancouver grounds. It is possible that seedlings from these trees were planted in the Yakima Valley. Another source could have been seedlings brought by boat from France and transported by hand from The Dalles to the Yakima Valley.
By 1857, home orchards grew on the Hawkins, Comrad, Knox, and Elgin home sites. Settlers used the fruit from these home orchards for personal consumption: fresh, dried, and rendered into fermented cider.
It was not until irrigation projects took hold in the 1870s that orchard planting began in earnest. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1885 provided convenient, dependable transportation of fruit crops to market.
When irrigated, the easily tilled volcanic-ash soil deposited in the Yakima Valley region was ideal for growing fruit, especially apples. The warm sunny days and cool nights, combined with nutrients in the soil, produced apples that were noticeably larger and better colored than apples grown commercially in other states such as New York. The arid climate in the Yakima Valley also reduced the number of pests, and produced a prettier, more perfect looking product.
In 1889, Fred Thompson planted another early commercial orchard. By 1900, 200 boxcar-loads of fruit were being shipped from the Yakima Valley each year and two nurseries within the Valley provided growers with seedlings: Toppenish Nursery in Toppenish and the May Nursery Company in Yakima. These nurseries offered root-grafted trees. Root-grafted trees are trees on which sturdy rootstock serves as a base onto which a cutting from the desired variety of apple is attached or grafted. Grafted seedlings guarantee that the tree's fruit will be the desired variety, whereas trees grown from seed offer no such guarantee.
Yakima Valley fruit soon developed a national and eventually an international market.