Before the turn of the century Fremont County residents would buy apples from the State Penitentiary farm in Fremont County. Spencer Penrose's grand expansion plan for Penrose was eventually never built. What did come to fruition, however, was the bountiful orchards Penrose is known for today.
In the early 1900s the land along Beaver Creek in Fremont County caught the eye of Spencer Penrose, a businessman who hit it rich gold mining in Cripple Creek. Seeing opportunity along Beaver Creek he started buying water rights in the area. Penrose’s grand plans for the town of present-day Penrose didn’t work out. There was no giant railroad spree in the area and his planned three reservoirs were never built.
But the area did blossom. Several residents began farming because irrigation ditches made it possible. Farms and orchards, many still present in Penrose, sprang up, and a small railroad was built (a single locomotive with one passenger car) that connected residents to Canon City and Pueblo as well as transported produce as far as Denver. The culture of Canon City, which also has a rich orchard history, was quickly catching on in Penrose.
Agriculture, orchards in particular, is celebrated in Penrose. This year is the 80th annual Apple Day in Penrose. The history of the event points to a community that is close-knit and has more apples than they often know what to do with.
In 1935 the Penrose School decided to host a Rural Invitational Softball Tournament in October. In conjunction, the school invited visitors to play in the tournament, as well as watch it.
During a PTA meeting, former superintendent of schools, R.A. Peterson encouraged the members to expand the festivities by centering the event around apples and by giving prizes to visitors. That’s when one of the board members suggested giving out free apple pie slices, which has since become a tradition during the annual Apple Day festivities.
Along the way, the Penrose Press reported the first Apple Day would be scheduled for Oct. 5, 1935, with 15 softball teams competing for the championship of the Fremont County School League. In addition, “horseshoe pitchers matched skills with the ancient game known as ‘”barnyard golf,” said the archives at the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & Local History Center. During the day, visitors also enjoyed a potluck picnic, which was topped off with apple pie and cider along with individuals speaking on economic and political subjects, said the Penrose Chamber website. As the event continued into the evening, the Prison Orchestra, led by Penrose resident E.A.Stone, performed a variety of music for the dance, which was sponsored by the PTA.
The course of the festivities has not always run smoothly. In 1982, Apple Day almost died due to a lack of interest; however, after a meeting was called, the community decided to continue the annual event. Shortly afterward, in 1999, the Penrose Chamber of Commerce took over the event, which they have organized since.
This year, the 80th annual Apple Day, featuring ‘Apple Day Throughout the Decades’ as the theme, will feature a pie competition, a parade, a car show, crafts, food and live entertainment.
Kicking off the event at 6 a.m. Oct. 3, the Penrose Volunteer Fire Department will serve a pancake breakfast at 207 Broadway. In the meantime, participants will enter their pies between 7:30-8 a.m. at the Wells Fargo Community Room in Penrose.
“The county commissioners will be judging again,” said Penrose Chamber office manager Misty Dawn Scoles. “We’ll announce (the winners) right after the parade.”
Then, a fun run will begin at 8 a.m. on the Penrose health trail at Penrose Elementary School at 100 Illinois Ave. During the day, numerous activities will feature vendors between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. along with an antique car show, a craft fair, a bake sale and silent auction.
Highlighting the event, the Apple Day Pre-Parade will feature floats from each grade, children, animals and various entries at 10:30 a.m., followed by the Apple Day Parade at 11 a.m., featuring Al Kaly Shriners, school bands, horses and more.
After the parade, the Penrose Senior Center will serve pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans and potato salad. At noon, Kirkwood Presbyterian Church will serve its traditional lasagna and chicken noodle soup.
After the parade, Colorado Country Music Association will feature the music of Greg Moody and Julie McKissack between 12:30-3 p.m. at the booth in front of the Penrose Senior Center. In conjunction, Atomic Fireballs Band will perform from 12:30-3 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to midnight in the VFW at 402 Broadway.