One of Southern Oregon’s oldest orchards, Hillcrest Orchard has been directed by members of the Parsons family since 1908. The land was settled first by Samuel Bowen in 1853. He sold the acreage in 1868 to Jesse Richardson who developed an extensive farm. William Renkin purchased the property in January 1889, and after his death the farm was acquired by William H. Stewart for $1,500. William H. Stewart’s father, Missouri nurseryman Joseph J. Stewart, arrived in the Rogue Valley in February in 1885. He began the local commercial fruit industry by planting a large orchard south of Medford. William H. Stewart probably transported some of these young trees to the land now known as Hillcrest Orchard. In 1903, as the apple and pear trees were coming into bearing, Stewart sold the orchard to Julian Wells Perkins, a Portland businessman. Mr. Perkins named the orchard Hillcrest and built a new residence on Hillcrest Road.
In 1908 J.W. Perkins sold the orchard to the Hillcrest Orchard Company. Within two years, company president Reginald Parsons of Seattle, Washington, took controlling interest and became owner and manager of Hillcrest. He soon made it one of the finest orchard complexes in southern Oregon. Mr. Parsons, financier and philanthropist, contributed to the development of the Pacific Northwest throughout his life. Appointed as the Seattle representative to plan development of the Columbia River Basin Project in 1922, he also served as president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, as a member of the Whitman college Board of trustees, and as president of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. His wife, Maude Bemis Parsons, daughter of the founder of Bemis Bros. Bag Company, was an organizer of Children’s Orthopedic Hospital in Seattle, and a co-founder, with her husband, of the Art Institute of Seattle.
Within a few years at Hillcrest Orchard the Parsons family hired architect Frank C. Clark to design a large new residence that was completed in 1917. Mr. Clark worked from Mrs. Parsons’ sketches to accommodate her ideas for the dwelling. The residence and other orchard buildings by Clark, the Office building, Recreation House, Guest House, and Packing House, reflect the Period Colonial Style.
Hillcrest Orchard is now included in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1908 the orchard was approximately 185 acres in size, divided equally between pears and apples. Individual trees were watered from a horse-drawn tank wagon. Irrigation district water became available in the 1920’s. By 1938, all the apple trees had been removed and replanted with pears. As the older pear trees declined in production, new ones were introduced. Some of the trees planted in 1897, however, continue to produce a century later. New plantings are at a higher density in order to increase production per acre.
During the difficult years of the Depression, the Parsons family retained employees and kept the trees in healthy condition. Following the Parson’ deaths in 1955, their four children continued to oversee the orchard. Family direction of Hillcrest continues today, as the fourth generation now oversee operations.
Currently Hillcrest Orchard is over 200 acres in size. Pears production is now under the management of Century Farms, LLC who continue to farm Bartlett, Red Bartlett, D ‘Anjou, Bosc, and Comice pears. Most of the pears are consigned to local packing houses for fresh fruit sales and many of the Comice pears are sold direct to locals at the RoxyAnn Winery Tasting Room.
Jack Day, grandson of Reginald Parsons, saw the potential of grape growing on the historic Hillcrest Orchard and armed with the vision of an artisan farmer and a Harvard MBA, he oversaw the construction of the winery and the planting of the original 20 acres on the southwest slopes of Roxy Ann Peak; where the property’s shallow, clay soils and southern solar exposure seemed ideally suited to producing Bordeaux style varietals. In 2001, the first harvest of grapes at RoxyAnn produced only 150 cases of “Claret” that was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; and the entire production sold out in two weeks. Today, RoxyAnn Winery produces nearly 15,000 cases of award-winning Claret, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier that possess beautiful color, complexity and depth of flavor.