There's no doubt how important the peach industry is to the Grand Valley. After all, Palisade is world-famous for the crop. But, new details are showing us just how pivotal this area's history has been in its growth.
Priscilla Walker, chairman of the Palisade Historical Society, recently acquired a treasure that contributes valuable and amusing information and photos to the history of the town and its famous crop.
"It's a photograph album that was compiled by Bill Peska, who was a member of camp 2120, the CCC camp that was here in Riverbend Park," she explained. "He was here from July to December 1939."
The young man from the East was so enthralled with the area, he captured his experience in never before seen photos, including some that featured a bit of humor.
"One of our favorite photos is Bill, standing, facing the camera. And in the background, if you blow it up, there's another young man on the barracks who's thumbing his nose," Walker said. "I mean these were 19 year-old guys having a good time."
She pointed out just where the CCC living quarters were located in the Riverbend Park area.
"The CCC camp is where the sewage lagoons are now," she said.
It was hard work at that camp. Needless to say, the men required some recreation, but also had to deal with the heat.
"He (Peska) has labeled the picture of Palisade Park as "the Gang's Hideout". So my guess is that, you know, everybody went there when they weren't working to cool down," she explained.
Once the war started, the CCC guys left and were replaced by...
"German POWs... So five years after these pictures were taken, there were actually German prisoners of war living in these same barracks, harvesting peaches," revealed Walker.
Many confuse the CCC camps with migrant camps found just down river.
"The migrant camp was built in the '40s for the same purpose," Walker said, "which was to get migrant workers to come help us with our three-week peach harvest."
Included with the photos and captions were fascinating newsletters and even an old Thanksgiving menu.
"2120 company was from the East," Walker said, "and so one of the things that we've enjoyed is the entree was roast Vermont turkey."
The Palisade Historical Society isn't very old, but sure has accomplished a lot, and will have a strong presence at the Peach Festival.
"We do guided walking tours during Peachfest," Walker explained.
Being with Priscilla in the middle of Riverbend Park makes you realize the importance of keeping that history alive.
"This is a wonderfully historic site...," she said. "And we're fortunate to have a lovely recreation use for the facility now."
So thanks to Priscilla and the historical society for bringing the history of the Riverbend Park area alive, and for showing us the role it played in bringing the peach to Palisade.
For more information on the peach festival, visit: http://www.palisadepeachfest.com.
And if you'd like more information about the Palisade Historical Society, you can contact Priscilla Walker at (970)464-2177.