Hi, my name is Lori and I am a box hoarder. Or rather, a container hoarder. Which means that when I saw that High Hand has fruit crates seemingly just lying around, I needed one.
Fortunately for me, High Hand Nursery does sell some of their fruit boxes, so there was no need for a late night heist. If you don’t immediately see the charm in the pictured crates, then I can’t blame you. They’re faded, shabby, a little broken, and seem permanently dusty. But to me and most others who love and work in High Hand, they’re perfect.
But they don’t sell all of them. In fact, the prettiest ones aren’t available.
These beauties are historic High Hand Packing Shed originals, and can never be replaced. I would love to have one, but it’s not to be. High Hand’s owner is understandably protective of them.
I love that these little boxes are part of a much larger story of our wonderful High Hand. They were there with the workers in the sheds. These boxes helped deliver fruit to the many families who needed it. They’re pieces of history, even if that history may seem a little mundane to the wide world. And to those of us who spend so much time in this charming old shed, they aren’t mundane at all.
A Brief History
High Hand had a hand (get it?) in helping Newcastle become the fruit packing capital of the world. After the goldrush, there was a lack of industry in the area. It was soon discovered that our lovely Loomis (and surrounding areas’) soil was wonderfully rich. Fruit trees and berry bushes began cropping up, and with time, fruit harvesting filled the industry void.
This was greatly aided by the construction of the transcontinental railroad, which came to us in 1864. This allowed our fruit to be transported all over the country, and demand for central Californian fruit grew.
However, as World War II reared it ugly head in the 1940s, more and more men left their jobs in the field and at fruit packing sheds. During this time, the already existing population of women working in the packing sheds grew. Here’s a video of featuring workers in Newcastle packing sheds, showing off perfect dexterity in packing the fruit. (Skip to minute five to see the excellent coordination displayed by a female worker. However, if you have the time, the whole video is worth a watch.)
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to be done about the fact that the fruit boom was declining. It didn’t help that in 1960s a pear blight sweeps through the area. Sheds closed down left and right over the next couple of decades, with nearly all of them packed up by the 1980s.
Fortunately for those of us using High Hand now, it’s been lovingly renovated into a marvelous hub for creativity and handcrafted artisan pieces. Within the same walls that held a bustling factory line, there is a now a wonderful art gallery, along with shops for antiques, hand crafted jewelry, olive oil, and wine. And of course there’s us, specializing in felt and fiber arts and striving to awaken the creative spirit in all of our visitors.
But all over the historic packing shed, you’ll see fixtures of its past. Below are photos that show the same machinery featured in the previous video. Next time you’re here, be sure to look at these bits of history. Imagine all of the machinery running and the shed full of the smell of fruit and the sounds of hard work.
We feel lucky to be a part of this building’s rich history. Who knows what its next stage will be? Will it remain the home of a nursery and other businesses, or could it continue to grow and change as it has before?
Only time will tell.