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  • Writer's pictureErin Lair

The Making of Forest Cove Acres: McNeill

I am going to attempt to write a series that follows the founding of the orchard at the turn of the 20th century through our ownership as Forest Cove Acres. This piecing of years and memories will be a work of conversations and emails, so bear with me as I slowly bring fragments and snippets together. It will also respect the wishes of each family in having their part of the story told through this platform. This first post is introducing my own connection to the first orchard owner, my childhood neighbor, Phyllis Badgley.

Those who know Phyllis recognize her as one of Baker City's very own historians. She is a familiar name to regular readers of the Baker City Herald (and to anyone who has lived in Baker for more than a year, likely) as she has penned innumerable letters to the editor and articles in her many decades residing there. She is just a few short years shy of becoming a peer in the centenarian club, yet she still can envelop you with her prose. In that regard, for her parts of this story I will try to share as much in her words as possible. They are much more eloquent and enticing than mine. I am captivated by the email thread we share filled with short but brimming notes, passing the story stick back and forth. I hope this provides an opportunity for you all to join in the dialogue as it comes.

Phyllis lived just two houses down from my childhood home. We spent over 16 years as neighbors. In fact, my youngest sister started detouring to Phyllis' house after school rather than walking straight home during her elementary years. This has been a long-standing anecdote in our family because no one but Megan and Phyllis knew of this routine! Phyllis figured that our parents were privy to the arrangement; however, a passing mention of her enjoyment of her daily visitor to my mom proved otherwise.

Over the years, we have all stayed in touch. I have kept up on addresses moving from our childhood street to a nursing home; sending the annual Christmas card. We share across our family the occasional update or moments with Phyllis as my mom remains in town with her. Megan has had infrequent but consistent email correspondence with Phyllis over the past five years, and that is where the realization of our connection to the orchard began. Megan emailed Phyllis for the first time in a two year hiatus. In passing, she wrote that our middle sister remained in Australia with twins on the way and that I (Erin) had recently purchased an orchard in Cove. Phyllis responded as she regularly does, concise yet full of endearment. She sent her awe over the news of twins and updated her mailing address, as well as adding this note:

My Grandparents had a cherry orchard in Cove. Located up the canyon on McNeill Road.

Needless to say, Megan sent me this response with an air of excitement and cautious wonder. Could it really be? Do we now own the orchard of the grandparents of one of our most treasured childhood "grandmothers?" I immediately sent off my flurry of questions to Phyllis, inquiring about the possibility of this being her grandparent's homestead. She responded that evening:

Dear Erin: Well, strange things occur, don't they.

It was immediately reconciled that this was, indeed, the same orchard. Additional email dialogue continues to draft a story of the early years of the orchard. In short, Frank Bell, Phyllis' great uncle, lived in Cove and urged the McNeill's (her grandparents) to move to the town noting that the soil should be great for raising cherries. With what seems to be little prompting, the McNeills came to Cove from Texas in 1901 when Phyllis' mother was only 4 years old. And with that, the story begins.

I will stay with the story of the McNeills for a bit. There is so much to tell and share. Phyllis has granted her blessing to share our emails and pictures along the way. I am hopeful to visit with her in person soon, COVID allowing. In the meantime, I am grateful for her timeless spirit and optimism I remember so well.

A number of my Cove memories are not all about the cherry ranch itself but names of long ago Cove residents, and locations, come to mind. I may ramble on from time to time.

I am so eager for the ramblings.

More later... it's bedtime for me. Fondly, Phyllis B.

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