Piper’s Orchard at Carkeek Park is one of the oldest orchards with an abundance of fruit trees in Seattle. As the “Piper Oral History Meeting” of February 20, 1984 recounts, the first owner of this land was the Piper family, which included Bavarian-born Andrew W. Piper, his wife Wilhelmina and their children. The family originally settled in what is present-day downtown Seattle, where Piper ran a konditorei, or a confectioner’s shop that sold baked goods and candy. However, his shop was burned down in Seattle’s Great Fire in 1889, and soon after, the family moved up north to an 80-acre plot of land by Piper’s Canyon, located in what is now Carkeek Park. The family planted an orchard on the land with many pioneer varieties, such as the German Bietigheimer, and a large vegetable garden. The “Piper Oral History Meeting” notes state that while Minna and her son Paul were the main caretakers of the garden, her husband often used the fruit harvested from the orchards to make pies. Minna and Paul took the fruits and vegetables from the orchard and their vegetable garden into town to sell. However, Piper died in 1904, and the City forced his family off the property a little while later to create Carkeek Park.
Carkeek Park was one of the first parks established in Seattle. Brandt Morgan, author of Enjoying Seattle Parks, a description and history of the parks that had been established by the time of publication in 1979, relates that Morgan J. Carkeek and his wife, Emily, settled in Seattle in 1875. Carkeek was a stonemason from England and one of Seattle’s best early artisan contractors. The park originally dedicated in Carkeek’s name was located on Pontiac Bay on Lake Washington 1918; however in 1926, the land was turned over to the federal government in order to operate a Naval Air Station. Consequently, Morgan states that Carkeek donated $25,000 in 1928 for a new park to be located at Piper’s Canyon and the City put up $100,000, to create the park. Carkeek Park opened for operation one year after this plan was finalized.
Since its creation, Carkeek Park has been utilized for a variety of different purposes. Some of the more notable uses were a sawmill company that was operated on the parkland in the 1920s, which usurped all of the timber in the original forested land, and the Whiz Company, whose fish traps were used to collect salmon until 1932. The park was then used to create work for those who were hard-hit by the Depression to make camp buildings and forest trails. Later, the park was used for a loop road, shelter, and picnic area in 1953, and a model airplane field in 1959. The park then slowly evolved into a place for community gathering, in part because of the discovery of the orchard after many decades of abandonment in the 1980s.
In 1981, Daphne Lewis, a landscape architect, stumbled upon Piper’s Orchard, covered by layers of blackberry bushes. Lewis discovered the orchard in the process of surveying Carkeek Park in order to create a master plan for park restoration. Bob Baines, a SPD employee who was involved in the original restoration project, recalls that the restoration team consisted of volunteers, descendants of the Piper family and members of the newly formed Piper’s Orchard chapter of the Western Cascade Tree Fruit Association. The Piper’s Orchard chapter adopted and began to take care of the orchard. As part of this restoration effort, more pioneer varieties of apples were planted, which included Wagener, Red Astrachan, King, and Wolf River. The first wave of orchard restoration brought together the knowledge, expertise and resources of different members of the community.
Interest in taking care of this orchard has wavered over the years. However, a new era of the Piper’s Orchard restoration project began about five years ago, asserts Brian Gay, a naturalist for SPD at Carkeek Park. At this time, SPD and orchard volunteers put together a sustainability plan complete with recommendations for future care of the orchard. Afterwards, there was renewed interest in the educational opportunities that the orchard offered.
Today the orchard includes 82 fruit trees, 30 of which were originally planted by the Piper family. There is an abundance of apple, cherry, chestnut, filbert, pear, walnut and hawthorn trees all planted on the park hillside. Don Ricks, president of Friends of Piper’s Orchard, mentions that many of the fruit trees suffer from apple scab, a fungal disease, but they are putting up pheromone destructors and nylon socks in an attempt to counteract the incidence of pests.
While SPD owns the land, the non-profit organization Friends of Piper’s Orchard tends and maintains the orchard.