Lee Calhoun and Horne Creek Farm

Lee Calhoun and Horne Creek Living Historical Farm enjoyed a thirty-one-year relationship, beginning in 1989 and ending with his death in 2020.  During that time, he served as a consultant, mentor, benefactor, and above all, friend to the site.  

In 1989, the staff of Horne Creek Farm decided to restore the Hauser Family Orchard.  Oral history interviews with several of the Hauser grandchildren had resulted in the names of the apples, peaches, pears, plums, and cherries that had once been grown on the farm. Three varieties of apples were needed: Red June, Virginia Beauty, and Royal Limbertwig, all of which were not readily available. Research led the staff to Calhoun’s Nursery in Pittsboro, North Carolina, which was owned by Lee and Edith Calhoun.  The Calhoun’s had the largest collection of old southern apple varieties in the country, the result of 10 years of on-going research and travel. For about 200 of the varieties, they had the only known trees to still exist. Fortunately, they had what Horne Creek needed; and, as an added bonus, Mr. Calhoun agreed to serve as a consultant for the project.

One year before, Edith Calhoun had begun urging her husband to compile all of the information they had gathered into a book. Lee decided to not only write the history of southern apples, but also provide a description for each one. He figured there would be 300 – 400 listings, but he would later state, “research has proven this number to be absurdly low.” Sixteen-hundred old southern apple varieties were listed in Old Southern Apples. Of those, 1,390 originated in the South. As important as the apple varieties themselves, the book told the stories of southern families and their relationships to the apples.

Lee’s book was also the impetus for a small handful of people to begin looking for old southern apple varieties. Having heirloom varieties in the hands of only a few individuals, however, was problematic. With their passing, the old varieties they held could potentially be lost again.  The establishment of a permanent collection, which would be cared for in one location, was needed. In 1997, Lee and Edith made the Southern Heritage Apple Orchard at Horne Creek Farm possible. By establishing it as a repository which held 400+ varieties of old southern apple varieties, they ensured that that an integral part of the South’s agricultural heritage, which was on the brink of extinction, would be preserved for future generations. The apple collection at Horne Creek is one of the most important in the country, standing alongside the Cornell University Apple Collection in Geneva, New York as a resource not only for historic purposes, but also for modern apple usages.

In the acknowledgement section of his book, Lee had this to say, "If the story of old southern apples has heroes, it is the men and women who have made the effort to save those varieties.” That is all too true, and he will forever stand as a giant among them.