THE PORTER PEACH STORY
To many people in Oklahoma, the term “Porter Peaches” is synonymous with hot summer days and juicy, ripe peaches. It is often misunderstood that a Porter Peach is a specific type or variety of peach. However, the term simply refers to a peach grown in Porter, Oklahoma, a small rural community in Northeast Oklahoma.
Peaches have been grown in Porter since before statehood. The fertile farm ground between the Verdigris and the Arkansas River was the perfect backdrop for growing peaches and other crops. Originally part of the Creek Nation Allotment, the community of Porter and the surrounding areas
boasted some of the most prosperous farms in Indian Territory, including the farm of Ben Marshall. A 5/8 Creek Indian, Marshall attended the Tullahassee Mission School until the age of 12, when his parents sent him to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania (the same school Jim Thorpe attended). It was during his years at Carlisle that Marshall first learned about fruit production, working for a Pennsylvania farmer who owned peach and apple orchards during summer breaks. When Marshall returned to the Creek allotments in Indian Territory, he planted the first commercial peach orchard in the area in 1890, five miles southeast of the town of Porter.
The orchard gained national attention in 1904, when Marshall took his peaches and apples to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. The historical records aren’t completely clear; some sources say that Marshall won Gold Medals, some say Bronze Medals, while some sources claim the medals for Marshall’s apples and others, his peaches. Regardless, it is clear that Marshall’s peaches received high praise at the World Fair, and the first Porter Peaches made their mark on the national stage.
A grocery store in Muskogee, Oklahoma with peaches brought from Porter to sell in 1939
Peaches, apples and other fruits and vegetables remained a mainstay in the Porter economy into the next century. In the early 1900s, Porter peaches were shipped railroad cars at a time back east to supply grocery stores all over the United States. At one time, Porter boasted eight concurrently operated commercial peach orchards, earning the distinction as Oklahoma’s official Peach Capital by proclamation of Governor George Nigh in 1983.
50 years ago, the community of Porter was faced with the issue of how they could raise matching funds for a federal grant to build a civic center in the small town. Civic leaders determined that their best asset was in the town’s cash crop – peaches. So, a handful of men, including the town banker, the county agricultural agent and local peach growers, worked with the Porter Lion’s Club to host the inaugural Porter Peach
Festival in 1967. The festival was an overwhelming success: the first peach queen was crowned, the first prize peach basket auctioned off, and Lady Bird Johnson even posed for a picture with the bushel of peaches the community shipped to the White House.
While most of these early orchards have faded into the pages of history, Porter continues to produce the majority of the state’s peaches, though these days high local demand means few peaches are shipped outside of the state. The town celebrates the continuing legacy and vision of the early farmers and community leaders every July at the annual Peach Festival. Support for the Festival over the last 50 years has allowed the Porter Lion’s Club to not only build the originally planned civic center, but also help fund the construction of a town park and improvements to the local cemetery, as well as supporting activities such as the annual Christmas parade, youth livestock shows, and various academic and sport programs at the local school.
Currently, the Livesay family continues Porter's strong legacy of growing quality peaches. More information about Livesay Orchards, as well as other orchards that have played an important role in Porter's history, is included below. Also check out some pictures of the Peach Festival throughout the years!!