Origin of the Seckel Pear

Mich. Horticultural Society 22: 564 (1892)

The corresponding secretary read a paper on the origin of the so-called Seckel pear, proving that this pear was misnamed. The benefactor who gave us this highest type of the American pear was a German by the name of Sichel who raised this pear tree from seed at Baltimore, Md., and that this pear should be called Sichel, or, if this name should be translated into English, Sickle would be more proper. There is no such name as Seckel in all Christendom. The writer saw a tree at Economy, Pa, obtained about seventy years ago from Mr. Sichel of Baltimore.

Meehan's Monthly (July 1891)

THE SECKEL PEAR.—The following interesting letter comes from Prof. Emil Bauer, of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is a curious commentary on the "truths of history," that the original Seekel pear tree is still standing in Philadelphia, on the estate of Stephen Girard. the famous philanthropist; and that the ground was originally bought with the pear tree on it, by a farmer named Seckel, a few of his descendants still remaining in Philadelphia. They are of English and not German race. There are a number of German descent in Philadelphia who spell their names Sickel.
    "The so called Seckel pear originated in Baltimore, Md., at the beginning of this century, not later perhaps than 1818.
    "A German, by the name of Sichel, raised it there from seed.
    "My authority for this statement is Rev. Jacob Henrici, leader and Trustee of the Harmony Society, at Economy, Beaver county, Pa., who has been an olficer of said society since 1826, and who, although in his 87th year, is still the intelligent and active leader of said society. I have known him for 30 years and have visited with him at Economy frequently ever since.
    "Knowing that I take great interest in fruit, Mr. Henrici showed me on the 30th of November, 1889, a Sichel pear tree which has a history. It stands in the garden of the Trustees. I was informed by my friend that the society obtained this tree from Mr. Sichel, of Baltimore, and that said tree was first planted by said society at Harmony, Posey county, Indiana, whither the society had moved from Pennsylvania in 1814. In 1824 the society sold their town, Harmony, and all their property on the Wabash river, to Robert Owen, who settled upon it his New Lanark colony. But the Harmonists thought so much of their Sichel pear tree, that they took great pains to take it with them back to Pennsylvania and planted it on their new settlement at Economy, where it grew and prospered again under the intelligent care of Mr. George Rapp, the founder of the society. It is yet bearing and I tasted its fruit from time to time, although I never knew its history until the 30th of November, 1889, as stated above. Pear culture being my specialty of course I took great interest in this statement. I know the fruit of
it to be the genuine so called Seckel pear.
    "The tree at Economy must be at least 70 years old.
    "It is proper to remark, that this society, from its beginning, has pursued agriculture and horticulture principally, although later, after a successful experiment with the mulberry tree, they engaged in the manufacture of silk and other industries. There is hardly any fruit that is not cultivated with the most intelligent care at Economy.
    "Mr. Henrici, my authority for the above statement, although a teacher by profession, was interested in fruit culture from his boyhood. When his family landed in Baltimore in 1825 they sold thousands of grapevines which they had brought with‘ them from Rhenish Bavaria.
    "The above statement shows that Mr. Sichel is the benefactor who gave us this highest type of American pears and that it should bear his name, unless Sichel is translated into English, in which case Sickle would be correct.
    German, Die Sichel; English, Sickle.
Teacher of German Language and Literature,
1552 Ann Arbor, Mich."

The Cultivator 6(9): 277 (Sept. 1849)

The Seckel Pear—This variety of the pear possesses more than ordinary interest for several reasons. Usually, it is remarkable for withstanding the blight. It is the highest flavored pear known. And so uniform is its excellence in all localities, that the fruit committee of the American Congress of Fruit Growers, unanimously pronounced it worthy of general cultivation, a compliment which no other of the thousand pears, except the Bartlett, received. It holds about the same rank with pears, as the Green Gage with plums.
    The original tree still stands on the banks of the Delaware, three and a-half miles below Philadelphia. According to Dr. Brinckle, it is about thirty feet high, two feet in diameter within a foot of the ground, and sixteen inches, higher up. It stands in a pasture without protection, and the trunk is hollow and decayed on one side.

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America (1845)
Andrew Jackson Downing

The precise origin of the Seckel pear is unknown. The first pomologists of Europe have pronounced that it is entirely distinct from any European variety, and its affinity to the Rousselet, a well known German pear, leads to the supposition that the seeds of the latter pear having been brought here by some of the Germans settling near Philadelphia, by chance produced this superiour seedling. However this may be, the following morceau of its history may be relied on as authentic, it having been related by the late venernble Bishop White, whose tenacity of memory is well known. About 80 years ago, when the Bishop was a lad, there was a well known sportsman and cattle dealer in Philadelphia, who was familiarly known as "Dutch Jacob." Every season, early in the autumn, on returning from his shooting excursions, Dutch Jacob regaled his neighbors with pears of an unusually delicious flavour, the secret of whose place of growth, however, he would never satisfy their curiosity by divulging. At length the Holland Land Company, owning a considerable tract south of the city, disposed of it in parcels, and Dutch Jacob then secured the ground on which his favorite pear tree stood, a fine strip of land near the Delaware. Not long afterwards, it became the farm of Mr. Seckel, who introduced this remarkable fruit to public notice, and it received his name. Afterwards the property was added to the vast estate of the late Stephen Girard. The original tree still exists, (or did a few years ago,) vigorous and fruitful. Specimens of its pears were, quite lately, exhibited at the annual shows of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Genesee Farmer 5(45): 359 (Nov 7, 1835)

At the late Horticultural Exhibition, among the Seckel pears, we noticed a parcel plucked from the original tree, on the farm below the city, belonging formerly to Mr. Seckel, but now to the estate of Mr. Girard, from which the whole stock of pear trees of that species in the United States, has descended. This tree was known as far back as the time that Congress first sat in Philadelphia, which was in 1789, as we were informed many years ago, by a gentleman who was at that period a member of that body, and was well known to Gen. Washington during his presidency, as Mr. Seckel used to send him a regular supply of this fruit.—Phil. Gazette.

Jour. Franklin Institute 13: 192 (1832)

The Seckel pear derives its name from a gentleman of this city, who, it seems, was the first who paid particular attention to the fruit, and to spreading the tree among his friends and the public. However, Dr. D. Hossack, in an account of the Seckel pear, which was published in the third volume of the Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, asserts, on the authority of a respectable friend, that seventy-two years ago, this pear was grown in the neighbourhood of this city, by a person of the name of Jacob Weiss, who had obtained the tree at a settlement of Swedes which was early established in the vicinity of Philadelphia, and that most probably Mr. Weiss, and the father, or grandfather, of Mr. Seckel were intimate, as both families were Germans, and of that rank in society which might be likely to lead to such an acquaintance. The conjecture therefore is, that under such circumstances, Mr. Seckel's family obtained the grafts from Mr. Weiss's tree; however this may be, Mr. Seckel deserves the credit of having propagated this delightful fruit, and having paid the greatest attention to the cultivation and melioration of the tree.
    That the Seckel pear tree is a native variety of the neighbourhood of Philadelphia is incontestable, from the circumstance that it is hardly known out of the vicinity of this city, and because it has never been described by European horticulturists, except from the descriptions of our own authors, and as having been procured from this vicinity. There arc already several sub-varieties, slightly differing in size, colour, and taste.
    It is thus described by Mr. Cox, in his work on the fruit trees, published in this city in 1817. "The fruit is generally small, round at the blossom end, diminishing with a gentle swell towards the stem, which is rather short and thick; the skin is sometimes yellow, with a bright cheek, and smooth; at other times it is a perfect russet without any blush; the flesh is melting, juicy, and most exquisitely and delicately flavoured. The time of ripening is from the end of August to the middle of October. The tree is singularly vigorous and beautiful, of great regularity of growth, rich in foliage, and very hardy, possessing all the characteristics of a new variety, and, as a native tree, it is but little affected by that species of blight, commonly called fire blight, which, in this country, destroys so many pear trees of the imported varieties." A good representation of this fruit, copied from a drawing executed by Mr. Cox's daughter, has been appended to the account given by Dr. Hossack, and published in the Transactions of the London Horticultural Society.
    The Seckel pear may be cultivated, and will flourish, on almost any species of soil; it should always be grafted or inoculated on the wild pear tree, as grafting on the quince tree subjects it to the same diseases with which this tree is generally affected in this country. It should be four or five years old when planted in the orchard, and each tree at a distance of from eighteen to twenty-five feet. Many horticulturalists whom we have consulted, prefer the smallest distance, or twenty feet at most, as by this method the trees protect each other from the wind, frost, sunbeams, &c.
    It bears fruit at from five to six years old; at that age the product is trifling, but from eight to twelve years it increases considerably; when fifteen years old they are in full bearing, increasing, however, until they are twenty-five. Their average product, from fifteen to twenty-five or thirty years old, is variously reported, and there is generally one good and one bad year. The minimum product seems to be, on an average, four bushels of fruit.
It acquires considerable size, and lives forty, fifty, and as long as sixty years. The general experience is, that it is very little subject to the diseases afflicting other trees, more easy to cultivate, and bearing generally more fruit than any other.

New England Farmer 6: 282 (March 28, 1828)

Seckel.—This incomparable little pear, which is now becoming so widely disseminated in our country and abroad, originated on the farm of Mr. Seckel, about four miles from Philadelphia. It is at least equal to any European pear I have met with, and is by far the highest flavoured pear that has originated in this country. The fruit is of a russet colour, with a red cheek next the sun, and grows in clusters of from two to seven in each.— I have noticed, that much of its fine spicy flavour is contained in the skin and in eating it this should not be taken off. It grows more slowly than any pear tree I am acquainted with—and, in fact, at maturity, forms a tree of only moderate size, but peculiarly compact and regular in its form. Although this pear has been figured in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, and both European and American gentlemen conversant on the subject have stated, that no fruit similar to it existed in Europe, still there is a pear which has been long cultivated in France and England, and almost every other country in Europe, so extremely similar to it, that I venture to assert, that beyond all doubt, it is the parent of the Seckel. The pear to which I refer is the "Rousselet de Rheims, or Petit Rousselet," called also in Europe "the Musk or Spice Pear." The growth of the respective trees is similar, and the fruit so much alike, that persons have mistaken them for each other. The difference consists in the part of the fruit next the stem being more pointed in one than the other, and in the spicy flavour of the Seckel being much higher than that of the Rousselet de Rheims. The colour and size are much the same.