Baldwin originated in Wilmington, MA, about 1740. Once it got established, it quickly gained popularity and fame. For over 100 years it was the standard all-purpose home and commercial variety throughout much of New England. The historic freeze during the winter of 1934 that killed two-thirds of the apples in New England inflicted a heavy toll on the Baldwin trees and marked the end of their popularity with commercial growers. We still consider Baldwin one of the best all-purpose varieties. It keeps all winter.
Apple History: The End of the Baldwin Era
by John Bunker (excerpt from Not Far From the Tree by John Bunker )
Baldwin had much to recommend it for farmers in central Maine, [but] it also had one terrible flaw: it is not very hardy. …Although growers in the old days loved the huge crops Baldwins produced every other year, the trees were left in a weakened condition from harvest time until they recovered during the following “off season”. This made them particularly susceptible to winter injury.
Baldwin [was] the apple of choice for commercial growers in the 1930’s, and the fall of 1933 growers saw a bumper Baldwin crop. Beginning soon after the harvest when the apple trees had not yet hardened off for winter, Maine was hit by a succession of severe cold snaps alternating with periods of unusual warmth. Record low temperatures were recorded as early as mid-November. It was a brutal winter for the entire eastern seaboard.
Temperatures in central Maine during the last three days of December, 1933 dipped to –28 on the 28th, -20 on the 29th, and –40 on the 30th. … On January 22nd the temperature in Winslow was –33. Twenty-four hours later it was +44, a rise of 77 degrees. From January 27th to the 28th the temperature dropped 50 degrees in 24 hours. On the 29th it dropped 50 degrees in 12 hours.
February was [also] extremely frigid, averaging +18, the coldest month on record. … On Saturday, February 10th the Kennebec Journal wrote that, “all bays and inlets for a distance of forty miles westward from Jonesport to Winter Harbor are frozen in a solid stretch of ice.”
…On March 23rd , the Kennebec Journal reported that the state was organizing a cooperative tree order or “tree pool” for orchardists in the state, “possessing information indicating that all Baldwin apple trees in Maine which bore fruit last year either died or were very seriously injured by the severity of the past winter…” The two varieties offered in the state pool were Roger Mac (McIntosh) and Richard Delicious (Red Delicious).
By spring over a million of Maine’s apple trees, nearly two thirds of those in the state, were dead. In 1930 there had been 1,791,000 bearing trees in Maine. Ten years later in 1940, there were only 550,000. Millions of apple trees also died in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts…. Although trees of many varieties succumbed, Baldwins were the hardest hit.
No one will ever know why any Baldwins made it through the winter alive…. The few survivors were likely in their ‘off’ year, spared the added stress of a heavy crop. In any event, 1934 marked the end of Baldwin cultivation in New England. Since then, Baldwin has remained a revered memory for some, a novelty heirloom for others.