In the late 1800s Sebastian Smith and family developed one of the largest and most successful apple orchards on the southeastern shores of Paw Paw Lake. Their apples included the Duchess of Oldenberg variety, originally developed in Russia and recognized at the time as a superior variety in New York and Michigan. In a portion of an 1880 illustration of his Heatherington Heights orchard reproduced above (from “A 20th Century History of Berrien County, Michigan” O.W. Collidge, 1906) a single-story white “cottage” is visible above the road on the right. A winter photograph from about the same location shows the house that remains at that site, possibly on part of the original foundation, albeit nearly hidden by new homes on the east side of North Watervliet road.
Mr. Smith sold the 19 acres of this orchard that now hold the BlueCircle Farm to his son John in 1902, then retired to Florida. The land changed hands and became Wilmer M. Pratt’s “Apple Orchard Farms” in 1918. The farm passed from Mr. Pratt’s estate to Chicago Oak Park residents Gerhard and Lulu Schwarting in 1928. They maintained the orchards, harvesting 6000 bushels of Duchess apples in 1930, but continued to be regular summer visitors. They developed their Paw Paw Lake waterfront on Woodland Ave. into summer cottages and the area north of Hetherington Hill and Fairview Beach and east of Chicago Terrace became known as “Schwartings Orchards”. The Schwarting’s left the orchard business in 1944 when they sold to HJ Peters of Benton Harbor. Mr. Peters and later his son Forrest owned and operated the orchard until 1952.
It was then bought by Marion S. Atwill who owned adjacent orchards she had inherited from her father. In the aerial photograph above from the 1960s six acres that will become the Woodland Conservancy appear cleared of trees except for a small area to the north. A peach orchard and tomato rows took the place of Schwarting’s apple orchard during these years. The land was bought by a developer in 1976 and after almost 100 years the orchards disappeared entirely. In late 1997 Delavan Sipes and the owners of several adjacent lakefront properties that once had been owned by the Schwartings founded the Woodlawn Nature Conservancy on the south side of Woodlawn Ave. He described the Conservancy in a column he wrote for the Tri-City Record in 1999: http://220.127.116.11/Coloma/GSI_Sing_PDF/The%20Tri-City%20Record/2000-2009/2009-08-13_07.pdf#xml=http://18.104.22.168/Coloma.asp?cmd=pdfhits&DocId=33407&Index=C%3a%5cinetpub%5cwwwroot%5cIDX%5cCOLOMAALLS&HitCount=1&hits=bc0+&hc=206&req=schwarting
This split the orchard land into two roughly equal parcels – the Conservancy on the west, and to the east a mostly open field that eventually would become Bluecircle Farm. Plans to develop additional condominiums or a horse farm on this site were eventually scrapped. For the next 13 years weeds and spreads of black locust, maple, mulberry, wild grape and raspberry spread from the former fencerows – were repeatedly mowed, cleared and burnt – and persistently rose again from battered stumps.
The first pines of the BlueCircle Farm were placed in late 2010, beginning a fresh cycle on this hill above Paw Paw Lake.