WORTHINGTON — Work is ongoing to transform Worthington’s old armory building on Ninth Street into facilities for the Nobles County Historical Society.
Meanwhile, greenspace next to the structure will eventually be reflective of county history, too, thanks to the planting of two trees Tuesday afternoon.
While conditions felt more akin to winter than spring — with a temperature around 35 degrees and winds gusting to peaks of 50 mph — a small contingent gathered to plant two separate varieties of apple trees on the lawn. Both, fittingly, have historic connections to Nobles County.
“We’re trying with the armory to capture and preserve as much local history and interpret as much local history,” NCHS board member Jay Milbrandt explained. “With this facility, we have a wonderful green space next to it to start a future phase for us. I think planting some trees with local significance is another step toward preserving more history at the armory and cultivating this unique space for the county.”
One of the trees planted Tuesday was an Okabena apple, which has origins that date back to Worthington and the early 20th century.
“H.J. Ludlow, who was my great-great-great-grandfather, was the one who propagated the Okabena apple, and it rose to some level of prominence after that,” Milbrandt said. “He and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Barlow Ludlow, started the NCHS around that time, and she was the first president.”
The Nobles County Historical Society was officially founded on Sept. 14, 1933, Milbrandt said. Mary Ludlow was 80 years old at the time and, by that point, the Okabena apple was one of the most popular apples in the U.S. and had won multiple awards.
“At one point in time, it (Okabena) was a very well regarded apple for cooking and baking,” Milbrandt said. “I think it’s very fitting to be planting that tree on the new Nobles County Historical Society site.”
Chuck Nystrom, who owns Ocheda Orchard south of Worthington, had grown some Okabena apple trees and helped plant them at Bedford Industries, the Worthington company owned by H.J. Ludlow’s grandson, Robert Ludlow. Nystrom delivered a tree he said wasn’t quite big enough for the Bedford site to the NCHS green space on Tuesday.
“There’s a certain amount of historical significance to that apple early in the 20th century, particularly in the Upper Midwest,” Nystrom said.
There’s also some historical significance with the second tree planted at the NCHS. It’s a B-51, an apple developed by Nystrom.
As explained on sugarbeeapple.com, a honey bee in Nystrom’s orchard flew around collecting nectar and cross-pollinating apple blossoms along the way. It stopped at an unknown tree and collected nectar and pollen from a blossom, and later the bee passed that pollen onto a Honeycrisp tree. The result: the apple variety Nystrom deemed the B-51, which later became the Sugarbee after Nystrom sold the apple in 2013 to Chelan Fresh in Washington state.
Nystrom’s fortune with developing the new apple variety is rare in the apple-growing realm.
“The University (of Minnesota) says it feels like it takes 10,000 to 20,000 seedlings to get a variety that’s worth commercializing,” Nystrom said.
“Chuck’s story is the modern chapter of Worthington and its continuing to play a role in the propagation of the creation of apples,” Milbrandt added. “My involvement with the historical society, part of my interest is because of our family’s involvement in it for such a long time ... but there’s a lot of history in the county that’s certainly worth preserving and sharing.”