Pride of Dillard

In the 1940s and ’50s, when the melon was King, the “Pride of Dillard” was the pride of Douglas County and all of Oregon.

Old-timers figure maybe 100,000 crates of cantaloupes and watermelons every year were shipped out of Winston-Dillard and Garden Valley, to Portland and Seattle to the north and Grants Pass and Medford to the south.

Wesley Williams was the biggest melon grower in those days. He’s the one who patented the name “Pride of Dillard” for his cantaloupe.

There were also Bert Laurence, Ab Rice, Harry Bert Kruse who grew hundreds of acres in Garden Valley, Fred Burks and son David, Herchers, Claytons, Rummels, Conns, Brosis and Royers.

The Melon industry was born in Winton-Dillard in the 1880s and ’90s. “The Story of Dillard, author Shirley Clayton said the first growers were TP Lee, DC Pitzer, and Asa Cobb. They were the first ones in this area to market their products in Portland. They’d load the melons in horse-drawn wagons built by Studebaker and haul them north on the ole dirt highway that preceded Highway 99. At the turn of the century, the railroad came and when the north-bound No. 16 passenger train stopped in Winston at midnight, the growers were at the depot, ready to load.

By 1929, farming in Douglas County was in its heyday. Melons were actually smalltime compared to prunes, strawberries, and pears. Then came the Great Depression and only the biggest survived. Wes Williams had 300 acres. The depression took care of him like it almost did the rest of us, said Harry Kruse.

After World War II, California, Arizona, eastern Oregon, and Washington started taking over the market. More land, better climate, and more efficient growing and harvesting techniques cheaper labor.

By the 1950s and ’60s, the melon industry took the same path as the rest of Douglas County farming. In 1940 there were 1391 farms of 99 acres or less in Douglas County; in 1962 there were 512, per Douglas County Extension Service.

In 1981 the commercial growing market in the Winston-Dillard area was controlled by David Burks. Two hundred acres of which 20 acres were melons. People would stop at the Blue Fruit Stand and ask for the “Pride of Dillard” and Dave would have to tell them there was no such thing anymore. “Dillard melons are melons grown in Dillard, that’s all.”

A narrow profit margin, constant battles over water rights with the county, 3 or 4 years of poor crops for every good year, high-interest rates, and the high cost of labor cited by David for bringing the farming industry down.

The “Pride of Dillard” Cantaloupe was sold and sought after all over the northwest and beyond. Today only Brosi’s Sugartree Farm grows melons in the Winston-Dillard area. 

Melon Festival History

In March, 1969 the newly organized Winston-Dillard Lions Club was looking for an activity that would give the Winston-Dillard area some recognition. Thus the Melon Festival was born to celebrate the then-world-famous Dillard Melon.

The first Melon Festival was held the third weekend of September 1969 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It included a parade, carnival, queen contest, horse show pitching contests, kids contest (melon rolling melon eating), teen dance, and variety show. Lion member George Jacobs cooked the Saturday chicken barbecue assisted by Elmer Mills, and charter president Larry Zuver organized the Sunday lamb barbecue. You could get their delicious complete barbecue dinners for $1.25 for adults and 75 cents for children!

The festival grounds were behind Winston City Hall and activities spread out into the Grandway Shopping Center. The carnival occupied the north edge of the grounds, and the evening adult dance ($1 per person) was set up in front of the Grandway Market with a roped-off area. 4H dog obedience took place on the east portion of the shopping center in front of Art McQuire’s Corn Shop. About 16 booths of local organizations set u to sell food and offer games with prizes. The Saturday parade started with the Kiddie Parade at 10:00 am followed by the Grand Parade. 

Winston-Dillard continues to celebrate its melon heritage with an annual festival. Winston-Dillard Area Festival Association now manages this festival, along with several other events throughout the year.