The Milam Apple

Posted on September 7, 2010 by

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Those who are regulars here know that I have an interest in antique apples. Among those varieties is the Milam. In all likelihood, most who read this probably won’t know about this variety. It’s not as popular as those you find in the grocery stores today… at least not popular today as it was in earlier days in the Valley. I’ve heard my grandparents talk about the apple, and my parents have mentioned it as well. It’s a sweet apple, but never gets to be but about half the size of a regular apples… actually smaller than a tennis ball. I’ve also heard that it was a wonderful delight for children to throw at one another… just the perfect size for small hands. Nevertheless, the reason for my post today is to boast of the fact that I finally have Milams of my own. I got my tree, oh gosh, probably around 8 years ago, and it’s finally bearing. It’s been a slow-grower compared to many of my mini-dwarfs and dwarf varieties, but that’s ok… good things come to those who wait. The photo you see here is a shot of some of my Milam apples on the branch…

Now, the history behind the apple is pretty cool. As much as I’d like to tie the history to that of my home county, I can’t. Still, I can attribute it to a neighboring county where I also had ancestors, so that’s still pretty neat. After hearing the tales of this famous apple from relatives, I had to do some research… and back in 2000, I located a small article that mentioned a letter written by Judge W.E. Bohannon of Criglersville, Va., dated October 16, 1927. “Judge Bohannon was a descendant of Thomas Milum through a daughter, and in 1927 he was past 80 years of age.” According to Bohannon:

Thomas received a grant of 203 acres from Lord Fairfax on January 31, 1749. It was here that Thomas lived and died in 1785. This grant of land is located in Madison County, Virginia at the eastern foot of the Blue Ridge range and is situated 10 miles northwest of Madison, the county seat. The ‘Milam Apple’ known as over the country, originated on this farm, and got its name from Thomas Milum. Also the first pass over the Blue Riedge Mountains from this county to the valley was opened by Thomas Milum and bears his name to this day, “Milam Gap.”

Yet another version confirms origin in Madison County but gives credit to a different family member. In the History of Madison County, Virginia (1926), Claude Yowell claimed that ‘the Milum Apple, a native of Madison County, and very highly prized by the citizens of this county, had its origin near Milum’s Gap. It originated from a seedling that came up in the yard of one Joseph Milum. The apple proved to be so good that people came from far and near to graft trees from this one. The apples were named for the man who owned the seedling, Joseph Milum and afterwards the gap in the Blue Ridge near his home was also named for him.”

So, that’s the story… and by the way… my tree is actually a graft from Milam trees that grow in the gap… so that’s particularly cool.

Oh, and also, take a look at Chapter 18 of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and you will see brief mention of the Milam apple…

Here’s a big Milum apple I’ve been saving for you, Tom, if you was ever found again – now go ‘long to school.

Not sure about the mention of it being a big apple, but anyway…

Not as exciting, but the apple can also be found in S.A. Beach’s The Apples of New York (1905).

As for the Milum/Milam family, by the time of Beach’s book, most had long-since removed from Madison County; the name being rather strong in census schedules in Southwest Virginia and in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia.

So, any ties to the Civil War? Yes, in the name of the gap, not so much the apple.

If you are familiar with the Skyline Drive, you may also be familiar with Milam’s Gap. This wasn’t a regular thoroughfare for soldiers, but was used from time to time. In fact, when writing about the Charlottesville Artillery several years ago, I ran across one of those instances. As the unit was moving from Madison Court House to join Stonewall Jackson near Luray (May 1862), the gap was encountered and found to be more difficult to pass through than anticipated. One of the artillerymen seemed to think the gap more of a “slight depression”. For what seemed a distance of seven miles the sun was unmerciful; but to the delight of the men, every few hundred yards or so, they encountered “sparkling cold mountain streams.” Eventually, the unit made its way to the top, and found the descent into the Page Valley a much easier journey.

So, there you have it… the Milam apple… and the gap…

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