by Lorie Lewis Ham
It’s not something you’re likely to overhear in conversation at your local coffee shop but beekeeping has been a part of the area around the Kings River for some time, as bees are very important to the local agriculture. The first bees were brought to the Kings River in 1856 from San Jose by Claybourne and Enos Wright to their ranch near Laton. They purchased their five colonies for $100 each.
In 1858, Dan Spangler, who lived in the same area, went into the bee business with 25 colonies and began selling honey. Around that same time, the Hart brothers brought bees over from Gilroy into Tulare County and established a home one mile east of Visalia. They moved approximately 100 colonies over the mountains. Their first sale of bees was in 1860 to a Dr. Cobb in Millerton. They also sold their honey at $1 per pound. For the first several years, they traveled around in a peddle wagon selling the honey, covering a wide territory.
The tradition of beekeeping continued and grew in the Hart family for many years. John H. Hart, a pioneer schoolteacher in California, was instrumental in organizing the Central California Beekeepers Association in 1890. He was so well known for his beekeeping that he became known at “Honey Hart.” John died a bachelor in Kings County in 1898 at the age of 70. His nephew, Fred, took over until deciding to retire in 1905, at which time he began selling his 1,100 colonies to several different individuals across Kings and Tulare Counties. When he made his final sale in 1908, it closed the last chapter in a long and important history of beekeeping in the Valley.
Another important beekeeper in the San Joaquin Valley is a familiar name to many in Reedley, John C. McCubbin. McCubbin shares of his adventures in beekeeping in the book, The McCubbin Papers: An Account of the Early History of Reedley and the 76 Country, available at the Reedley Museum.
The business of beekeeping has expanded and grown through the years into a specialized and profitable business for many in the area.
Much information for this article was taken from the book, Beginnings In The Reedley Area, also available at the Reedley Museum.