An Antique Apple with A Lasting Impact

There’s nothing more all American than apple pie for good reason. Two enduring legacies of American entrepreneurship find their roots in simple apple orchards in Missouri over a century ago.

James Hart Stark, a young pioneer from Kentucky, moved to Missouri in 1816 with a pack full of apple tree scion wood in tow and built a small log cabin along the Mississippi riverbank. When he grafted his scion wood to Missouri crab apple rootstock, he probably never imagined his nursery business would become the longest continually operating nursery in the United States and a household name for decades.

Nearly a century later, Walt Disney moved to Missouri in 1906 and spent his formative years exploring the apple orchards and the wide-open expanse of his family farm in Marceline, Mo. This was the fertile ground that cultivated Walt’s creativity, where he developed his interest in drawing and even where he made the early sketches that eventually led to the creation of the Walt Disney Company.

Disney wrote to the Marceline News in 1938, “To tell the truth, more things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened since – or are likely to in the future.”

It wasn’t just the town of Marceline and the farm that stayed with Walt, he remembered one particular apple – the Wolf River Apple that his mother used to make Walt’s all-time favorite dessert, apple pie.  “There was this one kind called Wolf River. Wolf River apples were tremendous in size. People came from miles around to see ours.” His mother could make an entire pie out of one apple.

When Stark Bro’s IT Director and Disney enthusiast Matt Bollinger visited the arboretum at the Disney farm in 2017 he was disappointed to discover, despite the Wolf River being Walt’s favorite, there weren’t any Wolf River apple trees remaining. Matt made fast friends with Executive Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, Kaye Malins and the two were soon on a mission to restore the Wolf River Apple to the Disney farm.

Matt Bollinger and Kaye Malins
Matt Bollinger, Stark Bro's IT Manager (left) with Kaye Malins, Executive Director of the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Matt and Kaye are standing in front of Walt Disney's childhood home, where Kaye resides.

And when Disney’s official fan club, D23, got wind of the idea, they did what the Disney company still does best... they added some magic to the occasion. The fan club sent 100 Disney superfans on a tour to Walt’s hometown for the special the event in May of 2018, “Return to Marceline.” They spent the day touring all the significant spots in Disney’s hometown until the tour culminated in a special event at the Disney farm... the planting of 11 Wolf River apples, donated by Stark Bros.

D23 even brought in soil from Walt Disney Studios in California, which was divvied up into little pails for the fans to contribute to the holes during planting, solidifying the connection between the Walt Disney Company of today, and the roots of Walt Disney’s hometown.

Soil from Disney Studios
Disney fan club members contribute soil from the Disney studios to the planting hole on the DIsney Family Farm in Missouri.

The Stark Bro’s Wolf River Apple trees are thriving and should begin producing fruit within the next few years, unifying two Missouri legacies by the incredible taste of one variety of apple that made a big impression on Walt Disney.

Thanks to Matt and Kaye’s efforts and the D23 Fan Club, generations of Disney fans will be able to enjoy the same antique apples that filled Walt Disney with such joy and inspiration.

While the Walt Disney Hometown Museum and Disney farm is well worth the visit for any Disney fan, some of the ingredients for the creative inspiration Disney enjoyed can be yours without the trip to Marceline…

Cultivating your own garden and spending time watching the brilliance of nature unfold while lingering outside is sure to inspire you wherever you call home. But… if you’re really wanting a taste of that Disney magic, you can even grow your very own Wolf River Apple.

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