Outdoor drama theater will pay tribute to apple pioneer Johnny Appleseed

MANSFIELD, Ohio – Thanks to donations from Ohio apple growers, businesses and corporations, a heritage center and outdoor drama theater will open next June to pay tribute to legendary apple pioneer and role model, Johnny Appleseed.

“[The center] is a living tribute to people’s efforts, like Johnny Appleseed’s, that go unsung,” said William Jones, founder and executive producer of the center.

Appleseed is known as a legendary figure who planted seeds and educated settlers on apple growth in the early 1800s.

Center details. The Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center and Outdoor Historical Drama, located in Mansfield, Ohio, will feature a two-hour historical outdoor musical drama about Appleseed’s adventures.

The drama will not only tell Appleseed’s life story about conflict, sacrifice and compassion, but it will also describe the history of the apple and how it relates to health and nutrition, Jones said.

The drama’s playwright and composer, Billy Edd Wheeler, is the most recent inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and authored the Hatfield and McCoys, which was one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the United States.

Dennis Burnside, the drama’s music arranger, worked on Garth Brook’s Magic of Christmas compact disc and television special.

Other attractions. In addition to the amphitheater, the center will include the J.M. Smucker Company Auditorium and Library, a children’s learning center, apple pioneer meals, a gift shop, an orchard and garden, a nature trail, a festival and an annual hero scholarship award.

The center is expected to employ 72 people, attract 65,000 guests each year and contribute more than $12 million to the economic development of the area.

Background. Jones has always been a fan of Appleseed. Even as a child when he visited the Mohican River, he said he envisioned Appleseed traversing through the same area.

He later discovered that Johnny Appleseed actually had spent time in the Mohican Valley, which he said renewed his interest in the Appleseed legend and made him want to tell the story in a “meaningful way.”

So he began researching the period Appleseed spent in Ohio, which eventually led to Jones’ idea for the heritage center and outdoor drama.

Pioneer and legend. Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman was born in Leominster, Mass., Sept. 26, 1774.

After Appleseed migrated to western Pennsylvania, he began traveling through what is now Ohio, Indiana and fringes of other states. He was known to plant apple seeds wherever the ground was suitable. He surrounded these tree nurseries with brush and returned each year to tend to the trees and plant more nurseries.

Appleseed also instructed the settlers how to care for the trees and taught them how to plant their own seeds.

In addition to helping settlers learn about apples, Appleseed was known for his courage and dedication. Because Appleseed got along well with everyone, he tried to maintain peace between the Indians and settlers during the War of 1812, Jones said.

“He dealt with life’s problems without aggression,” Jones said.

Ohio apples. “[The reaction from the Ohio apple industry] has been heartwarming and we’re grateful for their interest,” Jones said.

Apple growers have supported the fundraising efforts of the campaign.

Area apple growers, like Appleseed, set an example of cooperation and do a great service to everyone by devoting their lives and careers to providing a healthy sustenance, Jones said.

According to David Gress, general manager of Fruit Growers Marketing Association, Ohio is ranked 10th in the nation in apple production, produces approximately 2.8 million bushels per year and is known as a “variety state” because Ohio growers produce so many types of apples.

There are approximately 7,500 apple-bearing acres in the state and the average yield is 12,700 pounds per acre, according to the most recent USDA fruit production summary.

“The industry is stable,” Gress said. “We have considerably less acres now than 10 years ago, but the new tree plantings are more compact.”

Although there are orchards scattered all over the state, Gress said the three main producing areas are the Columbiana and Mahoning county area; the area within a 15-mile radius of Lake Erie; and in and around Columbus.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)

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