King of Tompkins County

One of my favorite apple varieties is the King of Tompkins County. It is also known as the Tompkins King, and it was originally introduced simply as King because of its huge size. Its history is a bit muddled, but I believe it is native to Jacksonville, a hamlet in Tompkins County, New York. I do not think Jacob Wycoff was lying when he said the first King tree he grew was a seedling. Many decades later, long after Wycoff’s death, horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey did an investigation and claimed that the original King of Tompkins County was a grafted tree. Wycoff, however, must have propagated additional King trees by grafting, and since he was not around to direct Bailey’s search, I think Bailey was looking at the wrong tree. The mother of all Kings may have been dead by then.

The story that the tree originated in Warren County, NJ, is based on Wycoff’s migration from a farm near Washington, a borough in Warren County, in 1804. It is supposed, not documented, that he brought scionwood with him.

It was not Wycoff who added Tompkins County to the apple’s name. [Please note that the correct spelling is Tompkins, not Thompkins.] In the 19th Century many apples were called King, so at a meeting of the American Pomological Society in Rochester in 1856, the variety was renamed King of Tompkins County to distinguish from other King apples.

I have a sentimental reason for liking the King of Tompkins County other than having lived in the county. On New Year’s Day in 2004, I had a discussion with my dad about his family’s orchard when he was growing up. He was then 89, but his memory of the 14 apple varieties that grew in the orchard his grandfather started and my grandfather further developed on the farm was quite clear. Dad did need some prompting at times, and when he couldn’t remember the name of his favorite apple and I suggested King of Tompkins County, his face lit up as he said “King” and went on to describe it with crisp detail. He said it was both his and his father’s favorite eating apple. It was large and richly flavored – sweeter than the Baldwin, but with a good touch of tartness. His mother would ask for not-quite-ripe Kings to bake in pies. The apple could get some members of the family in trouble because of its size. Dad’s younger siblings couldn’t finish a whole one, and Grandpap would get upset when he found half eaten apples lying around. Dad remembered his father saying of the King that it “tasted the way an apple is supposed to taste." I’ve heard that phrase used many times about different apples, but this application of those words to the King would have occurred over 100 years ago.

I’m also very pleased this year. There was an old King of Tompkins County tree growing on our property by the creek when we moved here back some 20 years. It died a few years ago, but I was able to take some scionwood from it before it died and used them to graft trees in our orchard. We have been without our own King apples for three years, but there are finally some tiny apples on two King of Tompkins County trees up in the orchard.

Here are pictures of the property where Wycoff planted his orchard. There is no sign or monument nor an orchard. I was told where the location was by the owner of Kingtown Orchard, just over the border from Tompkins County in Seneca County. He grows more Tompkins Kings than any other variety and knows about its history. The house was probably built after Wycoff sold the property. Called “The Trees,” it is now an AIRB&B.



Appreciate the post, thanks for the story.

Is it a big deal that the first Tompkin was grown from seedling because the odds of a favourable genetic mutation is so low in apples?


I’ve had the worst luck with it! My original grafts died and now Russet King (a russeted sport of KoTC) sustains so much winter kill I expect it too will die off. I’ll have to try grafting KoTC one last time next spring.

Thank you for sharing this, John. I grafted King of Tompkins County this spring and it looks good so far. Happy to hear you think so highly of it.

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In Apples of New York there is a warning from growers in our state that KoTC needs to be top-worked to hardy stock with strong root growth, so your problem is not new.


Awesome story, I work in Tompkins, Schuyler, and Seneca county. I’ll add this to my list of apples to try.

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From a display at Kingtown Orchard.

A correction: more Cortlands are grown than any other of Kingtown’s 20 varieties, but Kings must be a close second.


Thanks for the article John,
I had always wondered about its origin and unique name. I was introduced to Tomkins King by a fellow worker in the city where I was employed and purchased my King in1995. There was at the time a huge King tree growing in the city where I would go collect some to eat, but it was removed by a new development. I learned about Cortland while at Ft Devens, Ma in the Army, so I have both now and have enjoyed their fruit many years. If I were only going to grow 2 varieties, these would be my choice.
Kent, wa


I am thinking there was a semantics argument at play over “The original” being a seedling. The Tompkins county was added later, so the first with the modern name likely was grafted, but all scion wood comes from somewhere, so the true original of any variety would obviously have been either a seedling or a sport.
I grafted a bunch of apples last year, mostly for practice, and had decent take. However, I did not really attend to the results over winter and their protection was mostly sitting exposed in the lee of a japanese maple. Most have yet to leaf back out, and I’ve confirmed root death on several. KoTC is one of the few that definitively came through for me.
I’ll do a better job of protection of this years explorations along with any still potted survivors of last year.

I really like that apple. I think its the one our neighbors have and it is great for cider as well as eating fresh, plus supposedly for cooking although I haven’t tried it.

I grafted it to my early Fuji, or maybe Belle de Boskoop, and it was afflicted with something this spring, maybe fireblight. so I pruned it out :frowning:

I’ve only just heard of this apple within the past year or so and suddenly I’m hearing so much about this variety. I discovered that a heritage orchard nearby has this variety. I will have to get some scion wood this winter and try grafting it to my frankentree next spring. I was already concidering doing that since I thought I would give it a try but it sounds like this is one apple not to miss!

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