It was the antics of a wily and very hungry fox that serendipitously led to the creation of an apple-growing enterprise and cider mill that are still going strong more than a century later.
Back in 1911, George Bowers and a friend started a chicken-raising business on 30 acres of hilly land near Laurelville, according to George’s grandson, Bob. “My grandfather was a rural mail carrier, first on horseback and then by truck, and decided to raise chickens, too. But one night, a fox came along and got all of the chickens. A few apple trees were already growing on the hillside, so they scrapped the chicken business and switched to apples.”
That launched what is now the Laurelville Fruit Company, with Bob at the helm, following in some well-worn family footsteps.
“My dad took over the farm after World War II,” he says, “and growing up in the ’60s, I remember working my tail off to help out. Some of my high school friends and I would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and make a thousand gallons of cider before school started, and then jug it when we got home. But it was fun, we didn’t think of it as work.”
Today, the Laurelville Fruit Company orchards include “40 acres of apple trees, a couple acres of peaches, and just a smidgen of plums, cherries, and nectarines,” says Bob from his favorite perch in a rocking chair inside the Laurelville sales room.
The popular retail shop is open July to December, and sells 12 to 15 different kinds of apples (Bob’s favorite is the tart Winesap variety). But it’s the cider — produced each fall with a vintage rack-and-claw cider mill — that’s the main attraction here.
The sought-after Laurelville Fruit Farm cider is made from a mix of sweet and tart, red and yellow apples. But the big difference is in the filtering. “Most ciders are not filtered, but ours is,” Bob says. “It makes for a more pleasant cider, and tastes just like biting into a fresh apple. It’s the only cider I’ll drink.”
The shop also houses a slushie machine that turns out refreshing cider slushies each fall. “They’re really good; cider has just enough sugar in it to freeze to the right consistency.”
The fruit farm shop is located smack-dab in the middle of tiny Laurelville, but the orchards are on acreage outside of town. Bob and his wife, Sherry, live close by on her family’s farmland, in the middle of 200 acres of row crops. Their home, a few rental properties, orchard buildings, the retail sales room, and a huge cold storage room are all served by South Central Power.
Bob raised three daughters … none of whom plan to take over the reins of the fruit farm. A local family has helped the Bowers clan run the business for two generations. “When they’re ready to retire, I’ll probably retire too,” Bob says. “But I hope whoever buys the place will let me keep on sitting right here in my rocking chair.”
Laurelville Fruit Farm, 16181 Pike St., Laurelville, OH 43135. 740-332-2621.