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Footprints of History: Apples, apples, everywhere

Apples, Apples, everywhere!

By Stephanie Lewis

It’s getting to be that time of year again when the streets of Stow are filled with vehicles from neighboring towns and states.  As early as the 1920s, roads in Stow were clogged with cars, as September and October brought apple lovers from all over.

There is good reason for this: Stow is filled with orchards.  And it seemingly always has been.

As early as the late-1700s, apples were grown in the town.  According to Francis Warren’s Recollections of Stow book, Abijah Warren wrote notes about his planting endeavors on his Pilot Grove Farm: “1794, Apr. 28. Set out 44 apple trees in field. 1796, Apr. 29 & 30. Set out 133 apple trees in upper orchard and 17 in further inland.”  Warren’s grandmother told him that when she arrived in 1861 there were additional trees planted on the hill.

Many of the orchards frequented today were started generations ago. 

Derby Farm began in 1910 and has been growing fruit ever since.  Marriage between John Eveleth Derby and Emily Priest (of Fruit Acres) initiated the start of what today is Derby Ridge Farm, now run by the fifth generation of Derbys.

William Parker, according to Warren, had orchards on Sudbury Road which are now part of Honey Pot Orchards.  Honey Pot, according to Lewis Halprin in his Stow history book, was originally Beede farm, known for its hay, but has been owned by the Martin family since 1926 and now encompasses around 180 acres.  It was started by Clifford Martin, followed by his son Richard, and now owned by Andrew Martin and his daughter Chelcie.

Aforementioned Fruit Acres was on Whitman Street and operated from the 1960s to 1972 by Dewey Frost.  Francis Warren remembers when those orchards were owned by Herbert Underwood and contained “twelve to fifteen very large (spreading) Gravenstein apple trees that frequently yielded over 100 bushels per tree.”

Once a dairy farm, Carver Hill is now an orchard located along Fletcher’s Pond on Brookside Avenue.  It opened in 1972 and is operated by the Lord family.

Three Clemens brothers had a wholesale apple business on West Acton Street in 1914 and, according to Halprin, “operated orchards in Stow and Bolton for more than 50 years.”  That orchard was later sold to David and Jean Lynch who ran the farm from 1969 to the late-1990s.  They named it Shelburne Farms.  It was the Lynch family who began the local pick-your-own apple model that brings people from the surrounding areas.  They were the first PYO orchard in Eastern Massachusetts.  According to their website, the Lynches “pioneered the use of semi-dwarf trees in the region,” making it easier for customers to reach the apples.  In the late-1990s, the Lynches sold the farm to the Painter family who continue to run the farm.

In the early days, the apples harvested in Stow were not all sold at roadside farm stands or picked by consumers.  Most were carted to Boston by horse on a two-day trip to the city.  The farmers or their drivers would sell their crop at the market early in the day and then the remaining apples would be sold to “commission men” or brought home, according to Warren.  By 1925, apples went by truck to the city.

Not all apples were used for eating.  Some were processed into cider.  Cider mills were common in Stow, too.  Warren says, “Most households had at least one barrel of cider in their cellar that would have a real wallop by next July.”

There’s really nothing like the crisp bite of a freshly picked apple, a slice of warm apple pie, a bowl of apple cobbler with ice cream, or a cup of sweet cider fresh from the press.