Montrose Orchards was started in 1913 by Ira Sawyer, a Flushing attorney, John Kerr, a local farmer and a Mr. Stephens, a bank cashier at Montrose Bank. Kerr failed to weather the expense and time waiting for the trees to grow and dropped out of the partnership for a more profitable occupation. Stephens disappeared after taking $40,000 from the bank. In the fall of 1925, Sayer sold the farm to James J. Hill who had taken 8 months of courses in Horticulture and General Agriculture.
The premises consisted of about 70 acres of planted and abandoned trees, a so-called barn set up on a foundation of 8 rocks (no walls), an old house with no windows and barely any plaster, and a sagging porch on 3 sides of the front section which was 18’x30′. There were also two wells with broken pump rods.
The orchard had suffered from neglect. Trees had not been pruned for several years and had sprouts coming from the base and growing up through the tops of the trees. There were 3 spots in the orchard where the sand had blown out to the point that it had to be graded back in so that the rows could be traveled with orchard equipment.
During the next 10 years the Hill family developed a very comfortable 8-room house until April 12, 1937 when it caught fire from sparks on a wood shingle roof and burned to the ground. The Hill’s stayed in the storage building while the home was rebuilt.
Due to ailing health, Mr. J.J. Hill sold the orchard to his son and daughter-in-law, Donald M. & Sandra J. Hill in 1960. Don received his degree in Horticulture from Michigan State University in 1953, and following two years with the Army Signal Corps worked five years on the orchard before buying it. Donald and Sandra have three children, Dan, Debra, and Sharon, ages 9,8 and 7 respectively.
Since 1960, Don and Sandra have continued on with a program of orchard renewal by removing old trees and replanting with young and more popular varieties. Currently there are over 30 varieties of apples, raised on 100 acres, along with pears, plums, cherries and blueberries. Another 50 acres of mature apple trees are being rented (20 in Flushing, 30 in Otisville) to maintain an ample supply of apples for fresh sale during the years it takes to grow young apple trees into production.
To facilitate the handling of so many apples, with a minimum of labor, there was a conversion from crates to bulk boxes, which hold 20 bushels each. This required the use of tractor fork lifts in the orchard and a fork lift truck in the storage area, which is refrigerated and holds over 25,000 bushels.
Before the apples are sold, they are run through a power washer and then graded for quality and size. Sound apples which do not qualify for top grades are used in making fresh apple cider. The cider is filtered through a white paper to make a clear drink and requires refrigeration to keep it fresh and sweet, as it is not pasteurized. This necessitates the making of fresh cider each week.
Fruit and cider is basically sold to consumers that come directly to the orchard for fresh quality produce throughout the year. The normal sales season is from late July until the following May. Many customers have returned for years, and it’s not uncommon to hear “I used to come here with my folks and now it’s a habit”.
Over the last few years there has been a growing interest in pick-your-own produce. Only cherries and blueberries are presently harvested in this manner, but others may be added in the future. During 1969 nearly 7,000 different customers were served in the 15-acre blueberry planting.
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