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When you bite into fruit from the Laurelville Apple House you get the sense you are tasting a bit of history. That’s because the Apple House has been a Hocking Hills landmark for over a century. Now operated by third generation family owners, the Apple House is a beloved tradition.
Located in the heart of Laurelville, they offer apples, peaches, cider, jams and local honey from July to December each year.
What makes this place special is hard to define. Some people might say it’s their world famous apple cider or the numerous varieties of locally grown apples. But it is more than that. It’s all of these things combined with an extensive history, good customer service and old fashioned charm.
While many of their customers are visitors to the Hocking Hills, others are repeat customers coming from, not just around Hocking County, but all over. “We have a lot of people who come every year from all over Ohio and West Virginia. They come back year after year,” explained third generation Apple House owner Bobby Bowers.
“We have people whose parents brought them when they were little. Now they’re grandparents bringing their grandkids,” Bowers said. “Some of them have been coming forty, fifty years, maybe longer.”
This Laurelville tradition actually began as a “chicken-raising business,” according to a history that hangs on the wall inside the Apple House. That was in 1911 when rural mail carrier George Bowers and banker John Reichelderfer partnered on land just outside of town. The land had several apple trees and the pair abandoned the chicken business and began the Laurelville Fruit Co. By 1918 they were harvesting over 3,000 bushels from their orchard every season. The pair expanded the business over the years until Reichelderfer passed away, leaving Bowers to run the business alone.
When Bowers’ son Bob graduated high school in 1943, the pair worked together to set out more apple and peach trees. With business booming, they purchased more land and set out more trees to keep up with demand.
Bob took over the entire operation in the 1950’s, making him the second generation owner. But tragedy struck on January 2, 1968 when fire destroyed the wood-framed structure of the main building. The present concrete block building was constructed at this time and the business continued to thrive. His son Bobby also became involved in the business and was running the entire operation by 1980.
Today, a sign hangs outside the building, commemorating their hundredth anniversary in 2011 and thanking customers for a century of business.
Visitors might think that this history is still alive or even that time has stood still once inside the cinder block walls. A collection of chairs invites locals to sit a spell and chat; a pot-bellied stove during the cold months will encourage them to stay longer than planned. The wooden tables loaded with produce beckons all inside for a bit of nature’s goodness.
Regardless of which Bower waits on you, they will pull your change from an antique cash register – the kind that only calculates up to $99.99. And when they pull out your change, they will count it back to you, the old fashioned way, the way Bower says it has to be done.
During the height of apple season this fall, a cavernous walk-in cooler will be packed with wooden crates of apples of several varieties. And starting Labor Day, the family will begin making their famous apple cider, using the antique apple cider press that has churned out cider for decades. The press and the process have been retrofitted with touches of modernity that make the product both safe and delicious.
From the 1968 wooden grader to the 1920 cider mill to the giant vats that capture the cider, parts that touch the apples have been upgraded from wood to stainless steel. A technique using ultraviolet radiation replaces old fashioned pasteurization methods to meet modern safety specifications while preserving the quality of the cider. “It’s the same old cider but it’s perfectly safe,” Bowers explained.
They produce apple cider fresh daily, churning out 1,000 to 1,500 gallons a day during peak season.
Another favorite? Apple Cider Slushies. Bowers purchased the slushie machine in 1987 for his three daughters to learn responsibility and earn money for college. The girls, aged 8, 10 and 13 embraced the slushie project and operated it through their high school years. The girls are all grown up now but the tradition has continued and frequently inspires folks to stand in a long line because, simply put – the slushies are that good.
In September, both Bob Bowers and his wife will turn 90 years young. They are only “sort of retired” from the business as Bob has been working every day since peach season began. “It’s been my life,” he said.
Bobby explained that this business is a way of life that has its own rewards. “You’ve gotta like what you do when you work seventy or eighty hours a week. But when people say it’s the best cider they ever had or the best peaches they ever ate, you know it’s all worth it,” Bowers explained.
If you’re going, leave your plastic in your wallet. Cash is king at the Laurelville Apple House (they take checks too). The Apple House is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from July through December 31. Call them at 740.332.2621.
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