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Originally published: 2012-11-15 13:23:28
Last modified: 2012-11-15 13:23:28

The Monroe Orchard

Doug Hundley / (

I normally find and collect apples from a tree or two at a time. This year, I had the good fortune of discovering some old orchards, but new to me. I even got to travel to some old orchards in Pisgah National Forest. Kip Hollifield and Chris Henline from the N.C. Wildlife Commission and Mark Forbes from the Avery Soil and Water Board helped me with access and accompanied me to these orchards. One was the Old House Gap Orchard.
These NFS (National Forest Service) orchards were once family orchards, of course, and all had a link back to pioneer families, though now most are broken trails. One orchard however still has a family connection; one family in particular never let it go. Quite a few of you know this orchard, the Monroe Orchard, near Little Lost Cove Cliffs. I know many of you have helped yourself to a fresh apple under these trees while deer hunting, coon hunting or hiking over the years.
Richard and Allen Clark grew up in the 1950s helping their father, Harry, prune the Monroe Coffey Orchard. Harry was raised by his Aunt Dovey, who would come to marry Monroe Coffey. Monroe was the first supervising ranger of the Globe section for the U.S. Forest Service. He was born somewhere in the Long Ridge area in 1883. He owned the property when, in about 1920, he planted the orchard of about 200 trees as a commercial venture.
In 1940, Harry married Myrtle Woodie. Myrtle was kind enough to sit and talk with me this spring. She still lives in the house Harry built for her on Mortimer Road. Now at 90 years old, Myrtle smiled brightly and told me, “Harry and I started housekeeping in that old two-room log cabin at the orchard. They were the best years of our lives! No kids, no bills, just a garden and apple trees to take care of.”
I smiled back. I couldn’t help myself! She said they would harvest apples in the fall, and prune in the spring. In the winter they dried apples, made a lot of cider and a little brandy, too; out of the “spotted apples,” of course. She told me how she would “sulfur” the apples; a technique called bleaching in Lee Calhoun’s book. It made dried apples nice and white. She described carrying a shovel full of coals into the shed of drying apples. Then returning she would throw sulfur on the coals and run out, slamming the door behind her. If you got out in time, all was well. Another big smile!
They lived there from 1940 to 1943 and then moved to Mortimer Road to raise their children. In the late 1940s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture bought most of Monroe’s land, including the orchard. From this and the land of many other families, Pisgah National Forest was created.
The government gave Monroe and Dovey the rights to the fruit for the rest of their lives. In 1953, Monroe Coffey died and Dovey asked Harry and his boys to continue to take care of the apple trees. For the next 20 years, Harry worked that orchard. Then in 1968, Aunt Dovey died, and Harry died in 1973.
That began the years when the government would begin to take over. The U.S. Forest Service and N.C. Wildlife Commission took over the management of the orchard. Cutting samplings and brush every few years helps early successional wildlife populations, and keeping the apples bearing for the deer (and us). This work began with A. Anthony, the first wildlife manager and public caretaker of the Monroe Orchard. Early on he lived in a house at the old Warden’s Station, near the orchard and where you’d turn to go down to Harper Creek.
Before Anthony retired in 1985, he trained Eddy Braswell, who did a great job for about 20 years. Since then, Kip Hollifield and Chris Henline have continued the work. Both Chris and Kip have more than 10 years invested in the Monroe Orchard and both have a sincere interest in the old apples on all the Forest Service land.
Now back to the present: Richard had known about the Heirloom Apple Project at Avery County Cooperative Extension Center. He had invited me down to see the apples for two years. Tired of waiting on me, Richard and Allen started a project to save the apples of the Monroe Orchard on their own.
Beginning last February, Richard and Allen went to the Monroe Orchard, labeled all the apple trees that seemed to have any life left in them and collected scion (grafting) cuttings. While there, they ran into our Wildlife Commission Biologist, Chris Henline, who commended them for their work. In April, I helped Richard graft the scion wood onto new semi-dwarf rootstock. Richard’s one-year-old grafted Monroe Orchard trees are well on their way to a new start.
In late August, Richard and Mark Forbes, with his GPS mapping skills, and I hiked to the orchard. There we collected and photographed more than 25 apples, while GPS mapping the trees. We found a Wolf River, a couple of Limbertwigs and several different Winesaps. There is definitely a Black Ben Davis, a Gragg, an Early Harvest, a McIntosh, the famous Twenty Ounce and Myrtle’s favorite, the Speckled Jim. While Richard grows these new trees, Myrtle and I are trying to identify them. We welcome your help if you know any of them. Call me if you’d like to see them at (828) 733-8270.
The Monroe Orchard started out as a commercial apple orchard, but due to its history, I think it may have become not only a family orchard, but a community orchard. How important can an apple orchard be to a family? Perhaps some of you know. Maybe apple trees are like children in the family to a mom and dad and brothers or sisters to the children. Who knows until you’ve been there? It may take a lifetime to know.