by Gary Mount
The Terhune Orchards Farm Store has always interested me – its architecture, function, history, and names. In our early years of owning Terhune Orchards, we called it the “apple building.” I recently talked with Richard Terhune, a member of the Terhune family who sold us the farm 28 years ago. He told me that his family always called it the “apple house” as in farmhouse, cider, house, smokehouse, wash house, etc. In his day, apples were their main crop, but they also grew some peaches. We now grown about 32 different crops, all sold through the “farm store”. “Apple Building” just doesn’t quite fit anymore.
The Farm Store building was constructed in the 1930’s. The basement was dug using a “bull scoop” pulled by a Fordson tractor. (They were so called because when Henry Ford first started selling tractors, the name Ford was already taken by another company. He formed a new company, Henry Ford & Son, and named the tractors Fordson.) The scoop had two handles, similar to wheelbarrow handles. As it was pulled along, lifting the handles slightly would scrape off a layer of soil. When it was full, the handles were pushed down and the scoop slid along the ground. The scoop’s contents were dumped by sharply lifting the handles to slip it frontward. Tractor, scoop, and operators made many trips, round and round, scooping up a bit of earth each time.
Dick related a family story about the scoop having uncovered a spring during construction of the “apple house”. Everyone was very glad that the tractor had been parked up and out of the basement excavation that night because, by morning, it was filled with water! To this day, the spring runs through in the basement floor and fills the small pond behind the store.
The basement of the building was used to store apples. The fruit was sorted and packed on the main floor, and the attic was used to store boxes and baskets. Elsie Terhune Davison, who with her husband Jack were the former owners of Terhune Orchards, told me that she and her sister Ruth also roller skated on the main floor during the off-season. According to Elsie, Ruth was the better skater.
All the apples were picked and stored in half-bushel baskets in those days – similar to the baskets used to display apples in the farmstore today. The baskets were open on the top and stacked pyramid-style on the basement floor. This took some skill as I found out when I tried it.
Cooling the stored apples was accomplished by means of cellar doors and an air tunnel that went all the way up to the cupola on top of the building. The doors were kept open day and night; cool air came in through the doors and hot air rose up through the air tunnel and out the cupola. The doors were closed only when the outdoor temperatures were low enough to freeze and spoil the apples. The running spring also helped cool the air and keep the humidity high.
Apples were lifted up by hand through a trap door to the mail floor. Although today all apple containers are handled with a forklift, it was several years after our purchase of Terhune Orchards in 1975 before we could afford such a labor-saving machine. Apples kept well in this storage – often into January. In the 1960’s, the first mechanical refrigeration was installed.
I’ve always wondered about the design of the building. Dick and Elsie related how their father, the builder of the “apple house”, worked very closely with “the college.” (All older New Jersey farmers refer to Rutgers’ Cook College that way. I suppose it comes from Cook College’s former name, “The College of Agriculture.”) His close association with “the college” and the building’s functional design leads us to believe that agricultural engineers – perhaps from “the college” – were involved.
The first electricity in the “apple house” was DC current supplied by storage batteries kept in an old smokehouse located between the “apple house” and the farmhouse. The batteries were charged by a wind-powered Delco generator, which was mounted on or near the windmill next tot he farmhouse. Unfortunately, neither the windmill nor the smokehouse exists today. The main use of electric power was for lighting, and wires were also run to the barn and the farmhouse. Elsie recalls that the first electric clothes washer was powered by this system and had to be re-wired when AC power was brought in from the street. A family joke was that when the lights dimmed (low batteries), it was time to go to bed!
The progression of name changes also reflect today’s use of the building as the main point of sales on the farm. A front porch was added in 1978 and later a rear addition for preparing fruits and vegetables for sale.
Pam and I really love our farmstore. The interior has undergone many changes – new walls, additional windows, opening the ceiling, and replacing the floor. The walls are covered with old farm tools from my grandfather’s farm. During the busiest times of the year the store is too small, but most of the time it’s just right.
Writing this story has brought home to me how different farm life was one hundred years ago. Far fewer people lived in this area, and families were often connected in ways that are no longer remembered. Dick Terhune had a surprise for me when I talked to him about the “apple house”. His grandfather, the first Terhune to own this farm, was named Richard MOUNT Terhune. His middle name was the same as my own family name! I put my bother Lee Mount, our family genealogist, on the job. He found that Richard Mount Terhune’s mother’s maiden name was Mary A Mount. What’s more, his mother-in-law’s maiden name was Edna E. Mount. Both women shared common ancestors with my father’s family!
It was a great surprise to learn that when Pam and I bought this farm, it was really a family affair.
Many thanks to the Terhune family, Dick Terhune, Elsie Davison and Charles Hunt (their brother-in-law), and my brother Lee Mount for their help with this story.