Minnetrista Blogs

The Orchard Shop at Minnetrista

When you buy your produce at Farmers Market at Minnetrista or your fresh cider and bag of apples at The Orchard Shop, you become part of a long Minnetrista tradition. Likewise, the children who learn about Johnny Appleseed and watch cider being pressed and tour the orchard to learn about apples are also part of the tradition.

That tradition started more than 115 years ago when the matron of the Delaware County Orphanage, which was located on the southeast corner of what is now Minnetrista’s East Lawn, decided that the children needed to earn a little spending money. An orchard was planted, and the children were given the responsibility of tending it and selling their produce. In 1906, land was purchased on Yorktown Pike, west of Muncie, and a new orphanage was built.

Children’s Home, undated

Frank C. Ball built his family’s home on property adjoining that of the orphanage in 1894. After the orphanage moved, he purchased the entire site, which included the approximately 10-acre orchard. Ball maintained and added to the orchard. In 1917, he hired Rowland Webb to manage and develop Minnetrista Orchards and to care for other gardens on the property. Webb was born in Porthleven, Cornwall, England and moved to Michigan in 1910. After working in a greenhouse there for several years, he moved to Indiana in 1914. He cared for the orchard and other gardens until he retired in 1977.

Minnetrista Orchard, ca. 1973

Webb introduced several new varieties of apples to the Muncie area, including the Keswick and Cox’s Orange Pippen, both from his native England. Although the emphasis was on apples, the orchards that Webb developed also included other fruit trees. A key to the plan of the orchard from 1933 indicates that there were five varieties of cherry, three of pear, four of plum, five of peach, and twenty-six varieties of apple trees. Apple varieties listed in that plan included King David, Paragon Winesap, Schenago Strawberry, Maiden’s Blush, and Snow.

Rowland Webb, ca. 1973

As the orchard was expanded, there was a need to find an outlet for all of those apples and other fruit and produce, and, of course, the best loved product of all—freshly pressed apple cider. By the 1940s, the sales barn was quite popular. It was open for the fall season, and the crew regularly made several hundred gallons of cider a week. Initially, the cider press was hand operated, but by the late 1960s, cider making was partially automated. What didn’t change through the early years, however, was the morning break for the cider makers. Rowland Webb’s wife, Flossie, often walked across the street from the family’s St. Joseph Street home with a freshly baked apple pie or German chocolate cake along with a steaming pot of coffee.

The process of making cider was always highly visible, and Mr. Webb and his crew were happy to show and talk about the process. Several generations of school children have enjoyed watching cider-making and apple sorting demonstrations conducted by Webb and his crew and now by the Minnetrista educators and grounds crew. Webb was known as the “Johnny Appleseed of Muncie” to the hundreds of school children he talked with about apples. Currently, many children participate in the “Johnny Appleseed” school tour each autumn.

Rowland Webb operating the cider press, undated

When plans were in development for Minnetrista Cultural Center in the mid-1980s, it was decided to continue sales and to expand the product line of the newly named “Orchard Shop” to carry, not only apples, cider, and other produce, but also jams, fruit butters, condiments, mulling spices, popcorn, and other food items. It was also planned to showcase gift items of local interest. According to a 1987 memo, the purpose of the shop was, “To provide a very unique opportunity for visitors to purchase fruit, food, crafts and sundries in a country ‘barn’ type environment.” The new Orchard Shop opened for the fall season in mid-October 1987.

Orchard Shop 1987

It was announced in September 1995 that the remaining trees in the apple orchard would be removed, with the smaller, younger trees to be sold to other orchards. By that time, the trees original to the orchard had been removed and others planted. Those newer trees were aging and would need to be replaced soon. According to Bill Mann, who followed Rowland Webb as manager of the orchard, “I know that if the orchard was going to stay here, the trees were going to have to be replaced in about three years anyway…A lot of people are disappointed to see it go.” Webb’s daughter, Dorothy, reminisced about the orchards, “I remember springtime, of course, when the trees were in blossom and the fall, the crisp days when they started making cider.” There was also talk of closing the Orchard Shop.

That talk was soon quashed, The Orchard Shop stayed open, and cider-making continued. In 2013, the shop was expanded and remodeled, and today remains a popular destination for all things apple and all things Minnetrista.