DENVER — The year was 1894. President Grover Cleveland was in the White House, author Rudyard Kipling released his best-seller “The Jungle Book,” and a young Brenson Doud planted the first apple trees on his family’s land just outside of Denver in northern Miami County.
Now — 125 years later — Doud Orchards is the second oldest operating apple orchard in the state and one of the most recognizable ones in this part of Central Indiana.
“The Douds lived on the land, and that’s where the kids went to school was in the one-room schoolhouse that’s still at the orchard,” Steve Doud, Brenson’s great-grandson, said. “Most of the settlers in the township there came from Rochester, New York, and they settled that property a generation earlier. Supposedly one of the requirements for homesteading was that you planted apple trees, and some settlers decided to specialize in reproduction of the fruit. That’s what Brenson did.”
And up until recently, the orchard’s ownership had stayed in the same family tree, from Brenson to his son Lorenzo, from Lorenzo to his son Lorne and from Lorne to his son Steve.
The orchard spans around 60 acres, and while Steve said there isn’t much information about its early days, his own childhood there in the 1950s and 1960s was always a mixture of adventure and responsibility.
“We all helped with sales mostly,” he remembered. “As a kid, a project I made for myself was growing Indian corn, pumpkins, gourds and that type of stuff, and then I’d sell them. Otherwise, we just helped with the daily routines like stocking and packaging. We also learned to make cider, which is what Doud is historically known for.”
When Steve and his wife Connie moved back to Indiana in 1980, the couple began to help manage the orchard with Lorenzo before eventually taking over complete ownership in 1996, caring for the orchard’s over 100 varieties of award-winning apples and the historical apple cider recipes that Steve said made Doud’s product the best in the area.
In recent years, the couple even began expanding the Doud Orchards brand, shipping apples to Whole Foods supermarkets in both Chicago and Indianapolis.
But while owning an apple orchard seems like a utopian lifestyle to some, Steve said there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that people don’t get to see, and stress is often high in the business.
“There is a lot of responsibility that goes along with all of this,” he said. “It’s specialized, and so there is a lot you have to know in terms of pest control and how to grow the trees properly. You don’t just show up in October and have things ready to pick. It’s a year-long job. It’s high cost, but it’s also high value because you can grow a lot of crop on just something like 20 acres.
“But people don’t see what you have to do in February, when you’re pruning trees and taking out old ones to put in new ones. It’s a continual operation, and the public only sees the idyllic part of it all,” he continued. “On a beautiful September or October weekend, it looks like heaven on earth with everybody out and about up here, but it’s different when you’re the one that’s bogged down in snow or spring freeze or the hot days of summer.”
And perhaps that’s why Steve and Connie Doud decided to step away for good from the orchard this past summer, passing the torch in September to Sarah and Justin Driscoll, the first non-Doud family members to ever own the property.
“We don’t have any kids, and our classmates and friends are retired,” Steve said, “so there just comes a time. This place can’t change hands too often, so we thought it was important for the business to continue and grow over time. They [the Driscolls] are good at selling and promoting, and you need people that know how to do that because you can’t produce yourself to prosperity. You have to know how to sell too.”
Of course the Driscolls aren’t new to Doud Orchards, as Sarah has been working at the orchard for the past four seasons, where she managed much of the resale and wholesale side of the operation.
And though Driscoll has new ideas for how she wants to see Doud Orchards operated moving forward, she also wanted to assure the public that many aspects of the business will still remain the same.
“We are continuing those same traditions that have been going on for years,” she said. “I think the biggest feedback we get from some of our older clients is that we are changing everything. We’re not. We’re growing the same apples on the same trees, and we’re using the same recipes. We’re just trying to bring new life into it.”
For Driscoll, that new life includes things like a revamped social media presence, allowing opportunities for visitors to pick their own apples and expanding the product that Doud sells on a regular basis.
“We want to eventually grow raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and maybe even some vegetables,” Driscoll said. “There’s so much we want to physically do too, like working on the building and making it greener with the use of solar panels. But we also want to make it an experience for people and a destination place with things like corn mazes, pumpkin patches and hayrides. So we’re branching out and doing some different things.”
And that’s music to the ears of Steve and Connie Doud, who said they’re excited to see where the next few years takes the orchard.
“We just want to see it [Doud Orchards] keep progressing and being successful,” Connie said, when asked about the orchard’s place in Miami County history. “We had people all the time come in and say they remember the orchard as a kid and would then tell us all about their experiences. I just think it’s something in our soul that has to do with the love of land and our experiences with it. It’s just been a part of our heritage, and we want it see it continue.”