In the 1950’s, driving thru the Kaw River area outside of Topeka
was a trip through a world of fruit. Many from Grantville to North
Topeka grew and sold a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Our
farm is the only roadside market still standing and operating from
the generations of yesteryear.
In 1901, J. G. and Nora Rees opened their family barn to sell
the fruits they and their children produced on the family farm. The
family home was located just a mile north and approximately 1/2 mile
to the east of our current location. The fruits raised by the
family at that time were: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries,
dewberries, apples, peaches,pears and cherries. They also produced
apple cider. The family properties stretched from the current 31st
street area south to just north of our farm now.
Norris and Lucille owned and operated a grocery in North Topeka,
later purchasing the grocery in Meriden. In 1950, Norris and
Lucille purchased the current 80 acrea block of property that the
majority of our farm sits on today. They built their home on the
hill, planted apples, peaches, grapes, cherries, and strawberries on
the land to the south and east, then built a packing shed on the
southwest corner of the property. The two farms seemed to merge
becoming one to be taken care of by all who were still involved in
the family farm, now selling the produce and cider from the new
After the death of J.G. in 1952, the original family property
had been sectioned off and sold. Norris obtained a portion of the
original family orchard, as well as the original family homestead
property, which is now called the “north orchard” The old shacks can
still be seen over the hill off of K-4 Hwy just past 27th street.
The original homestead was located on the property to the east of
the north orchard, now only home to a few trees surrounding the
little hill where the cave is. This property is currently used for
Norris eventually sold his groceries and followed his fruit
farming desires, becoming very successful in fruit farming,
diversifying the crops and providing more variety to his consumers.
The current Rees farm is owned and operated by Rex and his
family (3rd generation of fruit farmers, 4th generation of family
in the Grantville area) on approximately 117 acres of land. 80
acres are in fruit and vegetable production, while the other 37
acres are used for personal home and farm use.
Of the 80 acres, 75% of that is in apple production, growing 30
varieties, harvesting summer apples as early as July and finishing
harvest in early November. Many other crops are grown and
harvested in our market from early April thru the first part of
November. For a list of these crops, see What We grow.
Today our farm operates much the way it did over 100 years ago.
During the 1950’s, the highwy department constructed 24 Highway,
taking out the strawberry fields and reforming a low area into a
creek to drain into the Kansas River for flood control. This
separated the orchard from the market area, so a bridge across
the creek was needed. Norris purchased a bridge from the highway
department, which they installed. At the time, the bridge was
about 100 years old, assuming the bridge today would be more than
150 years old. The bridge has been very sturdy allowing many
trucks, tractors and various equipment access to the orchard
through the years.
The current cider mill was believed to have been purchased in
the early 1960’s from Michigan Orchard Supply. The rack and cloth
press was the most productive in it’s day and still operates
efficiently for us now. Each bushel of apples pressed will produce
approximately 3-4 gallons of cider. The cider room was built after
the cider press was installed, therefore it leaves no room for
expansion. The 2 tanks holding cider are refrigerated stainless and
hold a total of 1,500 gallons of cider.
Upon trying to locate information about our history, an invoice
for the popcorn machine was found. It was purchased new in 1967 as
a compliment to the cider slush. The popcorn machine is still used
today and we continue to make daily the “good ol’ fashion” popcorn
with the same ingredients used then.
The trademark for Rees Fruit Farm is the famous “Sweet Apple
Cider Slush”. In the early 1960’s, Norris purchased the 2nd slush
machine manufactured from Wilch Manufacturing, located here in
Topeka. Clarence Wilch was the original inventor of the fluid ice
slush machine, although we are not sure he had his invention
patented. The first slush machine his company manufactured was sold
to Dairy Queen in North Topeka, the original Dairy Queen in Topeka.
Norris often told the story of how Mr. Wilch approached him to sell
the slush machine, and Norris’ response was “the only thing I’d know
todo is put cider in it”. They tried the cider, which needed no
extra sugars or waters added, and it made a perfect slush. Our #1
seller today is the Apple Cider Slush.
Rees Fruit Farm is the oldest commercial fruit farm in Kansas,
and the 2nd oldest business in Jefferson County. Walking through
the doors of our market will take you to a time of history unknown
today, but familiar of the stories heard from those who have shared
memories of so many years ago.
We welcome you to come and enjoy our farm and endure the
nostalgic history we treasure so much built by the never tiring
hands of our forefathers.