The land now known as Mills Apple Farm was first settled in 1818 as a government “patent”, (an early homestead.). At that time most of the land was covered by trees, which had to be cleared so crops would grow. One way the farmers did it was to girdle the trees with an ax and then let them die, rot and fall down. It was then an easy matter to burn them, although I suspect many trees found their way into primitive fireplaces in the tiny log homes. In the meantime, the farmers simply farmed around the rotting trees.
For the next 153 years, the farm served as a grain, produce, and dairy farm. In the 1800s, most families only stayed for two or three years. In 1893 this changed when the Weber family bought it and in 1906 built a new house over the original one room structure. (It is now enclosed by later additions.) The Webers and later daughter and son-in-law Fred and Nora Espenshiede, kept the farm for about 50 years. The Espenshiedes established a dairy starting in 1932. They eventually built the white dairy barn in 1948 where he could milk eighteen cows.
The Mills family arrived in 1971, looking for a healthy place to raise Sherry, Lowell, Keith and Larry, their four pre-teenagers. It worked well. The kids helped with every project on the farm; from building the apple shed to remodeling buildings, planting trees and managing the livestock. Through it, they learned self-confidence and skills that have served them well in their adult years.
Mills and his family planted the first commercial apple orchards in 1973. Christmas trees were added in 1981 and peaches in 1990. The farm now has 16 varieties of apples and 14 varieties of peaches as well Scotch pine Christmas trees. Blackberries came in 2007. Sweet cherries were added in 2010. They will begin bearing in 2015. Three hundred new apple and two hundred new peach trees were planted in 2013.
The main apple shed was started in 1978 by the three sons while still in high school. By 1980 it contained a market, cider room, cold storage, a fruit processing line, and later a bakery. The snack bar, walk-in freezer, porches and a new front entrance came later. The pavilion was added in 2005 and is dedicated to Jerry’s wife Shirley, who passed away in 2004.
Mills Apple Farm is operated by Jerry and Sherry with help from Bill and Katie; Lowell and Annette; Keith, Darlene and Kaylee, as well as many good friends. Lindsey Turley is the head baker.
Our farm is conveniently located in Illinois, an easy twenty-seven mile drive northeast of St. Louis, MO., just five miles off I-70. It is marked on Google Maps.
We open in June with peaches and follow with picked and pick-your-own apples, peaches and blackberries and end in December with Christmas trees.
Our apple and peach orchards are designed to provide a continuous supply of fresh tree-ripened fruit starting in late June with peaches and ending in November with apples. Some of it goes into delicious, wholesome cider or award winning pies. In hot weather, we offer icy cold lemonade or cider slush
Our bakers make many different kinds of pies and cookies. Everything is made on the farm from scratch. The pies consistently win awards, including, in 2010,“The best pie in St. Louis” sponsored by the St. Louis Riverfront Times newspaper. The baking season coincides with the fruit season, but special orders can always be obtained regardless of season by calling the bakery.
There is also a snack bar, party pavilion, maze, picnic and play area clustered around the apple shed, plus a wedding meadow in the woods. Kids enjoy the wire maze, swings and animals. On weekends, the grounds bustle with activity. There is often music, contests, wagon rides, and various special activities scheduled throughout the summer and fall. See our calendar of events.
Our farm theme emphasizes some of the things that you might have found many years ago on Grandpa’s farm. Fruit is the main attraction but there are also chickens and bunny rabbits plus goats, sheep, Porkchop the pig, and our faithful donkey, Beau. Old time farm machinery scattered about adds to the atmosphere.
In the fall our educational school tours teach children (and parents) something about fruit culture and cider making. Reservations are necessary.
Hayrides provide a safe and inexpensive evening of fun for groups of all ages. They are a perfect way to spend a crisp fall evening with friends and family. Please call for reservations.
The farm’s facilities are also available for birthday parties, corporate functions, family reunions, weddings and receptions. It is never too early to book a wedding or party.