"Pa" Saunders, the father of the original Saunders Brothers c.1917.

The original Saunders brothers c. 1957 with their wives, and child.

The original Saunders brothers c. 1957 with their wives, and child.

Mr. Saunders standing in the orchard c.1970.

Mr. Saunders standing in the orchard c.1970.

The Third Generation

The Third Generation

Our Story

In 1915 five young brothers, Will, Massie, Doc, Dick, and Sam Saunders sat around the dinner table discussing the future. They realized that by pooling their money earned from years of raising calves and selling apples, they could start a business. With faith in God and trust in each other, they began their partnership on the family farm known as Harewood.

When Tye Brook, a larger local farm became available, the brothers seized the opportunity to purchase additional land. On these two farms they produced a variety of crops including wheat, corn, tobacco, apples, and livestock. With World War I raging, U.S. farm products became more valuable as exports to war-torn Europe, and the brothers decided to expand their farm. However, after the war ended and the country slid into the Great Depression, the brothers were forced to sell some of the land.

In the mid-1930s, two of the brothers, Will and Massie, left the partnership to farm on their own. The three remaining brothers heard that peaches were bringing a hefty profit, so they sought out the highest points on the farm and planted their first peach orchards. Around 1940, electric service was added to the farm and later the first tractor was purchased. As the country entered World War II, the peach market began to soar and the farm continued to re-invest in itself. Doc eventually moved to Washington D.C. to be an appraiser, leaving Sam and Dick to operate the farm.

In the spring of 1947, Paul, the youngest of Sam’s three children, began propagating boxwood, his mother’s favorite plant. He stuck 77 cuttings in the ground under some pines on a hillside, and when 25 of them took root, Paul was thrilled. A corner of the barnyard was fenced off for Paul’s tiny 4-H project, a move that inaugurated today’s nursery.

After the death of his father in 1967, Paul began running the farm operation on his own with the help of his wife, Tatum, and their seven sons. In addition to being an orchardist and nurseryman, he was also a land surveyor, a trade he learned from his Uncle Dick. Paul surveyed full-time while overseeing the production of about ten varieties of peaches and apples, two varieties of boxwood, and several evergreen shrubs.  

Then during the night of August 19th, 1969, tragedy struck Nelson County when Hurricane Camille crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains dropping 27 inches of rain in about eight hours. The storm claimed the lives of 125 residents of Nelson County. Historic flooding and avalanches of debris throughout the area caused horrific destruction. The farm did not escape unscathed. The orchards were in the midst of harvest and suffered some damage but much of the nursery along the riverbanks was destroyed. Luckily, the part of the nursery that had been planted on higher ground survived, becoming the nucleus of today’s container nursery.

In the 1980s, four of Paul and Tatum’s sons returned to work full-time on the farm and Paul decided to quit surveying to focus solely on the farming operation. The new generation of brothers, working on the farm with their father, began growing many new varieties of apples, peaches, and plants. The nursery continued to expand and the first hoop houses were built to overwinter plants. As demands for more tree-ripened fruit increased, the Farm Market began expanding, offering fresh farm products to the local community and farm markets. As a result, the commercial peach packing line was no longer needed and closed in 1988.

Today, the orchards produce over 50 varieties of peaches, apples, and pears on land near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The nursery has continued to flourish and now grows over 1,000 different shrubs, annuals, perennials, trees, and, of course, boxwood.  

As Saunders Brothers celebrates its 100th birthday, we want to thank our many loyal employees for countless hours, days, years, and in many cases, decades, of commitment. As we prepare for our second century, Saunders Brothers will continue to stand by the founding principles established by the original brothers back in 1915: faith, trust, and, most importantly, family.

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