The year was 1809 when Chauncey Merriman purchased a small farm on the south end of Shuttle Meadow Lake in Southington. James Madison had just become the fourth President of the United States, and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were still alive. Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe were born that year, and a man named John Chapman was collecting apple seeds from cider mills, drying them, putting them up in little bags, planting seeds every place he considered to be likely spots and giving them to everyone he met as he traveled through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
Chauncey Merriman, born 1755 in Southington, purchased a farm from Ebenezer Evans on the south end of Shuttle Meadow Lake and began to farm the land that is now known as Rogers’ Orchards.
Chauncey was the great, great grandson of Nathaniel Merriman, an early settler of New Haven and founding father of Wallingford, and the grandson of Reverend John Merriman, an early settler of Southington. Merriman migrated to New England during the Puritan Great Migration (1620-1640). He was listed as a “freeman” when the town of Southington was incorporated in 1779, and he served in 1780 in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He farmed for his family’s livelihood, and planted apple trees and other crops with help from his children.
His son Anson, who has been described as both “a progressive farmer” and “a very impulsive man,” planted a thousand Baldwin trees at the time when Baldwin apples were an untried variety of fruit. Although he knew nothing of their market value, they proved to be a success, according to Atwater’s “History of Southington,” written in 1924. Anson also planted an acre of cucumbers, intending to start a pickle business. Mr. Atwater has stated, “At the end of the season he had large quantities on hand, every available place stored with them, but no market. By this venture he acquired the nickname of “Old Pickles,” a name which remained with him during the remainder of his life.”
Anson’s son Josiah, who took a course in horticulture at the New Britain State Normal School, now known as Central Connecticut State University, planted over one hundred acres of peach trees in the 1890’s.
Josiah had no sons, but his daughter Sarah married Elijah Rogers, who had purchased land adjoining the Merriman land and eventually expanded the operation, which he called “Lake View Farm,” to include “7,000 peach trees, 3,500 apple trees…thirty cows, and twelve acres of alfalfa,” according to an article published in the Hartford Courant in 1916. Atwater notes that Elijah was “one of the first who dared plant heavily of peaches in Connecticut”.
Other generations have taken their chances and hit or missed the market. In the 1950’s, Harold Rogers, Elijah’s son, tried selling apples in vending machines, calling this venture “Fruit-O-Matic,” and also tried to develop a market for apple concentrate through a product called “Apple Dapple”. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
Harold's son Frank, known as “Bud,” to friends and family, purchased orchard land in the early 1960’s in the Marion section of Southington and built one of the first “all-electric” salesrooms in Connecticut, known as Sunnymount Farm, successfully expanding the retail marketing of Rogers’ Orchards fruit to the Wolcott, Waterbury and Cheshire areas.
Through the 1980s and 90s the farm expanded yet again thanks to the foresight of John Rogers, who in 1991 expanded the salesroom to include a new bakery, making way for a the pies and donuts customers have grown to love. Serving as president of the Connecticut Pomological Society, John has demonstrated leadership and kindness, inspiring the successive generations.
Farming in Connecticut has always been a story of risky ventures and uncertain markets, which makes the celebration of Rogers’ Orchards’ bicentennial year all the more noteworthy. Each generation in the Rogers’ family has taken their chances with farming in Connecticut, where the weather can be as much of a risk as market forces. Chauncey’s purchase of the land in 1809 was the beginning of the family farm at its present location, still growing apples and peaches (but no cucumbers) under the management of Chauncey’s great, great, great, great, great grandson, Peter Rogers and his brother-in-law Greg Parzych. In 2021, Peter's brother, Jeff Rogers, returned to the farm to begin work on the family's newest venture, Long View Ciderhouse.
The Rogers and Merriman families are not the only multi-generational families to work the orchard land. Scores of Waterbury, Wolcott, Southington, Cheshire, Berlin and New Britain residents have worked in the salesrooms, packing rooms or “in the field,” grading fruit, thinning peaches, and stocking the Rogers’ Orchards two salesrooms’ shelves with their characteristic wooden baskets of fruit. Generations of families well known to local residents, including the Smedbergs, Halls, Rices, D’Agostinos, Joneses, Crockers, and Huttons, have been important contributors to the success of the farm over the years. Jamaican men, including fathers, sons and grandsons, have expertly picked the fruit for over forty years under the auspices of the H2A program initiated by the US Department of Agriculture in the early 1960’s.
Other individuals, including the current “crop” of dedicated employees, have also worked hard alongside the family. Many local residents got their first job working at Rogers’ during the summer or on weekends. The history of the farm also includes the history of immigration to this country, with each generation welcoming the hard-working Irish, Italian, Polish or Mexican workers. Our stores have benefitted from the hard work and management of countless employees from across the towns of Southington, New Britain, Wolcott, Waterbury and beyond.
Currently Rogers’ Orchards is comprised of 275 acres. Twenty varieties of apples and fifteen varieties of peaches are grown, as well as nectarines, apricots, plums, pumpkins, flowers, and herbs. Apples and peaches are sold wholesale throughout the state directly to supermarkets. All the fruits, along with Rogers’ Orchards famous apple cider donuts, pies, locally grown vegetables and other specialty food items, are also sold at the two retail salesrooms, one located at the west end of the Shuttle Meadow Reservoir and the other at the top of Southington Mountain in the Marion section of Southington. Both farms have a Pick-Your-Own option for customers on fall weekends.