Carl Miller Orchards ran on hard work, family & good apples

by Kate Shunney

The Miller name is tied closely to apples and the fruit industry in Paw Paw. While the business spotlight was often on brothers Henry and Porter Miller, there were smaller orchard operations in western Morgan County that ran under the Miller name and built up the town’s fruit industry.

Local residents remember Carl R. Miller Sr. as a hard-working and good-hearted orchardist. He took over his father, John Miller’s, fruit business after his passing in 1937. Carl Miller was in his 20s, and would own and operate orchards in Paw Paw until his death in 1986. After his passing, the orchard business under his name came to an end.

Miller’s daughter, Sue Breeden, has clear memories of packing apples at harvest time and for Christmas orders.

“I grew up working in the orchard and packing house,” she said. “My three girls worked right along with their grandfather.”

Miller and his wife Jessie had three children – Breeden, Carl Miller Jr. and Corrine Miller Abe.

“He was a very strong, a very hardworking man. He worked right alongside his workers,” said Breeden.

Carl Miller Sr. works in an apple tree trimming branches before spring.
photo courtesy of Sue Breeden

Carl Miller worked four or five orchards in different locations, from Spring Gap Mountain to a few leased orchards in Levels. He built and ran his own packing house in the Camp Hill area. Miller stored his own apples and rented out space to other growers in the cold storage, too. His wife, daughters and granddaughters sold apples out of the cold storage until the cold set in.

Betty Powers of Paw Paw worked in the packing shed for Carl Miller Orchards for a decade when her children were small. She remembers it as one of the best times of her life.

“They were so good-hearted. They gave out good vibes. They made you want to work for them,” said Powers.

She packed apples, peaches and plums for the family. When it came to apples, workers packed the nicest apples in trays, and later in clear 3-lb. bags. Most of the apples, Powers said, went to Pittsburgh by truck.

“When in season, it was pretty constant,” she said. Powers worked with about six other regular employees at the packing house, which stood on the left-hand side of Paw Paw Road coming into town.

Miller grew Joanthan, York, Staymen, Golden and Red Delicious, Grimes Golden and Romes, among other varieties.

The first apple of the year to ship and sell was a variety called “Transparent,” Miller’s daughter recalled.

All first grade apples – the orchard’s finest — were packed, stamped with Miller’s name and shipped.

Jessie Miller would “face” the apples – arrange a neat layer on top of a basket. Ida Miller, Carl’s mother, often did the filling of the baskets, said Breeden. Other family members worked the conveyor, sorting the fruit.

Second-grade apples – those with a mark or blemish – were juice apples. Those went to the Musselman juice factory and one near Boyce, Va., said Breeden.

“The harvest time was a busy time,” she said.

Betty Powers didn’t work among the trees, but remembers many Paw Paw school kids were hired to help out in the orchards.

They would thin the trees and apples, and pick at harvest time.

“He tried to help everybody out. He kept it local when he could,” she said.

Sue Breeden remembers her mother keeping an eye on the workers.

“In the winter time when they were out working, my mother would bake and make sure they had a morning break with apple pie and coffee,” she said.

Powers said Jessie Miller often made friends and workers a special fudge or homemade gifts at Christmas time.

Miller’s son, Carl Jr., ran the company’s delivery trucks and kept the orchard machinery working, his sister said. Miller passed away earlier this month.

“My brother did all the driving – in snow, rain, sleet, all of it,” said Breeden. In addition to Pittsburgh, Miller’s fruit went to Ohio and Richmond, Va.

Each truckload of apples was hand-packed, either by family members or Paw Paw workers.

“He gave out good apples,” said Powers. “He wasn’t in a big business like Consolidated. His reputation was his name.”

A crew of workers stands in front of a truckload of apples from the Carl Miller Orchards in Paw Paw. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Ida Miller (Carl Miller’s mother), Sallie Noland and Earl Noland. In back, from left, are Carl Ambrose, Jessie Ambrose and Jessie Miller (Carl Miller’s wife).
photo courtesy of Sue Breeden