Sandy River Apples
Tributes to Francis
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Barbara Winslow, a retired teacher and author, learned about how area

residents came together to help Francis pick his apples one fall, and thought it was a beautiful story.

She wrote a children’s book entitled

Fancy and Francis. The wonderful illustrations were provided by Ivan

Aguilar.  The book is available for

sale at the Mercer Town Offices.

                        Thoughts Shared From Gretchen Legler

Gretchen Legler is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maine at Farmington.  Below are excerpts from an essay that she wrote about Francis:

Word of mouth first brought me to Francis Fenton’s extraordinary apple orchard nearly a decade ago. It was there I encountered a universe of apples presided over by a spry, loquacious, old man whose entire life, give or take a few years, had been devoted to these fabulous, mythic, and entirely ordinary fruits of the earth. Since that first visit, I’ve taken groups of college students to Sandy River Apples in Mercer, Maine, every spring and every fall, sure in my conviction that Francis and his apples have something important to teach us all.


Bucking the current market system that favors only a handful of shippable varieties of apples (Macintosh, Cortland, Granny Smith, and the like), Francis continues to grow upwards of 143 different varieties, including at least one he invented himself—the Dolly Delicious, a yellow, thin-skinned apple that isn’t too tart, named after his late wife whose delicate constitution favored a sweeter, less acidic fruit.


Francis grew up in the modest white house which stands next to the white barn with its huge hand-hewn hemlock beams, which stands next to the long white apple shed with the big smiling dancing apple painted on the side.  I was born in that house. I guess I’ll die in it, he says. Up until about 1940 life was okay out here in the woods and fields, then things sort of went to pot. All the guys left. They went out West.  After World War II everyone left. I even left myself. He served in the Navy, but returned in 1972 to take over the farm, which had been vacant for 30 years. He regales guests with stories about the ship he sailed on during WWII and the battles he fought. He wears the blue and gold commemorative ship’s hat sometimes, other times it’s a sweaty, stained baseball cap. Most always he’s dressed in a plaid shirt, long sleeves buttoned around strong, boney wrists, work boots and khaki pants, all hanging off his thin frame. His eyes are deep blue and milky, his skin colored with age spots, his hands cragged, like the limbs of the trees. He shakes.  A fact a life, he’d say.  Aint’ none of us get out of this world alive.


Francis is a connoisseur of labor--someone who has paid close attention to the ways that physical effort produces things of value, and the ways that the ratio of effort to value has changed over time. It took hard work, real labor, to replant the apple orchard after the pines had moved in-- the kind of labor that is unfamiliar to many of us today—what you’d call back-breaking.


My age, see, is the machine age, but before that, back then, they made powerful men, powerful men, men who could eat a big bowl of cornmeal mush for breakfast then go out and work all day, cutting down trees, taking big chips out. I try that with an axe and it looks like a beaver had been at it…in those days they’d work at it and a big chip would fly right out. Cornmeal mush for breakfast and another bowl at dinner and they’d go to bed and get up and do it all again. My father had a either a spade handle or an ax handle in his hands all his life. Those men, those powerful men, they’d shave off the calluses with a jackknife. Those were some powerful men.



When I think of Francis I think that he truly knows the meaning of wealth--for him it is in the care of the land and the care of the apple trees.

                    Thoughts Shared By Neighbor Mike Poirier

Mike Poirier is a neighbor who has formed a close relationship with Francis.  Below are excerpts from

a conversation that he shared on the phone with Unique Maine Farms.


Francis was very close with my grandfather, Earl Wendell Davis.  Earl had built the apple shed for Francis.  When I began helping to repurpose Francis’s barn into a Quilt Retreat for his daughter, Carol, Francis said, “You know your grandfather started this project and he died on me.  You need to clear your family name and finish this barn!”


Every year I try to do something special with Francis for his birthday.  There used to be just a dirt floor in his barn. When I

began the remodeling of the barn I promised Francis that I would have the floor of the barn finished by his birthday.  I kept that promise because when Francis turned ninety-five, there was a big birthday party for him in the barn with a barn dance on the new floor.  When Francis turned ninety-six,  I came over to his house with an ATV and told Francis that he would be going for a birthday ride.  He hesitated at first, but got on the ATV, and waved an American flag as we drove through town! We went kayaking in the Mercer bog when he turned ninety-seven.  For Francis’s ninety-eighth birthday, I am going to take him to Greenville so that he can see where he used to work as a medic with the Civilian Conservation Corps.


Did you know that Francis took up the saxophone when he was eighty?  He also took guitar lessons and sometimes he

attends the jam sessions.  The latest song that he is working on is “I Remember When Gas Was Thirty Cents a Gallon

and I was Sixty Cents From Love.”  In the song there are several references to Mercer!


Once I took Francis to a hockey game at Kent Hills Academy.  He shared that it was the first hockey game that he had ever

watched.  He remembered that his high school had played Kent Hills in 1937, and we enjoyed looking at the trophy from

that game that was on display.


On more than one occasion Francis has said to me about Mercer:  “This place is dead.  What we need is a good scandal.”


by Francis Fenton and Wesley McNair


Once the sheep were in the meadow

And hay grew in the field,

And the mother pig lay down

As her piglets nursed and squealed.

Now tall trees lift their branches

On what were fields before,

And the barn the farmer built

Is not a barn anymore.


The men would join the women

To husk corn by the ear,

And when they found a red one

They would kiss their special dear.

Now we drive to the market

To purchase all our corn

Because the barn where they husked it’s

Not a barn anymore.

Two well-loved horses pulled the harrow

When the farmer shook the reins.

Now there’s nothing but a tractor

That doesn’t have a name.

And there’s no milk for the cats

That roamed the barn by the score

Because the cows are all gone.

It’s not a barn anymore.


It seems like yesterday

When I watched my gramp

Feed the cows and the horses

By a kerosene lamp.

Now that grampa’s in the grave,

They’ve hauled the stanchions out the door

To set up a sewing table.

It’s not a barn anymore. 


There will be quilting classes.

Today’s women will learn crafts

Where the men searched for the red ear

And the farm women laughed

And the sheep that were hungry

Stomped their feet on the floor.

But shed a tear for the barn

That’s not a barn anymore.