Sandy River Apples
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Name:            Sandy River Apples


                       Carol Fenton Gilbert

                       Sandy River Apples

                       240 W Sandy River Road

                       Mercer, Maine  04957

Phone:            207-587-2563



Open Times:

August-October 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day

Products and Services:

-143 varieties of apples

-large selection of heirloom apples

-pick-your-own apples

-fresh cider

-farm store

-picnic area

-Quilt Retreats

What Makes Sandy River Apples Unique?

Francis Fenton was a one-of-a-kind individual.

Sadly, he passed away on May 15, 2015.  This profile of Francis and his farm has been updated

since his passing. His daughter, Carol Fenton Gilbert, shared in a November 25, 2016, email that, “ We miss him terribly. He was the heart and soul of the orchard. My family and I hope to continue harvesting the apples as long as possible.”

When Unique Maine Farms visited Francis a few years ago, his level of energy, sharp wit, and strong work ethic made it difficult to believe that he would be turning ninety-eight in July of 2013. To label him as “inspirational” at the time didn’t even seem to do justice to who he was and all that he had accomplished.

Francis was a man of many talents.  After graduating from Coburn Academy in Waterville, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was assigned to the position of a medic in the Greenwood area.  He shared how he saved the life of a fellow CCC member by administering a newly-discovered pneumonia serum that was rushed to the train station from Bangor.

In addition to caring for people and always stepping forward to helping others, Francis can be credited with saving Sandy River Apples. The Fenton family’s attachment to the Sandy River Apple Orchard goes way back in time to 1852, when Frank L. Fenton and his wife, Angelia, bought the farm from the first occupants.  Frank’s son and Francis’ father, William Fenton, bought an adjacent farm and further developed the farming operation.  The farm was vacant for thirty years until Francis retired from the Navy and headed back home in 1972.

With great resolve, Francis was determined to

reclaim and revitalize the orchards that were overgrown with pine trees.  Through the efforts of Francis and Dollie Lea, his late wife of many years, Sandy River Apple Orchard was brought back into full production.  Francis amazingly  managed the orchard at ninety-seven years of age.  Sadly, Dollie passed away in 1992. Their daughter, Carol, proved instrumental in helping Francis out each fall.

Sandy River Apples is a story that has a powerful connection to the concept of “community.”  A special webpage entitled “Tributes to Francis” was included in this profile because Francis Fenton was a beloved member of the Mercer community.  He was a Trustee of the Shaw Library and a member of the Mercer Historical Society and an integral participant in the Mercer United Methodist Church.

Kathleen Dunford, the former pastor of the Mercer United Methodist Church, shared a funny anecdote about Francis.  She explained that she was extremely nervous when delivering her very first sermon in 2000.  After she spoke, Francis approached her and asked, “Do you want to know how to make God laugh?”  She replied, “Yes, Francis.”  His response was, “Just tell Him your plans!”

A keen sense of humor certainly characterized

Francis, as well as an ability to share his political opinions about a whole spectrum of issues.  The questioning of governmental regulations, when it came to state inspections and agricultural legislation, was frequently mentioned when conversing with Francis.  He wanted to see some of the regulations changed. There is a photo of Francis and Dollie Lea from many years ago depicting them at a state ceremony in Augusta when the law was changed under Governor Brennan’s administration for mandatory vehicle inspections from every six months to once a year.

Despite Francis’s frustrations with some of the agricultural regulations in Maine, he always had a passionate interest in apples and apple farming. He has grown 143 varieties and has been recognized for his large collection of heirloom apples including such varieties as Snow, Wealthy, Tolman Sweet, Winter Banana, Wagener, Jonathan, Golden Russet, Blue Pearman, Baldwin, and Ben Davis.  Sandy River Apples’ signature apple is Dollie Delicious which was named after the late wife of Francis.

Apples were such a big part of Francis’s life.  At ninety-seven, he drove his pickup truck on occasion.  The license plate appropriately

read, “APPLE 1.”  Wealthy apples were his

favorite variety. Each fall he made a large supply of homemade applesauce from his Wealthy apples. He froze it so he could enjoy his daily portion of hot applesauce and ice cream.

There are several varieties of apples that visitors to the orchard can pick.  From mid-August to early September, there are Vista Bellas, Lodi, and Strawberry apples.  From September to mid-October, the pick-your-own selection includes Wealthy, Macouns, Empires, Paula Reds, Cox Orange Pippins, Golden Russets, Twenty Ounce, Red Delicious, Blue Pear Main, McIntosh, Pewauky, Spencer, and Black Oxford.  Later in the fall, from October to November, Baldwin, Rome, Ben Davis, Yellow Delicious, and Harelson are ready for the picking.  Bags, picker tools, and a wagon are provided.

The more you were able to know Francis, the more you learned about his many other interests besides just apples. He enjoyed writing and reading poetry.  On occasion he read his poems at church or at community events.  You can catch a video of Francis singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky” that was posted by Corina Gilbert on YouTube:   Several years ago, when Francis was in his eighties, he decided to learn to play the saxophone.  He also took guitar lessons. There is a certificate for his musical achievement on the wall of the first room when you enter in his home.

Several other certificates and awards adorn the

same wall.  He was recognized for his efforts in starting a Volunteer Fire Department in Mercer in the  Readers’s Digest, as well as helping out the Somerset County Cooperative Extension. A certificate for his volunteer efforts with the Mercer Elementary School is posted on the wall.  Francis was very proud of his twenty years of service in the Navy on the U.S.S. San Diego and there are several mementos from the time when he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy. He explained that his ship, the U.S.S. San Diego, was the first major Allied warship to enter Tokyo Bay after the surrender of Japan in World War II.  Francis also served in the Korean War.  After twenty years in the Navy,  Francis and Dollie Lea headed home to Mercer where they experienced a totally different kind of combat - the eradication of pine trees and scrub growth that had overtaken the orchard.

Francis was very upfront about his orchard.  He shared information about all the challenges including the threat of black rot, disease, and insects.  He sprayed once a week to prevent scab and the damage that can result from the saw fly. Pruning seemed to be a never-ending chore.  The grass around the trees needed to be maintained. He was skilled at grafting scions.  He enjoyed keeping busy, but admitted that despite all of his hard work and efforts, he lost about $1600-$1800 each year due to the cost of fertilizer and pesticides.

Francis’s daughter, Carol Fenton Gilbert, came up with a plan that she hoped would bring some additional income to the farm. She is a highly accomplished quilter.  Several years ago she began planning the transformation of the barn into a facility for Quilt Retreats.  Mike Poirier was instrumental in helping in the renovation of the barn and the end result is truly magnificent.  It is a unique showpiece with the beautiful wood, antique stove, display quilts, large work sections, and comfortable common areas.  During the late summer and fall, quilters flock to the barn for retreats.  There are accommodations for up to eight people with meals included.

When gathering all the apples from the orchard

proved too overwhelming one year, a group of

friends and area residents decided to help Francis.  They stayed for lunch and began a tradition that has been repeated each year.  Barbara Winslow, a retired teacher and author,

was so touched to hear about this that she decided to write a children’s book entitled Fancy and Francis.  It is a wonderful story about Francis, his dog of sixteen years, and the Mercer community. The beautiful illustrations in the book were created by Ivan Aguilar. It is available for sale at the Mercer Town Offices.

Barbara Winslow is not the only individual interested in writing about Francis.  When the

Mercer community became aware of a “Tribute

Page to Francis Fenton” in the section on Sandy River Apples in the Unique Maine Farms’ website, several individuals stepped forward to contribute their thoughts.

Carol Legler, a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Maine at Farmington, shared a wonderful essay about making apple cider from Francis’s apples.  She explained how she brought students from her writing classes each spring and fall to visit Francis.  Some of her comments can be found on the Tribute webpage.

Wesley McNair, the Poet Laureate of Maine, volunteered to share the poem “It’s No Longer a Barn” that he read at the Barn Dedication that took place at Sandy River Apples in 2011. 

Francis and Wesley worked together on the poem.  According to Wesley, most of the imagery and the events for the poem were supplied by Francis.  He also insisted on the refrain that became the title.  It is a poem that incorporates beautiful memories of earlier times in the barn. It highlights some of the changes that have transpired due to the passage of time and the renovations that have altered the function of the structure. Thanks to the kindness of Wesley McNair, it has been posted for all to read and enjoy on the “Tributes to Francis” webpage.

Mike Poirier was instrumental in the renovation of the barn.  He and Francis  formed a beautiful friendship and his comments on Francis, that are included on the Tribute webpage, along with the thoughts of several other individuals, provide additional insight into what made Francis so special.  Anyone who wishes to contribute additional comments or anecdotes to be included in this profile is encouraged to contact Unique Maine Farms at  Be sure to  check back as updates will be added to this profile. 

In The

The late Francis Fenton of Sandy River Apples

Francis Fenton and his daughter Carol Fenton


Carol Fenton Gilbert and one of her stunning quilts

The Quilted Apple Retreat is located at Sandy River Apples

Francis is shown enjoying the Wealthy applesauce he made for his daily lunch with ice cream.

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.

Inside the beautiful re-purposed barn

where Quilt Retreats take place.

Francis Fenton sings “Ghost Riders in the Sky” at the Mercer Community Center.  He is accompanied on the guitar by Mike Poirier, his good friend.  Photo courtesy of Corina Gilbert’s video on YouTube:


Quilt Retreat - photo courtesy of Sandy River’s  Quilted Apple Retreat webpage.