George Lohr walks the rows of apple trees, checking the fruit that will make the last harvest at his family's Joppatowne orchard. Come next fall, you will not find him conducting this ritual here.
After 60 years of growing apples, peaches, plums, pears and pumpkins, Lohr's Orchard -- considered by some longtime residents to be a veritable county institution -- will close at year's end.
Instead of trees blossoming in the spring, work will begin on roads and sewer and water lines to serve a new community of 378 houses and town houses to be built on the 85-acre orchard farm.
The orchard is one of the last large tracts of open space in the Joppatowne area.
"It's been one more big development after another," the 49-year-old Lohr said. "It's finally come to the end of the line. . . . We knew the way things were building up around here that we had to move."
When the Joppatowne orchard closes on Christmas Eve, Lohr and hisbrother, Andrew Lohr, will consolidate operations at their 100-acre orchard in Churchville.
The Lohrs aren't planning on any fancy going-out-of-business celebration, just a quiet send-off.
"It's not going to be no big deal," George Lohr said. "Just close up."
Lohr said he and his brother intended to keep the Joppatowne orchard for several more years, but the decision to sell the farm was prompted by the accidental death in 1988 of their father, Andrew Lohr Sr. He ownedthe orchard, although his sons had operated the business since the early 1980s.
Faced with dwindling profits and a payment of about $300,000 in inheritance tax, the brothers decided to sell the orchard to avoid going into debt.
Lohr said he and his brother expect to settle the sale of the orchard with Harford developer Michael Palmisanoby January. Lohr declined to reveal the exact purchase price, sayingit is "in excess of $2 million."
"All my friends say they don't blame me," he said.
"It's still hard to give it up. You know the trees, it's like they're a part of you. You work with them so long."
Once the orchard closes, George Lohr and his wife, Carol, will live on a 2-acre tract the family will keep at the Joppatowne farm.
Carol Lohr said "We've lived here for so long. It's probably harder for George. He's lived here all his life. . . . Very sad. . . . But wonderful memories."
The Joppatowne orchard opened in 1928, a time whenopen land and other farms dominated the landscape for miles. All theroads were dirt.
When Joppatowne was developed with homes in the 1960s, the orchard blended in as part of the community.
The Lohrs often gave apples to neighborhood children who visited and they stillprovide free wagon rides through the farm on October weekends. Nearly every weekday, Carol Lohr gives orchard tours to preschool and kindergarten children.
Overlooking the Gunpowder River, the orchard has about 3,000 peach trees and 1,500 apple trees. The Lohrs produce 75,000 to 100,000 gallons of cider a year.
The fruit and cider, considered among the best produced locally, are sold at the orchard market, and roadside stands and other family-owned markets throughout the county.
Every day -- dawn to dusk, spring through fall -- Lohr tends to the orchard, overseeing a half-dozen workers who care for the trees and operate the cider press. His wife operates the market and organizes the tours.
The toughest duty, say the Lohrs, will be to say goodbye to longtime customers when the family closes the orchard.
"I've known some of these people all my life," George Lohr said.
"They've been more than just customers. They're more like family."
Rella Sibley is one of those customers.
For years, the Edgewood woman has driven down a narrow, potholed road that leads to the orchard's market to buy peaches and plums in the summer. On autumn weekends, she buys apples and cider, often with her four grandchildren in tow for a wagon ride.
Sibley said a bright thread in the community will be lost when the orchard closes.
"Everybody enjoys the orchard," she said as she carried a half-bushel of red Delicious apples to her car.
"We'll miss it."