Family Legacy Lives on at Oren Wooden’s Apple House in Pikeville

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Oren Wooden's Apple House

Mark Burnett, Sandy Burnett, Grandma, Carole Smith & Labron Smith; photo by David Duplessis

When the Wooden family of Bledsoe County planted their first apple trees around 1948, they had no idea that the orchard would be a local mainstay 70 years later, with customers from all over the country.

The Story Behind Wooden’s Apple House

The seeds of Oren Wooden’s Apple House in Pikeville germinated decades earlier in Florida. That’s where Bledsoe County native Henry Wooden went looking for seasonal work in the 1920s, when winter jobs were scarce at home. He ended up in the town of Safety Harbor, on Tampa Bay, picking oranges for a college-educated woman, Orene Booth, whose parents had both died and left the orchard to her.

Orene was in the orange business, yet she became the apple of Henry’s eye. They married in 1927, and their son Oren was born in 1932.

Ten years later, Henry moved the family back to Bledsoe County. They truck-farmed vegetables for a while before purchasing tracts of timber and opening a lumber business. Through this venture, the Woodens returned to the idea of running an orchard and established an apple grove.

Oren Wooden's Apple House

Photo by David Duplessis

At first, the family sold apples from their front porch, but gradually Henry and Oren grew the small business into a company. In 1960, they opened their first apple-packing house. Four years later, Oren married Nonivee Dotson. When his father died in 1972, two years after his mother’s death, Oren took over the business.

Labron “Chubby” Smith joined the company in 1981 as the husband of Oren’s daughter Carole. Oren gained another partner when Mark Burnett married Sandy, Oren’s other daughter, in 1995. Today, Wooden’s employs about 60 workers during the harvest and retail season.

See more: Fall Recipes Featuring Apples, Pumpkins and More

Oren Wooden's Apple House

Orchards at Wooden’s Apple House; photo by David Duplessis

An Array of Apples

About 125 acres of apples are grown on the property, along with roughly 25 acres of peaches. “The most we’ve picked in a season is 55,000 bushels of apples and between 8,000 and 10,000 baskets of peaches,” Smith says.

Over the years the company has responded to customers’ evolving tastes.

“A Red Delicious apple is a thing of the past,” Smith says. “As we take out those older trees, we don’t replace them.”

Instead, Wooden’s has added varieties that are more popular with younger customers, including Honeycrisp, Mutsu (or Crispin), Jonagold, GoldRush and Ambrosia. However, older customers still request tried-and-true varieties like Winesap, Arkansas Black and Golden Delicious.

Apples brought in from the orchard are inspected before washing; photo by David Duplessis

Smith recommends different apples for different purposes.

“For just eating, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia have a good taste,” he says. “For cooking, people usually look for a Winesap, because it has more of a tart taste. Granny Smith is the most tart apple and is very good for cooking, but a lot of the young kids like that sourness and want a Granny Smith just to eat.” The best all-purpose apples for cooking and eating, according to Smith, are Golden Delicious and Mutsu.

Guests may watch fruit being loaded onto trucks for resale at the company’s wholesale packing house and then purchase fruit themselves (by singles, half peck, peck or bushel) at the nearby market and gift shop. The market sells fresh produce, canned vegetables, pickles, jams, jellies, butters, preserves and local crafts like candles, walking canes and furniture.

See more: Farm Facts: Apples

Oren Wooden's Apple House

Photo by David Duplessis

Beyond Apple Picking

Wooden’s has fully embraced agritourism and increasingly focuses on retail, giving people reasons to visit multiple times during the season.

The Pie Shop, opened in 1995, produces more apple pies than anything, with apple dumplings a close second.

“We started the Pie Shop mainly to draw people in,” Smith says. “We didn’t have much equipment and thought we might sell 5,000 fried pies in a season. We sold 30,000 pies that first year.”

The shop has expanded since then, selling apple cakes, fritters, cider donuts, Carrigan Rolls (a cinnamon bun served with baked apples and sweet cream cheese topping), pumpkin pies, Orange Crush cake and assorted cookies.

Oren’s Orchard Café is the company’s most recent addition and one of its biggest draws. Its menu features meat-and-three entrees with a list of country-style sides to choose from, plus soups and salads. Smith credits the restaurant with increasing the number of repeat customers.

“It brings people back throughout the season,” he says.

Oren’s Orchard Café; photo by David Duplessis

Smith believes that out-of-state visitors outnumber those from Tennessee.

“During our peak season, it’s amazing the license plates you’ll see from states all over the country,” he says. And for many of those guests, a trip to Wooden’s is a longtime tradition. “We have people who are now middle-aged and older who came here when they were children. And they bring their children back.”

Family is the main reason this multigenerational business has prospered for 70 years. Although Oren Wooden died in 2013, Nonivee still has a hand in the company, along with their children and grandchildren. “It’s a family operation and we couldn’t do it without every one of us,” Smith says. “That’s the only thing that keeps it going.”

Grandma & Carole Smith decorate in the kitchen; photo by David Duplessis

If You Go...

Oren Wooden’s Apple House

Location: 6351 New Harmony Rd. in Pikeville

Hours: Store & Pie Shop: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m. Café: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 6 p.m. Season ends the day before Thanksgiving.

Phone: (423) 447-6376

Website: woodensapplehouse.com

While You’re There: Wooden’s is located between two popular tourist destinations. Roughly 20 miles to the northwest, Fall Creek Falls State Park offers rock climbing, golf, a ropes course, swimming, boating, biking, hiking, fishing, bird watching, interpretive programs, as well as camping and lodging. And 12 miles in the opposite direction is the historic town of Dayton, site of the Scopes Trial and now home to seasonal events, including PumpkinFest (October), the Tennessee Strawberry Festival (May) and, naturally, the Scopes Festival (July).

6 Comments

  1. Dorothy Sluter

    August 19, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    Love this place. a tradition for us. Have to get minerals for Apple marmalade

  2. Alfreeda Edgemon

    August 19, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    When will Rome beauty apples be ready?

  3. Gwen Woodall

    August 20, 2019 at 6:39 am

    A much deserved recognition. Great people and a great place to visit.

  4. Tami

    August 24, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Wow! Carol you are still as beautiful as ever!

  5. John Carroll

    September 30, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    What apples are now being picked?

  6. Arlene Smith

    October 4, 2019 at 7:28 am

    Do you have cabbage

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