"Sold" signs among the Spring blossoms along Route 73 show the progression of Evesham Township from rural to suburban.
Latest in a number of farms sold to developers is the almost 300 acre Roberts fruit farm, which sprawls along both sides of Route 73 for almost a mile between the Mt. Laurel line and the Marlton Circle. In its 45 years of ownership by the Robert's family the farm changed from raising beets, carrots, green beans, corn and spinach to the yearly production of 40-50 thousand bushels of apples, 15-20 thousand bushels of peaches, 2,000 bushels of nectarines and 1,000 bushels of pears.
This bonanza of fruit will not disappear from the market immediately, as the farm has been leased by Tak Moriuchi of Moorestown who will care for the trees and harvest the fruit until development of the property begins.
Lincoln Property Company of King of Prussia, buyers of the land at $5.5 million, have ready a plan for a proposed PUD (Planned Unit Development) to submit to the Evesham Planning Board at the June (1974) demise of the present moratorium on major sub-divisions. Planners have been familiarized with the proposal in an informal discussion.
So in a few years, the farm may be producing "bushels of people" - but plenty of ratables.
There is good news as well as bad in the orchard's passing also from the viewpoint of open space advocates. Company spokesman Jay Cranmer said that "more than the 29.6 acres listed on the Green acres tracts" will be given to the township as indicated on preliminary plans, a parcel appraised at over half a million dollars. In addition there will be a large school site and other open areas throughout the PUD. Lincoln has also purchased 100 acres from the Carrie Stow Farm which are contiguous to the Roberts Farm property.
A brief look at the history of the Roberts farm shows that it grew to its present size over three generations of Roberts. Before 1912, Horace Roberts bought a number of small farms which his son Byron helped him maintain after graduating from Swarthmore in 1912. The Roberts first added the Garwood Farm to their holdings, then the Lippincott Farm in the early thirties and the Powell Farm during the Second World war years.
Byron's two brothers, Emmor and Preston, owned nearby farms in the Mt. Laurel area. Byron took his wife Lydia, now living in Moorestown, to live on the farm about 1920. At night not a light was visible as far as they could see.
One of Byron's two sons, Malcolm, and his wife Margaret, later occupied the Lippincott farmhouse on Cropwell Road until recently after the sale when they relocated to Lost Lake.
Margaret Roberts was not sure of the age of (the) Lippincott place, but said it had blue buttermilk paint under the wallpaper in some of the rooms indicating its age.
(Jay Cranmer of Lincoln Properties said that to his knowledge none of the houses on the property, which include several homes occupied by tenants, "have any historic significance and all are in very bad condition". The Green Tree Road house which the Byron Roberts occupied is in the best condition, he said, and representatives of the company are checking its historic value.
Farming was not for Malcolm at first. After earning a chemical engineering degree at Princeton, "Mac" worked for Rohm and Haas until 1952. His wife Margaret pointed out that when he went to farming with his father from '52 to the present, the change was not really a drastic one, as "There is a lot of chemestry in farming, and a lot of engineering, too".
Mac's brother Kirk farmed for five years before changing his field. Today he is a professor at Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT.
As in every family, little stories are rememberd. When a boy, Malcolm took a bushel of spinach to a birthday party, quite different from the presents of today.
During the Second World War, radishes were a large crop on the farm, and high school students were hired from Moorestown to bundle them. Payment was by the bundle, and counted by how many strings were allotted to each worker, until it was discovered that many strings went off in pockets.
At the end of the war, Margaret Roberts remembers riding a bicycle down Route 73 without sighting a single car.
The packing house was built about this time as fruit became a large crop. Along about 1954 Hurricane Hazel hit the farm. Mac came to the farmhouse to tell his wife "the packing house is going". Hazel picked up the roof of the large building and dumped it in the parking lot flattening a car.
After many springs in the midst of peach blossoms, Margaret Roberts will miss living in an orchard.
However, as Marlton began to grow, "it became impossible to farm on the edge of a development", she said.
Devotees of the old fashioned Christmas will also miss the "cut your own tree" service furnished by the farm for the last ten years. The stand of evergreens, many now mature, will be used by the developer in landscaping.