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Family tree is apple variety


Bristol family's deep roots grow stronger at Brookwood Farm


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Charles and William Bristol surrounded by photos and all things apple at their historic Brookwood Farm in Almont. photo by Catherine Brakefield.

November 28, 2007
The Bristol name has been affiliated with Almont since 1828 when William Bristol's great-grandmother recorded in her diary the details of her husband's first venture into the primitive wilderness of Almont.

Because Lapeer County had no waterways for settlers to utilize as a mode of travel, the only way to reach Almont was through dense forests and swamp lands.

The Bristol family didn't arrive until 1836. Since then, five generations of Bristols have entered Michigan State University and returned to manage Brookwood Fruit Farm, the family business located on 7845 E. Bordman Rd. (two miles south of Almont on M53).

William's Scotch English linage can be traced to Plymouth Rock with ancestors John and Persilla Alden who came over on the Mayflower as youngsters with their parents and later married. This lineage continues through Bristol's great grandmother who was an Ingles.

David Ingles, born in 1796, homesteaded in New York. The family later moved to Michigan where Ingles received a land grant from the United States government in 1829 that included property on both sides of Van Dyke, Bordman and Hough Road. Ingles original deed was signed by Andrew Jackson who was the Register of Deeds at that time. Little did Bristol's great-grandfather know that he had in his hand a deed signed by the future president of the United States.

William's great-grandmother was just a young girl when she and her husband homesteaded in the uncharted regions of Lapeer County. Her carefully written memoirs tell about the migration and explain that they used oxen instead of horses to pull their wagon.

She wrote that Woodward Avenue was just mud and water and sometimes the water would come clear up to the springs of their wagon. It took them three weeks by oxen to reach Almont. Their youngest child, just a baby, died along the way.

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Freshly picked apples glow like jewels at Brookwood Farm. photo by Catherine Brakefield.
William Howard Bristol, William's grandfather, graduated in 1880 from Michigan State University and then went to the University of Michigan to become a teacher and later a lawyer.

"He ended up back on the family farm," explains William, "doing what he loved."

Almont came to know Willitto Bristol, William's father, as WK.

"Because no one could say or spell Willitto correctly," Bristol says with a chuckle.

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WK followed in his father's footsteps and went to Michigan State as did his high school sweetheart, Annie Thomson, whom he later married.

"She worked right along with my father on the family farm," William says. "They were a good pair."

It wasn't long that is was William's turn to follow in the family's footsteps.

"I took horticulture at Michigan State," says William. "My wife also went to Michigan State as did my sister and brother."

Though William's father was the oldest of six siblings, Willitto and his wife had just three children.

"I had one of each," William says, referring to his brother and sister. "That's all."

William would have welcomed more siblings to help with the endless farm chores. Though Brookwood has relied on apples for their main produce, William remembers when they raised Black Angus cattle and purebred Belgium horses.

"So I know how to harness up and plow with horses," William says with a smile.

Not everything on the farm was about work. Bristol recalls a time when he was 12 and the Detroit Tigers won the pennant.

"Dad had a 1929 International truck back then," says William, "and my father gave every player a bushel of apples."

The moment was captured on film. The picture proudly displayed on the wall of William's study is of the two big ball players in 1938—Rudy York and "Schoolboy" Rowe, holding a bushel of apples as a grinning Willitto looks on.

William points to another photo of his mother with migrant workers sorting apples on a conveyor belt and says they were putting up 50,000 bushels of apples a year in the 1930s.

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Workers sort apples in preparation for the market at Brookwood Farm. The Bristol family continues to operate the orchard in Almont.

Detroit's Eastern Market became a weekend necessity for Bristol, as father and son worked together to sell the family's produce.

"When Charles decided to take up the family business, he made it clear the he'd go anywhere but the farmer's market in Detroit," William says. "So now the apples go to Pontiac, Lapeer and Marlette Thursday, Friday and Saturday."

Charles joined the family business without any hesitation, experience being the best teacher on where to bring up a family. He and his wife had five boys and are happy grandparents to little girl.

"It's a good place to raise kids, that's what my son says," replies William with a smile and shrug of his shoulders. "Where else can you raise good healthy kids."

William's and Charles' office is located off the main sales room. It has become a wealth of historical artifacts for both the Bristol family, Michigan State and The University of Michigan colleges.

The primitive tools of the late 1800s rest around the walls and arrowheads found on a farm west of Dryden, about 10 miles from Brookwood, are set in a glass enclosed case.

"The University of Michigan has been doing some digging within a quarter of a mile from my place," William says. "For about 20 years. From time to time they stop in."

Along with Native American arrowheads and ancestral pictures hanging on the walls, the progressive search of the tried and proven recipe for success of Brookwood is seen in the photos of assembly lines and produce.

Their cider is sweeter than "normal" cider. William explains that it's because of the apples they use.

"We have at least three to six varieties in it," William says. "It makes a better blend."

The Bristols also have their own technique for making an apple pie. First of all it has to begin with good apples.

"For a pie, get at least two varieties of apples," William says. "I like to use sweet apples and sour apples."

Just to name a few; sweet apples are McIntosh and some Red Delicious. Tart apples include Ida Red, Spy and Jonathan.

"But everyone's got a different taste for different things," explains William.

Through the generations, Brookwood has cultivated 43 different varieties of apples. For the "Pick your Own" customer, they grow dwarf trees for easier picking. Brookwood has branched off into raising pears, peaches, raspberries and cherries as well.

This year's favorable weather has helped Brookwood Farms stay on schedule. The last of the Fujis and Granny Smiths were picked October 19.

"We didn't have a heavy frost, freeze or rain to get behind," William notes. "We had a nice season for picking apples."

William explains that because the costs of fuel oil and labor have gone up, they have to be careful in order to maintain their operation. But William and Charles are content with their life choices.

"We've done a pretty good job," says William.

"There's a lot of ups and downs to any business, but we're still here, that's the main thing."

For more information see www.brookwoodfruitfarm.com or phone 810 798-8312. Brookwood is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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