“Let’s get this morning started right,” Baxter Adams says as he picks an enormous red apple from one of the hundreds of trees in his orchard. “It’s the perfect color”, he adds as he cuts off slices for his wife of 58 years, Carol. Together, they have fast become some of the most well-known apple orchard owners in one of the more unlikely locations – right here in the Hill Country. Love Creek Orchards has been in operation now for over 15 years, and under the watchful eye of Carol and Baxter, has grown to become one of the most well-known apple orchards in the state of Texas. From the front porch of their orchards, Carol and Baxter review their career, their inspirations, and the history of a business that came about by slowly, grew to a phenomenon, and ultimately led them to Comanche Trace.
While attending Baylor, Baxter looked to begin a medical career so he began his studies in Pre-Med. “I started as Pre-Med – but it was ‘46, and all the GIs were coming back from the war, and there was no hope in the world for Pre-Med. So I switched to geology, transferred to UT, and got a couple of degrees there” he says. “I got a BS and a MS in Geology with a minor in Engineering. I wanted to be a petroleum geologist, and that’s what I did for 30 years in Houston.”
Having raised their children and built a highly successful career in oil and gas, Baxter had enough knowledge to be able to see what was about to occur in the industry. “Our kids grew up in Houston, and I had the great good fortune to accurately foresee the collapse of the industry in the early ‘80s. We got the hell out of there, bought a ranch in Bandera, and watched the industry fall apart a year later. Everybody thought I was a genius!” he laughs.
While they avoided the oil industry crash, the Adams didn’t truly intend to be idle and retire. Baxter explains, “I never really intended to retire when we left Houston. We were just getting out of the way of the crash in our industry. I had been through a crash of ‘58 and ’68 and I didn’t want to do that again. We came out here just to wait it out. By the time the oil business got good again, we didn’t want to leave.”
With time on their hands, Carol and Baxter began to look at ways to utilize the ranch they had purchased during their move from Houston. “We put in the orchards while on the ranch. When we came here, we bought the ranch, and it had been grazed to the rocks. I had already owned a cattle ranch, and I didn’t need anymore lessons in livestock, so we wanted something else to do with the land. So we experimented with the apple orchards and even planted some grapes. Within a couple years we chose apples, put in a more serious orchard, and thery’re all still there.”
As the Adams’ knowledge of the apple business grew, so did their desire to form it into a business. So 15 years ago, they bought what would become Love Creek Orchards. “Love Creek was just an old beat up place, and I bought it in several pieces. We started putting in these orchards and we have continued to upgrade and change. The orchards out there are so enjoyable for everyone because they are pick your own, and people bring their kids, and it’s just an old fashioned experience.” Carol adds, “Baxter is a creator – he loves the creative part and loves the challenge of the new, untread path and that’s exactly what Love Creek has provided for him.”
And, as there orchard business increased, so did their production. Carol laughs, “When Baxter first started bringing apples home, they were all over the place in my living room. So we bought a little old house to sell the apples. People started coming in to buy the apples, and so I figured we needed to have other things, and we had local craftsmen bring in local wares that I would sell on consignment. Then we started making pies and we sold them as fast as we could make them. From there, it grew into a bakery and a gift shop and ultimately a patio café. It was where I spent all my time for almost 20 years. Cider Mill and Country Store we called it, but then it was just the Apple Store. It was so much fun to see how people would walk in, smell the apple pies cooking, and just shop at their leisure. I really loved running the Apple Store, and was happy that we eventurally sold it to a young couple, and they have carried it on.”
And as the townspeople grew to love Baxter’s apples, it was decided that there needed to be a festival to celebrate them. Baxter explains, “The first year we started that store, we had an Apple Festival. It ran for 18 years. It was just an old fashioned festival, and it became a really amazing event. We provided a wonderful event where people from both the Hill Country as well as the city could come out , let their kids run and play, and just not have a care in the world. And that’s really the type of environment we have tried to create. One where people can be reminded of some of the simpler things in life and not have a care in the world. And while it was great, it eventually got a little bigger than people intended. It got so big that the town got burned out on it. The highways would get so jammed that people would just turn around and go home. So as the Apple Festival began to fade out, we opened a pumpkin patch on the property, and attraced over 18,000 people a year.”
With a thriving business and large ranch that required attention, the Adams began to look at simplifying. Having sold the Apple Store, Baxter knew that he couldn’t keep up with both their ranch as well as Love Creek Orchards. Baxter explains, “We lived on that ranch 20 years. We saw that the ranch was getting bigger and we were getting older. It was just too much for us to keep it up. So I had the choice of watching the ranch fall apart, or selling it.”
And with that, the Adams looked to Comanche Trace. Baxter explains, “As we sold the ranch, we needed to make other arrangements. We hadn’t really thought about it much, but one of the first things we did was to go look at Comanche. They had the townhouses coming up, and there wasn’t much else available at that time. I didn’t want to do anymore maintenance, so it just fit us perfectly. We just wanted to be comfortable, and we liked it then, and we love it now.” Carol adds, “When we first got there, there was a lot of country there. We moved here in 2002 and there just wasn’t a whole lot developed yet. And I’ve so enjoyed watching how they’ve put in the walking trails, and the nature aspects of it. It’s just such a beautiful place. I’m a nature girl at heart, and I love to watch the nature and the plants, and I’ve just enjoyed every minute of living here at Comanche Trace. And of course, the wonderful people in the hill country is just great.”
As for how a Petroleum Geologist learns the apple orchard business, Baxter explains, “There’s no comparison, except for the management of risk. As a petroleum geologist it’s kind of like detective work. It’s taking bits of information and trying to make sense of it. There’s a lot to learn running an orchard, and we have to figure it out slowly and use our knowledge and lessons and apply that. I suppose that petroleum geology is good training for running an orchard!” Baxter laughs.
Running a business that everyone said was doomed to fail has become a source of inspiration for the Adams. While challenges were frequent and incessant as they learned an industry they knew nothing about, the Adams have been able to plant a dream, fertilize it, and harvest something is inspirational and rooted in their own dreams. Baxter says, “I’ve so enjoyed the whole apple thing. They’re very responsive plants, and we’ve had the added challenge that people told us it couldn’t be done. They assured us that it was impossible to grow apples in our environment 30 years later, we’ve got apples everywhere. Lots of our plants failed, but we’ve learned a lot about them. It’s the same thing with our maples, which is such a huge part of our business. What began as a few trees has grown to almost 15,000. It’s all trial and error and perseverance. There’s not a big apple industry in the Hill Country, but I hope someday there is an apple industry here. I really hope to see that. It would really be something that would mean a lot to me.”