In 1936, shortly after the Great Depression, Harry and Mary Jane Seiler Shealer Williams and their son, Paul Alexander Shealer, purchased approximately 45 acres of land one mile east of Auburn, PA. Today this parcel of land is known as “the home farm”. The purchase was made with inheritance money received from Mary Jane’s father.
Shortly after the farm was purchased, Paul and his step-father planted some Norway spruce they had received from the state to be used for conservation planting/reforestation.
For the next four years Christmas trees were the farthest thought from the family. Income was received not from the land, but from off-the-farm employment. When Paul was discharged from the United States Navy in 1945, he and Harry were looking for a way to get enough money to purchase a turkey for Christmas dinner. As you can guess, things were tough back then, to say the least. They came up with the idea to cut some of the Norway spruce they had planted years earlier. These trees were virtually wild; they had had no pest control and had never been sheared. But the idea went over big with the residents in the Auburn area.
Trees were cut from the hillside south of the house and barn, across the Pine Creek. They were dragged to the banks of the creek. With Harry on one side and Paul on the other side, they would throw a rope back and forth across the creek and drag the trees through the icy waters. They then took the trees to the barn to thaw out and dry. A sign was placed at the top of the lane: “Christmas Trees 25 cents”. That first season they earned enough money for not just a Christmas turkey but a few small gifts as well. Evergreen Acres was born!
Having seen the interest the community had in purchasing cut Christmas trees, the following spring Harry and Paul started planting more Norway spruce and a “new” tree – Scotch pine. This was how it went for the next several years, cutting conservation plantings on the farm (some were purchased from other farmers for 15 cents and sold for 25 cents to 30 cents each) to sell at Christmas and then each spring planting more Norway spruce and Scotch pine on their own farm.
The business started to grow. By 1952 Paul and Harry were beginning to look for more land to plant. In 1957 a 45 acre tract of land in South Manheim Township, known as Summer Hill, was purchased. They began planting that farm as interest in other species, besides Norway spruce and Scotch pine, was growing. Colorado blue spruce and Austrian pine were added to the planting mix.
About this time other people began growing Christmas trees. New growers started shearing their trees and seeing the results of the shearing and the consumer preference, Paul and Harry took up the shearing practice. The ‘fuller’, ‘bushier’, Christmas tree emerged.
From approximately 1952 through 1963 Evergreen Acres continued to grow. As the number of trees increased to a point that more were being produced than could be sold locally, Paul and Harry began seeking wholesale markets in the Philadelphia area. Again, sales continued to grow and again sales exceeded production. To meet the increased demand, they were buying as many trees locally as they could find, and going as far as Indiana County, Pennsylvania to purchase their trees.
In 1955 the next generation of tree grower arrived on the scene, Paul Alan Shealer, son of Paul and Patricia Shealer. Almost as soon as he could walk Paul Alan began tagging along with his father and grandfather as they managed the farm. From a very early age Paul Alan took a big interest in Christmas tree farming.
In the mid to late 1950’s another “new” tree variety showed a lot of potential as a popular Christmas tree. Douglas fir were planted on Evergreen Acres land in 1957 and is still popular today.
From the early 1960’s through 1976 there was an increase in Douglas fir production and a declining number of Scotch pine, Austrian pine and Norway spruce being planted. There were management changes, as well, including improvement in weed and insect control.
When Mary Jane Williams died in 1977, a void was left in the operation; however, Harry, Paul Alexander and Paul Alan continued to manage the farm, caring for approximately 30 acres of Scotch pine and Douglas fir trees.
In 1977 Paul Alan graduated from The Pennsylvania State University. Having been around the business all his life and having a passion for the industry, he began playing a larger role in the business. He started by introducing improved weed, insect and disease control practices, updating farm equipment, expanding into the balled & burlapped (B&B/dug tree) markets, improved seedling quality, and the introduction of more new species: Engleman spruce, Concolor fir and Fraser fir.
After Paul Alan married Sharon Brobst in 1979, there was one more worker for the farm. Sharon helped with the planting and harvesting. But then when Harry Williams passed away in September 1984, another void was left in the operation.
Paul and Paul, father and son, worked well together for several years expanding the operation and greatly improving tree quality. Gradually Scotch pine and Norway spruce were being phased out in favor of the fir tree. Both the wholesale and retail trade were expanded and sales increased in both areas.
Kim Shealer, daughter of Paul and Patricia, continued helping on the farm throughout her high school and college years by working on the retail lot and planting trees. After she married in 1986 she moved out of the area, but continued helping out for a few more years.
In 1987 Paul Alexander retired from his job to work the farm full-time. We were almost there making the farm full-time employment when the unthinkable happened. Paul Alexander passed away very suddenly in 1989. With the founders of Evergreen Acres gone, the future lay in the hands of the next generation.
Patricia and son, Paul Alan, became partners and despite slow business growth at first, due to a surplus of trees on the market, Evergreen Acres continued to thrive. Paul Alan, Sharon, and their two children, Briana and Paul Anthony, moved home to the homestead to work the farm.
After the passing of Paul Alexander it was difficult to find enough quality labor to work the farm. Sharon’s role in the operation of the farm increased. She started to help more with the mowing, harvesting, digging of balled and burlapped trees, and working in retail sales. From 1990 to 1997 Evergreen Acres was run as a partnership between Paul, Sharon, and Paul’s mother, Patricia. In this period of time all parties worked at jobs outside of the farm; thus, much of the farm income was not needed to operate any household. Most of the profit from Evergreen Acres was re-invested into the business. Existing buildings were remodeled and 3 new buildings added; most farm machinery was upgraded and many new pieces purchased.
Late in 1998 Paul and Sharon bought out the partnership from Patricia. Patricia continued to be a sounding board for business decisions and continued to help with retail sales until her death in 2005.
Looking for “new” varieties of trees to introduce to our customers, “exotic firs” from the Mediterranean region and Asia were introduced in 2007. Today, Nordmann, Turkish and Korean firs are gaining in popularity.
Since he was a little boy, Paul Alan had been interested in the Christmas tree industry. In fact, all his professional career moves had Christmas tree farming in the forefront. In high school Paul Alan was enrolled in the vocational agriculture program. From there he went on to receive his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Agriculture Education with a minor in Horticulture from The Pennsylvania State University. For the next 32 years Paul worked for Penn State as a Cooperative Extension Agent/County Director where his expertise for the northeast region area was Christmas tree production. He also continued to grow Christmas trees. In 2010 Paul retired from Penn State and has been working the tree farm, with assistance from Sharon and his son, Paul Anthony.
Sharon received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from East Stroudsburg State College and a Master’s degree in Secondary Guidance Counseling from Kutztown University. She worked as a guidance counselor for many years and retired in 2012.
Since their retirement from off-the-farm jobs, Paul and Sharon continue to operate Evergreen Acres as a family-run business. Their son, Paul Anthony, is a dairy nutritionist who also plays an integral part in the operation. He has been planting his own trees on land he leases. He and his wife, Pam, will be the next generation to own and operate Evergreen Acres. Paul and Sharon’s daughter, Briana, who works as a 4-H Educator, continues to help out with planting and retail sales (as time allows).
Evergreen Acres Tree Farm has a long tradition of producing high-quality, award-winning Christmas trees. We hope this tradition continues for generations to come.