Charles B. Nelson Sons

Genesee and Hickox, Potter County

Owned by: Charles and Laura Nelson & Don and Sheila Nelson

Written by Amanda Jones for the Potter/Tioga Maple Producers and PA Route 6 Alliance

At Charles B. Nelson Sons Farms in Northern Potter County, traditional methods are used to create the highest-quality Maple Syrup and products by third-generation Maple Producers Charles and Don Nelson, and their wives Laura and Sheila.

The Nelson Brothers each own property, about a mile from each other over rolling hills. Don and Sheila live on the family homestead near Genesee, where the historic sugar house is located.

Charles and Laura purchased their farm near Hickox 40 years ago, and their property boasts the newly-constructed Candy Kitchen where the Nelsons create their homemade baked goods and specialty maple products.

“We moved around a lot when we were first married. It took us a while to get settled,” said Charles. “But when we found this place, Laura said, ‘This is where we’re going to stay,’ and we did.” It is easy to understand why. The farm sits in the midst of a beautiful, rolling valley full of farmlands, forest and wildlife; quiet and peaceful along a dirt road, but only minutes from small, friendly towns surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery.

Charles and Don are the third generation of Nelson Maple Producers, but the history of this small operation extends beyond that. The Nelsons married into the Briggs family early in the twentieth century and took over the operation where the Briggs family had farmed and produced maple sugar and syrup for use at home throughout the latter half of the 1800’s.

 In 1932, a wood-fired evaporator was added, and the farm was able to make 75-80 gallons of sap per season, mostly for home use but some was sold or traded. The Nelsons had 350-375 taps with buckets, and used a horse and wagon to haul a large metal draw tub into which the sap was drained. In 1949, the sugar house was built, still in use today at Don and Laura’s.

 All sap was collected in buckets until 1978, when tubing was added in some areas along with additional taps.

Today, the Nelsons maintain approximately 750 taps, and about 50% of those are connected by a gravity-fed tube system.

The remaining taps are traditional—spiles tapped in, with sap draining into metal buckets hanging from the trees’ trunk. The Nelsons load into a tractor and collect the sap by hand, having to make a long, laborious loop each day to pour sticky sap from the buckets.

That sap is boiled down in a traditional, wood-fired evaporator. “We do it the hard way,” Sheila said with a laugh.

“We’re a small producer, and we’re happy with that. Using these methods gives us control over the end product,” said Don. “We’re basic, like it used to be.”

That strategy has certainly paid off. The Nelsons have been attending the Farm Show in Harrisburg since the early 1990’s, and they have taken Premiere Exhibitor awards twice and Best of Show for their Maple Syrup twice, most recently in 2013, and they place consistently in nearly every category they enter.  A bin of ribbons and a scrap book full of memorable moments are kept at the Candy Kitchen, and show a group of hardworking, accomplished, and traditional maple producers.

A number of products are available at the Nelson’s Candy Kitchen, located at 214 Grover Hollow Road between Genesee and Hickox. The shop is open most days throughout the year. Call 814-848-7950 to check availability or to place an order.

The Nelsons make Maple syrup, cream, crumb sugar, jelly, sugar cakes, maple-vinaigrette dressing, mustard, coated nuts, fudge, maple peanut brittle, granola, sugared nuts, cookies, gift baskets and cook books filled with Maple-infused recipes.

Charles B. Nelson Sons’ products can also be found at farmers markets and craft shows throughout the area, and tours, demonstrations and samples are available at the Sugar Shack and Candy Kitchen during Maple Weekend.

To reach the Candy Kitchen, take Route 49 North to the village of Mills. Turn north onto Genesee/Mills Road. Drive 6.5 miles, and then turn left onto Hillcrest Road. Take the first right onto Grover Hollow Road. The farm is on the right, with the kitchen and store building in the rear.