Bicentennial birthday stories from the family farm
Detwiler, Morgan Raid, and Sater Farms turn 100 and 200 years old this year.
Traveling to a farm may not seem the most novel experience, for a lifelong resident of Southeast Ohio where agriculture is part of the regional tapestry. Even the most jaded Ohio local has moments, when merging off the smooth surface of U.S.Highway 33 and trekking up a winding, gravel stone path amid a forest of greenery, that it’s hard not to become mesmerized by nature’s innate beauty.
Although the scenery is indeed breathtaking, the true beauty often lies at the destination. This year, three farms in our region celebrate their centennial and bicentennial birthdays. These homesteads have weathered times by virtue of their sustainable foundations: the families who have diligently passed them down from generation to generation.
A sign that reads, “Sater Farms ever since 1916” greets those who journey the half mile incline driveway through an abyss of trees. “We brought the troops in today, I hope that’s okay,” says Joanne Sater, wife of owner, Paul Sater.
“Thetroops” refers to the their daughter Gretchen, their son Bruce and his wife,Stacy, and their three grandchildren, Zoey, Chloe and Sophie, who are all dressed in matching shirts with the farm’s name stamped on the back. Paul inherited the farms and the acres of land in Rockbridge from his father in 1983.
“This was originally about 700 acres, going up the valley. Of course my father split up [the two farms] with my uncle and then he sold it and it’s been passed down to several different people and hopefully it’ll stay in the family,” Paul says.
Today, the two farms aggregate roughly 330 acres and if current arrangements are set in stone, the farms longevity depends only on family harmony. Chloe, the second eldest grandchild, has already declared ownership of the farm. She and her two sisters live with their mother and father on Panther Road, which is located smack dab in the middle of the two farms. Joanne says the girls are actively engaged in helping their dad and grandfather with tasks around the farm.
“The girls like to come up and help during the hay season,” Joanne says. “This year they rolled bales.” Paul’s influence on his grandkids resembles that which his father had on him while growing up, although Paul says he didn’t know right away that he would one day aspire to take ownership of the farm (unlike Chloe who has taken dibs exactly one generation in advance.) Paul grew up on the farm with two sisters and a brother, and while his brother stayed for a years, he decided to move away to work in Chicago.
“Sometime after that I moved back and decided [that] this is where I’m going to stay and I have been here since. I told Joanne, ‘Don’t try and get me to move, this is where I’m going to be,’” Paul says.
Paul graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in dairy technology,which entails the processing of milk and dairy products. During college he worked at the campus dairy, distributing milk, cottage cheese and ice cream to the dorms and commons on campus. But he cites his mother as inspiring interest in this.
“When I was growing up we used to milk. But my mother, she would milk two to my one,” Paul says. He recalls his parents removing the cream from the milk and selling it to local grocery stores, then feeding what was left — the skim milk — to the pigs. They would also sell eggs from their chickens to the grocery and get a full week’s worth of food in return.
Today, the farm does not produce dairy, and there aren’t any chickens roaming free. Rather, the farm breeds up to 50 cattle per year, and the crops they grow, corn and hay, are solely used for their feed. “Everything that our cattle eat comes off our farm,” Bruce says.
And these cattle eat quite a bit, given they must reach 500 lbs. to be sold off to market in Zanesville. More specifically, about 15 cattle consume one bale of hay and nearly four 5-gallon buckets of ears of corn per day. They eat this main course first thing in the morning and spend the rest of the day grazing amongst the couple hundred acres. Needless to say, Paul is kept busy cultivating corn and hay, day in and day out.
Mary Ellen Wood, owner of Detwiler Farm, on the other hand, no longer worries about feeding animals or harvesting any crops anymore; she leases her 79 acres out to other farmers. Her husband, Donald Wood, still mows the land and offers to help the farmers when needed, just like he used to do when Mary Ellen’s father still operated the property.
This year the farmers who lease the land are growing corn, and next year it will cultivate soybeans. This rotation of cropseach year enables the soil’s fertility to be maintained, which is especially crucial given its 200-plus years of use. Mary Ellen says the family’s land was vibrant in both crop diversity and animals during her grandparents’ era. It was not until her parents took over in the 50s that corn and soybeans became the main attraction.
“They milked cows, they had sheep, hogs and chickens,” Mary Ellen says.“My mom and dad are the ones who broke that, but they did have a dairy farm for a while.”
The farm’s roots date to 1816, when Jacob Henderlich came to town from Baltimore, Maryland, and bought 80 acres of land. It was his daughter who married John Detwiler and gave the farm its name. Detwiler’sson, Monroe Edward, wasMary Ellen’s father, which makes her the first woman in the long line of relatives to claim ownership of the farm. While the previous women were not listed on the deed, their work was equally integral.
“All of the grandmothers around farms worked right along with the husband. My grandmother would go around to the cornfield and [she’d] even plant pole beans in the cornfield and let them grow in the corn. She cooked a big meal for all of the workers, she was a hardworking lady,” Mary Ellen says.
A rustic, old brick home with two front doors and six windows sits in the midst of the flat field. The screech of a hawk billows throughout the terrain. There are no hills. Just rows of corn coat the land behind the house. It was built in 1879, and while Mary Ellen never lived there, she recalls memories of visiting the people who had once taken residency there, her grandparents.
“We’d come up and stay overnight with our grandparents, and course there was nothing to do because they had no TV, and the radio didn’t come in very good clear out here. So newspaper and magazines was about it,” Mary Ellen says.
Inside, the floors are all carpeted and old bedrooms are lined with formerly elegant wallpaper featuring a pink rose and purple lilac print that now peels from the moisture seeping from the
roof. Mary Ellen maneuvers down the crooked wooden steps with ease, her feet slightly rotating to the right as she descends into a seemingly cooler environment. She says this is where her grandmother used to store crops, meat and milk. When times changed and technologyimproved, “My grandfather bought her a refrigerator and she wouldn’t use it. She carried her milk down here like she’d done all her life,” says Mary Ellen.
She says her grandfather was the inverse, an innovative and prepared character.He was the person nearby farmers and neighbors would go to if they needed bolts and screws, because he had one of nearly every shape and size. A reminder of his meticulousness are the bins stacked on top of one another in both floors of the farm, each with its own faded labels and rusted drawer handles to embellish the antiquity of them.
The farm’s downstairs houses a myriad of stables for sheep and cows. Mary Ellen points to a particularly large stall to the left of the entrance and then points to an adjacent dial that regulates the concrete heat so that mother pigs could birth their babes in comfort.“They woke up at 4 a.m., worked hard all day and the minute it turned dark, they blew the oil lampout. They didn’t have much of a night life,” Mary Ellen says with a small laugh.
And while the barn that stands today isn’t the one that stood there 200 years ago,it’s not because of shoddy capacity. Rather, the original foundation caught fire and burned down the summer of 1927, and two months later, Jacob Detwiler’s friends came to their rescue with a monumental Barn Raising event. Mary Ellen still keeps a small newspaper clipping of the event. Remarkably, the excerpt ends with the following sentence, “Mrs. Detwiler furnished the men with a sumptuous dinner.” The women were integral parts, indeed.
Morgan Raid Farm
Sharing a bicentennial birthday is Morgan Raid Farm in Morgan County, about 60 miles to the east of Detwiler Farm. The farm was established via a land grant by JamesMadison, back in June of 1816 that was signed over to James Whittacre, who is a distant relative of the current owner, Richard McElhiney. It was originally called the Fox andHound Tavern, but that changed in 1863 after Morgan and his 500 men came through and raided the vicinity on his way to the North.Morgan Raid Farm Richard and his wife, Bonnie McElhiney, acquired the land in 1987, but Richard recalls the farm’s history by virtue of his two great aunts. Neither of the sisters had had ever married and they owned the farm up until the 1950s, and that’s when they deeded it to Richard’s father, who was then 70 years old. Richard recounts the time when his great aunts ran the property, they grew corn, hay and raised cattle. But after its production began to fizzle after the transfer, it evolved from a functioning farm to a historical hotspot. Richard cites his great, great aunt, Rachel, as the most significant figure in thefarm’s history, because she lived through the event that gave the farm its name.
“Rachel, she was 16 years old and lived in the farmhouse when Morgan and his men went through the house [on] July 23, 1863,” Richard says. Evidence of this history is provided by Bonnie, who reads from a 1977 article that appeared in Morgan High School’s newspaper: the residents of Morgan County had been informed that General Morgan and his soldiers were coming through and saying, “We’re killing everybody and we’re burning all of the homes.” Morgan and his troops crossed the Muskingum River, so Richard’s ancestors fled to the woods with their horses, knowing the men would be tempted to steal them.
The men raided the farm, taking all of the clean clothing and leaving their soiled clothes behind, bread and freshly churned buttermilk, which is far less detrimental than the threats that were supposed to ensue.They didn’t even so much as break a single glass in the home; however, one of the walls on the outside of the farmhouse was peppered with bullets. Today, members of the Civil War Preservation Project of Ohio come in for events with metal detectors and try to find out where one of the soldiers who had fallen during the raid is buried, as well as any other remnants that may be salvageable. Three Southeast Ohio farms, each containing its own personality and eclectic mix of people and history celebrate a milestone of existence. And each farm, just like an old tree that sheds bark and leaves season after season, has its established roots. A farm’s history endures by the people who have devoted their lives to keeping a family legacy alive. It’s through these exceptional people we learn the history of those who manifested care and perseverance to create an historic legend in Ohio.