Carriage Hill Farm: Crown Jewel of Parks
by Jim Butcher of Springfield, OH, photos by Jim Scherer
To learn more about Carriage Hill Farm, please visit their website: www.metroparks.org/historical-farm – ed.
“Thank you for taking the time to visit our farm.” This is one of the responses that I give to the many visitors as they prepare to leave Carriage Hill Farm, an historical farm which is part of a much larger system of 24 parks within the Five Rivers Metroparks system.
The farm has been part of my life for over 30 years, first as a scout leader, then as a volunteer, and now as an employee of a great facility that touches the lives of several thousand people each year. The main emphasis of our farm is education and interpretation of an 1880’s family farm with all the equipment and animals from the 1880’s time period. Our staff teaches anyone who will take the time to find out how the ways of the past have created the mainstays of today.
My Grandfather started molding my mind at the ripe old age of five. That was the first year that I was allowed to spend an entire summer “working” beside him. Accepting his love for the earth and growing crops and raising animals, he is still ingrained in my soul and I’m passing on what I have learned from my “Grandpa” to anyone who will accept my vision. Several years ago I found out the meaning of my Grandfather’s name, George, from Greek, “Geo or earth”, or earth worker. The word was later changed to farmer… how fitting!
My “work” place is a fantastic site to visit and learn about farming, especially farming with horses. We have about 100 acres within the historic site, using horse power to do the majority of the work in the yearly cycle of the crops, as well as tilling and harvesting old varieties of modern day crops that cover 15 acres.
Our crops include five different small grains: Mediterranean Red winter wheat, six row barley, oats, rye and spelt (also called Russian wheat) and are as close to the varieties of the 1880s that are still available. Two varieties of open pollinated corn, Reid’s yellow dent and Bloody Butcher, were developed or improved during our time period. Broomcorn, brown seed flax for linseed oil, Honey Drip sorghum for molasses, Connecticut pumpkins, Connecticut Seed leaf tobacco and vegetables from the truck garden and kitchen garden are also raised as yearly crops at Carriage Hill.
All of these items are incorporated into programs for the education of the public. Of course there are favorite programs that the public like to see, such as, anything using the horses. Most often, the only thing that the public asks about is plowing. Regardless of the time of year, people always inquire, “Were you plowing?” This gives me an opportunity to explain what we were doing and why. Also, tending the fields, cultivating crops and gardens, harvesting hay and using the grapple hooks and trolley to put the load into the hay mow, are more activities you can watch at the farm. Also you can see the farmer using the grain binder to make bundles of grain for shocks, set in the field to dry, and hauled in for the two threshing events we have, using a small six horsepower steam engine. Run by our state licensed volunteers, they also have the only agricultural steam instruction class approved by the State of Ohio to receive a license to operate an Ag steam engine.
We have the Arnold family diaries available from over forty years of the family’s life on this farm. With these diaries, we are able to document the events that shaped their decisions in producing crops and other items for sale, such as, eggs, butter, and custom work. They were accomplished at blacksmithing and with the steam engine, one of the first in the county; they improved the efficiency of harvest and other aspects of farm life. When the time came for butchering, they used the steam engine for heating the scalding water in a watering trough. Using a hose, it was a lot easier to do than to build fires and boil water in kettles. We demonstrate this process each year as we do a traditional butchering program.
We have developed workshops to increase our volunteers, such as completing two draft horse training classes in 2004 attended by 23 people with varying degrees of knowledge about horses. We used one Saturday to do class work, books, and pictures and then another day with hands on, harnessing, hitching and beginning driving, ground driving for the inexperienced and wagon driving for the other more advanced members of the group. We have also worked with Midwest Open-Air Museums Coordinating Council to put together draft horse and multi horse hitch workshops.