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.
Volunteers and staff hosted over 30 weekend programs, plus the farmstead is staffed each weekend so the skills in the blacksmith shop, woodshop, farmhouse and fields are explained to the visitors. Cooking is always a good draw for everyone. The wonderful smells coming from the kitchen is a sure attraction. The cooks pay attention to the 120 year old recipes, using as much material as possible that has been produced on the farm.
As time avails itself, repairs must be done to all of the horse drawn equipment. A lot of the machinery that we use must be rebuilt or repaired because it was worn out when it was set aside. Research must be done to make sure the equipment is right for the time period, and if possible, a color scheme to complete the paint job, which is usually with very bright colors.
Our staff compiled a program called “Country Fair.” It is designed to mirror the 1880 county fair that communities held to find out who had grown, or made, the “BEST.” It was a time of showing off, without bragging, about what you had accomplished. As this idea evolved, I wanted to have a plowing contest at Carriage Hill, to find the best team and plow master in our area.
After reading an article in Small Farmer’s Journal about an Ohio State plowing contest, I called Dean Hopkins and Gary Hopkins. I expressed my interest in having a contest at our park. We arranged to have them visit the park and with their help and guidance we had a trial run. We called it “Draft Horse Fun Days.” Much to my surprise, over 20 teams showed up from all over the state. I guess some other people wanted to see horses work also.
That was Labor Day weekend 2004. This year the program was expanded to become the U.S. Plowing Contest with 88 horses from 11 states in attendance to have a good time and make new friends. There were winners in the field, but the real winners were the many people who made this, and other programs, possible to be witnessed by a generation or generations who have not had the pleasure of watching the interaction of the drivers and horse or mule teams.
Many years ago a friend of mine told me, “We are where we are, because of the efforts of the people who came before us.” I hope that some of my efforts in being responsible for the education of an unknowing generation will somehow touch another individual to continue where I will leave off. Everyday I expect to learn something and to pass that information on at sometime.
I enjoy interacting with people, especially the older group of folks who start out their conversation with “I remember talking to, doing this or seeing that at my fathers, grandfathers or other family farms.” This will become another learning experience for me, and maybe they will say something that will become another piece of the ever evolving history about early farm life or the equipment they used or maybe answer one of my many questions about why they did what they did.
As each day closes, I think about the many ways I have been blessed. It always goes back to some small insignificant event of the day, a song from a bird, seeing an insect completing a life cycle or the smile on the face of a child who has just had an enriching encounter with an 1800 pound Percheron. I’m usually pretty tired at the end of each day, yet looking forward to doing it all over again tomorrow.
Spring time is the second busiest time of the year. The work windows are small and the work requirements are many for getting in the crops. Trying to figure out the timing for all of the programs, like making sure the corn is ready, and the sorghum has time to convert starch to sugar to be sweet enough to make good molasses. Spring lambs are being born, and if we’re lucky, a new calf or foal will help fill the time, and there seems to always be a new litter of pigs in the barn.
In the fall, Carriage Hill is generally the most crowded with activities with the days getting shorter and cooler weather coming.
The ground does not dry quick enough to get all the planting and ground work done in time, but it is a most satisfying feeling to “lay by” the fields until springtime when all that needs to be done is complete and a shift in priorities is here.
Winter is not far behind, and with it, comes a whole new set of challenges and opportunities. Maybe there will be an ice harvest and the ice house can be filled again this January, so we can have that ice cream next June, if the cow has a calf and the milk flow is enough to fill everyone’s needs, including the barn cats.
Historical Farm Specialist
November 1, 2005