The Past in the Present: A Look At Historic Farming at Carriage Hill
by Rick Musselman of Dayton, OH
The sun shines on the plow as its share slices through the dark soil. The farmers hands tighten on the handles as the strong horse lurches forward starting another furrow. After finishing the row the farmer stops and wipes his brow on his shirt sleeve and fans himself with his straw hat. As he stops to rest for a minute or two, the farmer looks up at several smiling faces of young school children who have come to watch him. Is this a scene from the 1880s? Yes, but it is also a scene from the year 2003. The place is Carriage Hill MetroPark Farm, an 1880s recreated living history site in Dayton, Ohio.
At Carriage Hill, life on a typical Miami Valley farm of the 1880s time period is recreated through daily historical demonstrations and programs. The farm is the site of an original farm setting established by the Daniel Arnold family in 1830. Carriage Hill MetroPark Farm is part of the Five Rivers MetroParks system. Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the farm is its use of horse drawn equipment for farming purposes.
At Carriage Hill, period farming techniques and methods are adhered to in order to portray life in the past. Each year, more than 15 acres of land are farmed using horses and mules. Percheron draft horses, which are documented to the site, provide the much needed “horsepower” to pull farm wagons and equipment. Two teams of horses are used for 1880s farm chores as well as a mule for lighter work. All year long, the draft animals are used for a wide variety of programs. Period farm work such as plowing, haymaking, and check-row corn planting is recreated to depict agricultural practices of the 19th century. In addition to this, other farm activities such as sorghum making, tobacco planting and cider pressing are scheduled throughout the year.
In order to accurately recreate period farming methods, typical farm equipment of the time period is used. Carriage Hill Farm currently maintains a large collection of period farm equipment, some of which dates to the 1880s. Everything from plows to seed cleaners are maintained and used. In addition to farm equipment, the park has two original steam engines which are used for programs such as threshing and sorghum making. The steam engines are ably manned by a devoted group of steam volunteers who have gone through the Carriage Hill steam certification class.
One other aspect of authenticity that is maintained at Carriage Hill is the planting of crops which were present on the farm in the 1880s. Period heirloom vegetables and crops are maintained and grown to provide the farm with feed for the animals, and foodstuffs such as flour and cornmeal. Heirloom varieties are usually indicated as those varieties which are open-pollinated, at least fifty years old, and have a story of their origin or past. For example, the heirloom variety of field corn known as “Bloody Butcher,” due to its reddish color, is grown at the site. Other notable varieties grown are Reid’s Yellow Dent corn, Connecticut Seed Leaf tobacco, and Connecticut Field pumpkins. In addition to this, a period kitchen garden and a larger “truck” patch are also planted with a wide selection of heirloom varieties.
Overall, attention to details and historical authenticity help Carriage Hill present an accurate picture of 1880s farm life throughout the year. In order to bring this history to life, a large group of dedicated volunteers must be maintained to assist with farming activities. However, there is always a need for more hands when it comes to 1880s chores. Carriage Hill is looking for people who are interested in learning and living the life of a farmer in the 1880s. Historic farming volunteers will be able to help with period farm chores, historic programs, and animal care. Interested adults may contact Julia Marple, Carriage Hill Farm Volunteer Coordinator, at (937)879-8900 to receive more information. By having historic programming every weekend of the year, there is always something new and exciting to see at Carriage Hill Farm.