Clark County families preserve farmland for more than 200 years

In April, Clark County turns 200 — a milestone that some hope will also be a celebration of the county’s rich agricultural history.

Seven farms in Clark County have been in operation for more than 200 years and 39 farms are 100 years or older.

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Throughout the bicentennial year, Krista Magaw, executive director of the Tecumseh Land Trust, plans to highlight the county’s oldest farmlands, from informative displays at the county’s April celebration to tours of bicentennial and centennial farms.

Agriculture is a vital component of Clark County’s history, Magaw said.

“Someone is choosing to keep them,” Magaw said of the fields and farmhouses that have been preserved. “They keep them for a reason.”

The Tecumseh Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that serves Clark and Greene counties, works to preserve contiguous blocks of farmland, especially land with natural streams and wildlife.

They hope to preserve 100,000 acres of farming and natural lands in the region. Since its founding in 1990, the group has reached over a quarter of that goal, with 26,000 acres of land preserved.

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The trust works with local landowners, like Donald Wallace of the Wallace Farm and David Stickney of the Hillcrest Farm, to establish agricultural easements on their properties. These easements are restrictions that landowners voluntarily place on a property to preserve and protect its resources.

Farming has changed drastically throughout the county’s 200 years. Powerful machines now complete what once was days of work in hours. In the 1940s, most Clark County farms didn’t have running water, and now farmers are starting to explore alternative energy sources like solar power.

But, for Wallace and Stickney, that doesn’t change the purpose of their acreage. Their land is for farming, they said, and they plan to keep it that way.

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The Wallace Farm 

In the Wallace Farm’s barn, the first thing you can see is a horse tack, even though a horse hasn’t lived there since 1947. In one of the stalls, shearing tools still have wool in the teeth, although the farm hasn’t had sheep for years.

That sense of preservation is one that’s been a mark of his family, Wallace said.

The Wallace family has always preserved its history, he said, and Wallace himself is particularly zealous about filling out his family tree. He’s even used DNA tests to trace his lineage back to his Scottish ancestors.

Wallace can also trace the ownership of the family’s farm over the last 216 years.

“It’s fun to go back and watch the documents as the land passes from generation to generation,” he said.

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The farm’s homestead was built in 1901, and the barn just before the turn of the century — “You always build barns before the house” — but the deed on the property goes back to 1802, marking the farm as Clark County’s oldest.

Of the farm’s original 320 acres, 117 remain.

Wallace grew up working on the farm alongside his four siblings. His parents saw that he had a knack for academics and encouraged him to pursue his studies. Wallace, who had an interest in medicine, attended Antioch College.

Although the college was close to home, it was an immediate culture shift, he said.

“The other students asked me where I got my accent and I told them I got it from 12 miles down the road,” Wallace said.

He went on to medical school, moved to the Washington, D.C. area and worked in public health for many years.

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When his father died, there was disagreement between him and his siblings on what to do with the farm. Some wanted to preserve it, others wanted to sell, but Wallace was set on keeping it in the family. In the end, he ended up buying the whole property himself.

Then, when he was 66 and his wife, Ellen, was 65, she told him that she was retiring and moving to the farm — with or without him. In three weeks, he said, they had left their jobs in Maryland and moved back to Clark County.

Wallace now lives in the same house where he was born.

“I, as the one who was chosen to leave,” Wallace said, “ends up being the one to come back to the farm.”

Though its future isn’t clear, Wallace has taken steps to maintain and protect the land with an easement in the hopes that grandchildren and great-grandchildren will keep preserve the family’s farm — and its history.

“We all have interesting stories if the story’s been kept,” Wallace said.

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The Hillcrest Farm

When David and Brenda Stickney decided to put an easement on their property, they called the Ohio Historical Society to find the original patent for the land. But the state didn’t have any ownership documents so they directed him to the U.S Library of Congress.

There in Washington, D.C. was documentation of a patent from 1805 signed by the fourth president of the United States, James Madison. At that time, the price of their land was just $2 per acre.

Though the property has been broken up and pieced back together over the years as deeds passed from fathers to sons and family to neighbors, 103 acres have never left the family, David Stickney said.

The Hillcrest Farm has been passed down through Brenda Stickney’s family, though David Stickney grew up on a local farm, too.

“I never dreamed of doing anything but farming,” he said.

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David Stickney has worked on Hillcrest Farm since Feb. 1, 1971, just after he finished his service in the military. Feeding cattle was his father-in-law’s passion — about 1,200 cattle would be fed on the farm every year.

They stopped feeding cattle in 2000, Stickney said, and would only graze cattle from April through November. In 2015, they started raising red angus cattle, too. Right now they have nine.

Stickney’s sons weren’t interested in farming but he has high hopes for two of his grandchildren, a granddaughter who’s 9 and a 13-year-old grandson. They love spending time on the farm, he said, and seem to have a real interest in carrying on the family’s work.

You can tell when a kid is interested, he said. If they’re interested, “they’re going to be in the shadow somewhere.”

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Just this month, the Stickneys signed an agreement that will guarantee the farm stays in the family. The farm is completely owned, so inheritors won’t have to pay for the land.

“We decided, this is the last time it will ever be bought,” Stickney said. “Nothing is ever going to be for sale.”

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