Fishers are now proud owners of two Century Farms
By ANDREA L. CHAFFIN
It sounds like a lyric from a country song, but according to Don Fisher’s family folklore, the Clinton County farm he owns got its start when a Civil War soldier fell in love with the farmer’s daughter.
“The story I heard was that someone fought a battle or two and won, and they told them to stack their rifles and draw their pay, and he did and went to walking,” Don recalled, his face twisting into a grin.
The man, William Harrison Fisher of Virginia, Don’s great-grandfather, made his way up to southwest Ohio, where he worked as a farmhand in Liberty Township. It was there he met Mary Matilda Henry, the Clinton County woman who would eventually come to own the 76 acres he worked on.
“He took a liking to her,” Don, 79, added of his father’s grandfather.
The couple built an eight-room frame home in 1882, raised corn and wheat and made hay. Cattle and horses drank from the well near the back barn.
Their son, Edwin Clifton, inherited the land in 1890, and he and his wife, Josephine Gilchrist, purchased an adjoining 50 acres in 1904. The family had feeder cattle and pigs, marketing them in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Their son, Emerson, and his wife, Thelma, purchased the farm in 1955 and passed it down to their son, Don.
One hundred and 23 years later, the same family owns and operates Walnut Plains Farm near Port William, now a grain farm. It was one of two farms owned by Don and his wife, Virginia, that were designated Ohio Century Farms by the Ohio Department of Agriculture this year, a status awarded to families who have owned the same farm for at least 100 consecutive years.
The department contacted the Fishers last year and encouraged them to apply for the designation. State officials had discovered a 1986 publication of the book, “Ohio Family Farm Heritage,” which featured articles submitted by Don’s mother.
Across the state, 78 farms received the designation in 2012. For the first time, a farm has been designated in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, said David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
“We consider this to be a very important program,” said Daniels, a Highland County native whose own farm was also designated an Ohio Century Farm in 2012.
It’s also important the public realizes farms are businesses, he added.
“If you stop and think about what 100 consecutive years means to a local economy — that’s huge,” Daniels said. “You can’t find many businesses across the state that have been in operation for 100 years.”
Not only do the Fishers own one farm that has been in their family’s operation for 100 years: they own two — one from each side of Don’s family. Maple Dell Farm, near New Vienna, was purchased by Don’s grandparents on his mother’s side: William Estel Fisher and Clara Bernard in 1908.
Maple Dell — on Fisher Road, of course — is where Don and Virginia call home. The rural area remains wide open and is only decorated with the occasional farmhouse. The farm can be reached by driving down the skinny, curvy country roads, which meander through seemingly endless corn and soybean fields.
Estel had lived there as a boy, and purchased the 100 acres from Thomas Bernard, shortly adding 80 additional acres. It was a livestock and grain farm with horses, Shropshire sheep, Shorthorn cattle and Poland China Hogs. There was also corn, wheat, clover, a fruit orchard, vegetable garden and enough dairy cows to sell cream and butter.
In 1969, it was passed down to the couple’s two daughters, Edythe and Thelma. Edythe and her husband Harold Haworth, who also owned a well-known hardware store in Wilmington, did not have any children. Thelma and her husband, Emerson, who met as Wilmington College students in the late 1920s, only had one child who would inherit it all: Don.
Maple Dell, named for the lush Maple trees which once decorated the front acres meeting the road, has changed over the decades. The old, dilapidated white farmhouse was torn down to build a new brick one from scratch in the mid 1990s. A large, new barn has taken the place of the last two which burnt down.
But it’s located on the other side of the house.
“We decided we better not build another one there,” Virginia laughed.
Don, who has lived in Clinton County his entire life, still owns a few of the tractors he started out with, including an early 1950s John Deere — the second he ever purchased.
“I still like to play with them once in awhile,” Don said. He also likes trucks, easily rolling through the list of the ones he owns to an interested listener.
He can count the area families off his fingers, too, mentioning others which will likely soon be qualified to apply for the century status as well. Unlike many farming families which have lost land acreage over the decades, the Fishers have increased theirs, now owning nine different farms throughout the county.
Virginia, a self-described city girl originally from Cincinnati, said it’s something you can only find in rural areas.
“People like me from the city, I never knew anybody who lived in the same place that long,” she said, adding that she used to jump on a tractor, but not a combine.
“I picked her up at a dance hall,” Don interjected. “It was the best decision I ever made.” They were married in the early 1970s.
Their son, Vincent, handles much of the operation now, planting and harvesting about 1,200 acres. Their hope is that the farms will continue to be passed down through the generations, with the help of their grandchildren and son-in-laws.
In their retirement, the couple enjoys spending time with their Jack Russell dog, Tiny.
(Andrea Chaffin is a staff writer for the Wilmington News Journal.)