By Matt Reese
Grandkids interested in a treasure hunt, a grim prostate cancer diagnosis and a farmer with a long family history on the land — in 2016 it was time.
Though he had been putting it off for years because there was always something more pressing, Rick Crawford finally decided that it was time to plod up the steps of the deteriorating old house on his family’s Adams County farm to investigate the old trunks filled with unknown farm history from generations gone by. They discovered the old house was full of critters and family memories.
“To the best of my knowledge when Robert Richard — my great-great grandfather — moved here in 1875, that old log cabin was already here. When I was 7, my great grandfather died in 1960 and he was the last family member to live there. After that we rented it out. I was in and out of it after that when we were renting it, but I don’t think the tenants ever went upstairs. After they moved out, it just sat there and deteriorated. I knew there were things we probably should get out of there,” Rick said. “I always wondered what was in those trunks upstairs. I thought, ‘If I don’t do it, maybe nobody ever will.’”
It was a fairly mild winter day and the Crawford grandchildren were really increasing the pressure to go explore the old house to search for treasures, so they did. That day, three living generations got a glimpse into the previous four generations of ancestors who farmed the land before them.
“As we dug through it, it was interesting to see the history we were finding. We found the original paper with a wax seal on it from Samuel Crawford, who was the first family member we know about in Ohio. He came from Ireland to the U.S. in 1817, spent some time in Pennsylvania and Virginia and then came down the Ohio River to Adams County in 1825. He would have been my great-great-great grandfather. He was granted citizenship by one of the judges here in the County. We found letters from the Civil War, Christmas cards, bills, receipts, and tax documents — they made something like $500 in a whole year,” Rick said. “The grandkids enjoyed it and I was able to connect names and parcels of property here on the farm and better connect with my ancestors by doing that. I felt a connection I’d never had before. Some letters from the Civil War were still in the original envelopes. You can learn about the Civil War and go to Gettysburg, but this was actually my family members who were involved.”
That mild winter day spent in the very old house got Rick started in the process of working to preserve some of the farm’s history through the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Historic Family Farms Program.
“Having those letters and the original deeds kind of inspired me,” Rick said. “I didn’t realize all of the family we had and this helped me put it all together.”
The first known parcel owned by the family was in timber at the time Samuel Crawford’s son Andrew purchased it in 1867, though it appears that the family may have owned adjacent properties even earlier. After this purchase, Andrew bought additional land and raised cattle, hogs, tobacco, wheat and hay.
Andrew’s brother Robert Richard had two sons who fought and died in the Civil War, as described in the letters discovered in the old log cabin. Robert Richard had a total of 18 children. He had 12 children with his first wife, who passed away during childbirth with twins in 1860, and six more children with his second wife.
Another son of Samuel served as First Lieutenant of Co. D in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry from July 25, 1862 through Oct. 11, 1864. He also purchased property now part of Crawford farms. Elza Mannering Crawford, born in 1873, was the last family member to live in the old log cabin that the Rick remembers as a child. Elza and his son, Albert, pushed for building the road that now runs to the farm to better connect with the outside world.
“When the first family members came here there was an old horse and buggy road. You can still see traces of that road on our property. To get to town my great grandfather would ride a horse down through the woods to the Model T and they’d get back in the pitch dark and the horse would know how to get back through the woods in the dark,” Rick said. “They decided to pay for the survey and do the leg work to get a road put in on the high ground and it was first called Ellison Ridge Road. Back in the 60s the county took the road over and they changed it to Crawford Road because my grandfather played such a big part in getting this road here.”
Albert’s son, Delbert Wayne Crawford, was Rick’s father.
“My dad milked cows when I was young. It was grade C milk and we’d lift the milk cans into a cooler and the milkman would come and get the cans every other day. All the hay then was square bales. It seemed like the weather was better then and we would work four weeks straight baling hay every day in the summer and we can’t do that anymore. It seems like if we get one day of work in every week we are flying any more,” Rick said. “We always raised a little wheat, corn and hay. The corn was always ear picked. My father would tell us about the first tractor, I believe an 8N Ford, and when electricity came in 1948.
“As I got near the age of graduating from high school and I wasn’t there to help with the hay, dad bought a round baler. Now we have evolved with the hay and we do it mechanized with an accumulator that goes behind a nearly new square baler and it’s got a preservative applicator and everything on it. Then we pick up 10 bales at a time and if everything is working right, we never touch a bale of hay. We still have a good many round bales we make and we are doing most of it from the seat of a tractor these days.”
Today Rick and his son, Sam — there is a Samuel in every generation of Crawfords on the farm — raise around 150 acres of hay that is mostly sold to the local Amish community and they grow just enough corn to feed their stocker cattle and the deer for the hunting business on the farm’s 720 acres that was started to replace tobacco income for the farm. Tobacco was grown all of the years the Crawford family has been on the farm until 2005.
“The tobacco companies were wanting bigger producers. We were growing 7 to 11 acres and that could produce 20,000 to 24,000 pounds of tobacco. That requires a lot of labor. I was wanting to downsize and the companies wanted me to raise more,” Crawford said. “We decided to quit raising tobacco and I ran into a guy in town who was leasing out rights for deer hunting. I had never heard of that before then. Now we sell six-day archery hunts and the lodging, up to 10 hunts a year.”
Plenty has changed for the Crawford family farm since 1867, but thanks to that winter day in 2016 when Rick and his family took the time to peer into the past, a connection to the farm’s history was re-established.
“I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I may not be around all that much longer. I don’t feel like I own these deeds. I am just the current caretaker. Nobody owns the property, but the tax bill changes addresses every 20 or 30 years,” Rick said. “As I was researching all of this, I wished I would have done this a few years earlier when my dad was alive. He lived and breathed this farm. He never had a job a day in his life and he was never out of work. I think my dad would have been really interested in this.”
In 2016, it was time. And, as it turns out, it was time well spent.