By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter
To learn the history of Sycamore Hill Farm in Ashland is to take a step a back in time to Ohio’s earliest beginnings. In 1816, Philip and Mary Fluke and their four young children ventured west from Pennsylvania with a team of horses, two milk cows and whatever possessions their wagon could hold. Philip had purchased a 160-acre section of land for $2 an acre in Orange Township, Ohio and was on his way to create a new life for his family. After clearing paths through the virgin forest for his team to get through, Philip made it to his section of land, where he built a log cabin and started clearing the land to plant corn and wheat.
The land boasted fruit trees, planted with seeds from Johnny Appleseed, who had set up camp nearby. It was common to see Native Americans from the Delaware tribe passing along the trail by the farm, on their way to trading posts.
Eventually, the Fluke family grew to 11 children. Philip had worked hard over the years to expand the farm, at one point amassing over 700 acres of land. The youngest of Philip’s sons, John, purchased the land that is now Sycamore Hill Farm in 1864. Sycamore Hill Farm is directly west of the original homestead. The farm was complete with a Western Reserve style house. After his father passed, John became owner of the original homestead, fields and woods along the road.
Molly Smith, a direct descendent of Philip Fluke, and her husband Glenn reside at Sycamore Hill Farm today. The couple, along with Molly’s cousin, Margaret Welch, worked to piece together the history of the farm. In 2020, Glenn submitted an application to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to the Ohio’s Historic Family Farm program. The farm is now designated as a century farm and a sesquicentennial farm.
“We have the original 1815 deed to this land,” Molly said.
The deed is written on sheepskin and is proudly displayed in their home, having survived 205 years of Ohio history. Molly’s earliest memory of the farm begins with her grandpa, Gene, the third generation of Flukes to own the farm.
“My grandpa moved to this farm in 1924,” Molly. “While he wasn’t born here, he did spend much of his life here. Eventually he purchased the farm from his father, James, in 1940.”
Gene raised corn, oats, barley, wheat, horses, hogs, chicken and cattle on the farm. He and his wife Mary had five children.
“My mother, Louise, was their third child and Gene let her do so much around the farm,” Molly said. “She had a natural knack for horses and when her brother left to serve during World War II, my mom was the one who stepped up to take over chores. She loved doing that kind of work — it was all very physical labor. It was a different time back then, it was before many had tractors.”
Following a house fire in 1929, the original home was rebuilt as a more modern, bigger home for Gene and Mary to raise their kids. This is the home that Molly and Glenn live in today, following many additional renovations.
“After grandpa died, my grandma lived here for a few years but eventually moved into a small apartment and then to a nursing home,” Molly said. “The farmhouse was rented during these years. We knew grandma was going to have to sell it and we didn’t know what would happen to the farm if someone in our family didn’t buy it.”
Living in Charlottesville, Virginia at the time, Molly and Glenn were enticed by the idea of moving closer to home. Glenn grew up on a farm in Crawford County where his family raised crops and Angus cattle. With his background in agriculture, the Smith family decided to place an offer on the farm. Sycamore Hill Farm became theirs in 1991.
“We are so grateful that our family allowed us to buy the farm. Once we let everyone know we were interested in buying the farm, it was like everything fell into place for us,” Molly said. “We didn’t want the farm to leave the family.”
When they moved back to Ashland, the home was in need of updates.
“It was a very basic home. We started in the basement, working to turn that into a dry space for a workroom for me and an office for Glenn,” Molly said.
They continued by remodeling the kitchen and dining room in 1993. After drawing a sketch of her dream home in 2006, the plain home was completely updated in 2009.
“We kept going from there,” Molly said with a laugh.
Glenn updated many of the barns and fitted them for cattle, which their daughters, Erin and Sara, raised and showed at the county fair. The fields were rented out for crop production, except the acres needed for hay production for the Angus herd.
One of the last projects on the farm that Glenn completed was updating the garage.
“The garage used to be a milk house and a tractor shed,” Glenn said. “We wanted to open it up into a bigger garage. We had talked about it for a while, so in 2011 we finally decided to make it happen.”
An architect drew up plans for a three-car garage. However, Molly had ideas to add living quarters to the back of the garage.
“My mom grew up here and really loved the farm. At the time we were building the garage, she was living in a condo in town by herself. Her husband had passed, so I knew I needed to bring her back to the farm,” Molly said.
The years her mother was back on the farm were “extraordinary.”
“My mother loved it here. After she passed away, the living quarters were vacant for a few years, kind of out of respect for my mom. Then a cousin of mine came to stay for a weekend and when she left, she recommended that we turn the place into a bed and breakfast,” Molly said. “So, two weeks later, I opened up a profile on Airbnb and booked a guest my first week I was open.”
It’s been a steady stream of guests ever since.
Molly and Glenn, who have earned the title of “Super Host” welcome guests to their home year-round. Guests travel from nearby big cities and from other states as well, to enjoy the peace and quiet on Sycamore Hill Farm. No stay is complete without homemade breakfast on the wrap around porch.
“Recently, we had a musician staying here writing music. People love it here, they love the countryside and they like to walk through the woods,” Molly said. “I know this sounds crazy, but I can’t help but feel like I was made to do this. I enjoy getting to meet people one-on-one and showing them around the place that means so much to me and my family.”
Every other year, Molly and Glenn host a Fluke family gathering. Relatives travel to the farm for a weekend-long event, complete with games, events, contests and even a 5K.
“It’s exhausting, but we love to do it,” she said.
The original 1816 Fluke homestead to the east was sold in 1952, but in 2010 Molly’s sister was able to purchase the land back and reunite it with the Fluke family legacy. Today, the fields of Sycamore Hill Farm are rented out and the Angus herd was dispersed. Molly and Glenn spend most of their free time volunteering in their community and giving guests a top-notch farm experience.
“People ask me, why do I do all of this for strangers? It seems right to me,” Molly said. “People need a place to rest. There’s a saying in our family we like to use: Everybody needs a little bit of farm in their life.”