By Matt Reese
It was a cold, windy day in May of 1989. The home family farm, near Cadiz in Harrison County, was up for auction and Eugene Heavilin was hoping he had saved up enough to buy it.
Eugene had dressed for the part.
“It has always been a special place. The farm was put up for sale and I knew if every dime we had could be invested to buy it, it would be. My husband loved this farm,” said Matilda “Tillie” Heavilin, Eugene’s wife. “He had on a pair of old overalls and an old overall jacket. I said, ‘Well surely you’re going dress up a little bit better than that, aren’t you?’ And he said, ‘I want them to think I’m the poorest man there.’”
At that time, part of the family land was at the bottom of Tappan Lake that was constructed in the 1930s for flood control of the Muskingum River, with 16 more acres of the farm under restrictive deeds preventing construction. Many of the former farms in the area not already under Tappan Lake had been sold for houses, cabins or recreation to capitalize on the proximity to the expansive lake. Eugene was holding out hope he could win the bid, and, though she was nervous, so was Tillie. Despite the unpleasant weather on auction day, family members, local antique buyers, farmers, developers, and community members gathered to see what the next chapter would be for the property.
The farm’s story with the family began in 1834 when James Campbell travelled from western Pennsylvania to establish the homestead with a cabin and nine acres. With his wife, Lydia, James Campbell raised seven children. Their daughter, Abigail, married Jacob Bargar, who worked as a carpenter and farmer. The oldest son of Abigale and Jacob, James Campbell Bargar continued work first as a carpenter and then a farmer before taking ownership of the farm in 1875. He added 50 acres and a new cabin. He married Anna Rogers. Somewhere along the way for unknown reasons the spelling of Bargar changed to Barger.
James and Anna raised five children. On April 24, 1889 one of their daughters, Winifred, was born and James planted a sycamore tree on the farm. From there the tree, and the farm both grew. The farm expanded to 276 acres. They raised one hog per family member, one hog for company and a single beef animal each year. Urging from Anna expanded the cabin into a house with upstairs bedrooms, a kitchen and one of the first bathrooms in the area in 1913.
As the fifth generation of family on the farm married and started families of their own, unimaginable tragedy struck. James and Anna’s son Clarence died from influenza, leaving his wife, Lydia and five children. James passed away shortly after in 1924. Winifred’s husband, Robert Park Heavilin, was battling tuberculosis and they moved to Arizona as part of his treatment, but he died there and she returned to the Ohio farm in 1929 with her five children.
While Robert and Winifred Heavilin’s son, Eugene, was growing up, his mother and aunts were running the farm. The widowed Anna Barger and her two unmarried daughters, Louie and Violet, her widowed daughter Winifred Heavilin and her five children, and her widowed daughter-in-law Lydia Barger and her five children toiled tirelessly for many years to keep the farm going. At that time, the three widows and their children lived in three houses within sight of each other, inspiring the local nickname of the road connecting them “Widow Barger Road.”
“The older folks, I don’t know how they made it through. It was something. The home farm is where the aunts lived with their mother. They ran the farm. I don’t know how this family survived,” Tillie said. “They were a tough bunch. They had a general subsistence farm. They grew what they needed to live on, along with anything they could sell. Lydia Barger had a regular route selling eggs, butter, turkeys and chickens. One of their daughters was a really good seamstress and she would go and stay at people’s houses and make clothes for them. She learned to drive a car to deliver farm products. That was a big help.”
In their youth, Eugene and his brothers and cousins did their share to help make ends meet by working for local farms and as janitors at the school. They eventually saved up enough to buy a work horse for the farm.
“Dad always said that when the Depression came, they never knew because they were already that poor, but they were never hungry,” said Blair Heavilin, one of the sons of Eugene and Tillie.
As they grew into men, the Heavilin boys went off to serve in World War II. Eugene served under General Patton. Winifred sold her farm adjoining the home farm and moved to a nearby farm, where Eugene returned to farm after the war.
Tillie had grown up on a farm in Maryland and travelled to Ohio to be in a cousin’s wedding. That is where she met Eugene and quickly knew he was “the one.” They married and she moved to the Ohio farm in 1951. At that time, Eugene’s Aunt Lydia owned the home farm and her son James was farming it.
Eugene worked on the farm his mother had purchased, first milking cows, then switching to beef and Percheron horses and quarter horses. He had several off-farm jobs, including work with Select Sires, Cadiz Seed Company and for the coal mine. Tillie taught first grade for a couple of years, then helped Eugene run the home office and worked with homebound education for students with disabilities. They built a good life on the farm raising their sons and daughter. Their daughter, Brooke, was lost to cancer as an adult.
“Our family was active in all of the Farm Bureau, Extension, and 4-H events. We still have some of those 4-H projects in my closet,” Tillie said. “We learned how to work hard. Anything that was going on, that was of value to the children. We went to church and we tried to raise them right. It’s hard to do right things sometimes, but they all turned out well.”
Eugene and Tillie loved life on their Harrison County farm, but it was not the home farm. Lydia’s son James Barger was deeded the home farm in 1971. A bachelor, James lived on the home farm until his poor health forced him to move in with his sister, Ruth. They decided they had to sell the family farm. It went up for auction May 6, 1989.
“My husband loved this farm,” Tillie said. “I was nervous. I knew we were going to try to buy this farm no matter how much it cost.”
The cold wind, mixed with frigid rain drops, whipped through the crowd as the bidding started on the property. Unimaginable nerves fluttered within Eugene as the auction on his beloved home farm ratcheted up. Within those fleeting moments, countless stories of his forefathers, the incredible, selfless survival of his mother, aunts and grandmother, and endless memories of life, love and loss hung in the past. The present was marked beneath the lofty branches of the century-old sycamore and the pressure of the next bid few thought Eugene could make. The auctioneer’s gavel would set the tone for the future.
In the end, clad in tattered overalls, Eugene won the bid.
“It was probably the proudest moment of his life,” Tillie said. “It has always been a special place.”
Since that noteworthy day in 1989, the Heavilin family put significant effort into improving the 173-acre sesquicentennial home farm by adding tile, building bridges over creeks and improving pastures. Initially, it was mostly in corn and hay production to supplement the Heavilin family’s dairy operation, but the family shifted away from dairy to beef production eight years ago.
In 2011, Blair and Carol’s son Stuart moved into the home on the farm, added a basement and significantly renovated it. Along with his wife, Tara, and their daughters (the ninth generation of family on the farm), Stuart has implemented an impressive rotational grazing operation for sheep production. Stuart also works for the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District.
Eugene passed away in early 2003. Tillie is 92, still serving as a 4-H advisor and making cards to send to nursing homes and veteran’s hospitals. Blair and Carol manage the farm now and continue to be grateful for the outcome of the 1989 farm auction.
“Buying this farm was one of Dad’s proud moments. This was always home to him,” Blair said. “I am pretty sure this farm will continue. Stuart is very interested in it and very good at it. He does pretty well and his daughters are interested in it. And our family knows the daughters can do it. Our daughter ran the dairy for a while by herself.
“If my Dad had not bought this farm in 1989 it would have been bought by developers to turn into cabins and hunting properties, but he kept it in the family, kept it as a farm. And it is an excellent farm.”
Note: Kyle Sharp’s 2002 OCJ story on the Barger/Heavilin family compiled some of the history included in this story.