William Ross of Preble County has fond childhood memories of milking his father’s prized Jersey cattle on their 160-acre farm. The only boy out of six siblings, Ross spent countless hours in the 27-station milking barn until he left for college and became a biochemist.
“When I left for college, Dad bought automatic milkers and hired help,” says Ross, now 87. “My parents sold the cattle in the 1950s, but they were able to put all my five sisters and me through college with money they earned on the farm. They worked hard.”
Ross Farm is one of Ohio’s treasured Bicentennial Farms, a designation family farms receive for 200 or more years of consecutive family ownership. These farms are part of Ohio’s Historic Family Farms program, which recognizes farms held by families for 100, 150 or 200 years. More than 1,300 farms are registered in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Established in 1817, Ross Farm was originally granted to Ross’ ancestor, William Decoursey, for his service in the Revolutionary War.
“It was all swampland and trees, and they had to cut out a lot of timber,” Ross says. “We still have seven acres of that woodland, and it’s precious to me.”
Today, the ninth generation of the Ross family lives on the farm – Ross’ daughter Susan and her children and grandchildren live in one of two homes on the property.
“We all have a great appreciation for this farmland,” Susan Ross says. “I’m a nurse, my sister Anne Brower is a nurse, and our brother Doug Ross is a physician – and this farm put us all through school.”
The family rents land to a farmer who raises soybeans and corn. Even in his 80s, Ross continues to garden, growing potatoes and sweet corn to feed his family.
“Dad and our mother, Marilyn, raised us all on the garden produce Dad grew,” Susan says. “We loved summer in Ohio. We’d have strawberry jam forever.”
Thanks in part to his biology training, Ross has been able to maintain a healthy environment for wildlife on the farm, planting hundreds of trees over the years.
“He’s a Johnny Appleseed. All the trees he has planted bring lots of wildlife, birds and honey bees,” Susan says. “This land is its own being with its own personality. We love the beauty of green things growing and the ability to open the windows and hear the birds. The lightning bugs and the moon are so bright in summer. Mother Nature is at her finest out here.”
In Miami County, Mark Mitchell and his wife, Sandra, have a similar affection for the farm that has been in the Mitchell family since 1811.
“My third great-grandfather, William Mitchell, came here from Virginia in 1808, and he got ownership of this farm in 1811 on Christmas Eve,” says Mark Mitchell, 76. “He and his wife built a log cabin and raised 10 kids on this land. We are the sixth generation.”
Mark and Sandra Mitchell raised four children on the land, and their sons, Noah and Micah, continue to farm corn and beans. Micah and the Mitchells’ two daughters, Nicole and Andrea – work in education. Mark Mitchell taught high school biology for 30 years and farmed for 33 years, retiring in 2006. His voice resonates with a deep sense of pride when he talks about the farm’s history.
“My fourth great-grandfather was a Revolutionary War soldier. His son was the first to come here, and then went back to get his father and sisters, making at least four 500-mile trips on horseback,” he says. “They were tough. I can’t imagine that. We also have a War of 1812 soldier and a Civil War soldier in our family.”
In 1813, the Mitchells built a log church on the property where many are buried. Today, it still functions as a Methodist church with about 60 members.
“It’s nice knowing all my ancestors have been on this land. We even once found a cup and saucer that William Mitchell brought in 1811,” Mark Mitchell says. “I recently saw an old photo of my great- grandmother and three of her children at a piano, and I wondered where it was taken. When I looked above me, I saw the same unusual molding above the door that was in the photo. It really got to me realizing I was sitting in the exact spot where they’d been singing some 90 years ago.”