GREEN — White House Fruit Farm in Green Township is officially now an Ohio Bicentennial farm, being owned by the same family for more than 200 years — 214, to be precise.
The honor comes from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Historic Farms Program. The department recognizes farms that have been in an Ohio family’s possession for 100, 150 and 200 years. These farms receive a metal sign and certificate.
While it sounds simple enough, the road to proving such status takes a lot of hard work and research.
The whole family, including aunts and uncles, came together to help in the research. Scott Hull took on the task of assembling the information for the state. He used research already completed by Debbie Pifer when she applied for the 100-year recognition.
“I applied and got the 100-year designation in 2002,” Pifer said. “I just never went any further (back) at that time. This year, we did the research. Scott was able to connect with relatives and located historic documents as proof.”
AT THE BEGINNING
Hull said his research showed the farmland was purchased and recorded on Jan. 20, 1809, based on a document he came across on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management website. The document was signed by President Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison. The land was said to be “in the territory north-west of the Ohio (river) and above the mouth of the Kentucky River.”
The property was located on the south side of Western Reserve Road in Columbiana County. The north side of Western Reserve Road was in Trumbull County as there was no Mahoning County at the time.
Hull said there was no record of the land price in the 1809 document, but other properties sold at that time for about $1.25 an acre. It was part of what was known as the “Congress Lands” of the government-created Western Reserve, or Section 4, Township 16, Range 3. It lies along the present-day border of Green and Canfield townships.
Hull said it was his ancestor, Johann Heinrich “Henry” Baird, who purchased the land. He was born in Zeitlofs, Bad Kissingen, Bavaria, in 1742 and grew up on a farm. In 1793, he made the trip to America with his son, John. In early documents, the family surname was listed as “Beard, Baird or Bard.” Hull said Baird may have “squatted” on the land until he was able to set up a successful farm operation to bring in funds to buy the site.
“When Henry settled here, a family first built a home, then a church, then they went to work,” Hull said. “The church Henry helped build was where the family cemetery was located, which is today known as Dutch Ridge Cemetery.”
FIRST 100 YEARS
In different accounts of the early days, Hull said times were tough on early settlers. The area was a high crime area because of the vast woodlands and taverns that existed along what was probably a stagecoach route. To make things worse, clearing land had to be done by hand among the wolves and bears.
The first 100 years of farm operation saw mostly cattle and grains. Henry died at 81 in 1823 or 1824. In his will, Henry gave his oldest son John the 100 acres on which White House Fruit Farm now stands.
John died in 1829 at 61 and, according to Hull’s research, willed the 100 acres to his wife, Hannah. John stated the land was to be held by Hannah until his youngest son, Jonas Beard, turned 21, and on the condition he cared for his mother and deaf sister. Jonas died in 1838, just shy of turning 21. It is believed the same requirements went to the second-youngest son, John Jr.
The property continued in the Baird or Beard family with Henry and Sarah as owners. Both died in 1895, when the property went to their son, Ensign Baird.
“Ensign wanted to go into the purebred cattle business, but things didn’t go well,” Hull said. “Somewhere between 1917 and 1922, the bank called in the loans on the farm and it went up for a sheriff’s sale. Jerome Hull’s mother, a Baird, did not want to see the 100-acre farm leave the family. Jerome ended up putting in a bid on the land.”
Hull said Jerome, the nephew of Ensign Baird, went on a fishing trip to Canada and was sent a telegram from a friend saying: “You just bought a farm.”
At the time, Jerome was serving as Mahoning County Schools superintendent. He was 38 in 1922 and still single. He ended up marrying a teacher named Doris and the two started a family and got into farming. In 1923, Jerome purchased apple trees and opened the present day orchard. The family also went into the turkey business by raising, dressing and selling wholesale turkeys.
“On their best year they dressed and sold over 5,000 turkeys,” Scott said.
DIRECT SALES BEGIN
Up to the 1960s, the farm was a wholesale operation, but there was a table set up under some trees where direct sales to the public took place.
David J. Hull kept the farm going and took over operations between 1977 and 1997. Between 1998 and 2009, David J. began transferring ownership to two of his four children, David R. Hull and Debbie Pifer.
The farm has changed a lot since the 1960s. The old 1881 barn was transformed into a large sales floor where fresh fruits and vegetables are sold as well as cheese, local jellies, cider, candy and donuts. A gift shop was built to the south of the parking lot and the farm has become a very busy place year-round.
Hull said the donuts were added in the 1970s when other farm markets were branching out into baked goods. Ruth Hull actually learned how to make the donuts and the farm started by offering powdered, cinnamon and plain donuts. Today, the White House blueberry donuts are a big draw.
In the late 1980s, David R. and Debbie Pifer really took an interest in the family business. David R. graduated from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture; Debbie graduated from OSU with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Their combined degrees are helping to make White House Fruit Farm a growing and successful business.
Hull did note that his grandfather, David J.; parents, David R. and Christine Hull; his sister, Lauren; aunts, Kim Sisco and Debbie Pifer; and aunt, Wendy Lynn and uncle Bob Lynn, are all working together in what is truly a family-run farm. His grandmother, Phyliss, died earlier this year, but was said to have worked up to her final days.
Looking to the future, White House Fruit Farm has developed a test orchard with the Midwest Apple Improvement Association to develop new varieties.
A farm that began 214 years ago has never left the family.
As for the White House name, Hull said it could have come from a passion for America, or the original white farm house. Jerome had discovered farms with a name were more successful.