By Matt Reese
Calvin Peterson — the sixth generation on the Ohio Historic Family Farm in Ross County — can still remember when the back of his beautiful brick house became the front.
“The house was built facing Rt. 11 down a long lane. U.S. 35 came through in 1935 near the back of the house, so now the back of the house faces the road,” Calvin said.
Incidentally, U.S. 35 has since been moved and turned into a four-lane highway and now the Peterson house sits on Old U.S. 35. The house was built more than 100 years before Old U.S. 35 — making the house really old, but meticulously cared for and well preserved.
The Peterson family was among the very first to put down deep agricultural roots in northern Ross County. John Martin Peterson was born in Hardy County, Va. He was the son of Jacob and Sarah Peterson who sailed from Switzerland to America in 1736. John Martin served in the Revolutionary War with the Virginia Militia and, according to A Standard History of Ross County, “was a famous hunter and frontiersman. He and his three younger step-sisters were captured by Indians. He was a prisoner six months when he made his escape.”
His son John, in October of 1806, then was among the earliest settlers and the first of the Peterson family in the Chillicothe area, moving there in October of 1806. John was a blacksmith and gunsmith by trade who purchased a tract of land, built a log house and started a farm. In 1817, John moved to Greene County, Ohio and left the farm to his son, Martin, who served as a colonel in the War of 1812. Martin was also part of a group who brought the first Shorthorn cattle over from England to improve
beef genetics. In addition, he built the beautiful (and now backwards) brick house.
“Martin Peterson bought a tract of choice land on the north side of Paint Creek in Concord Township. He was somewhat of a genius and a man of original enterprise. On his land he established a factory for the making of farm implements and wagons, and while conducting the factory he also superintended the clearing of a large tract of land. For many years he and his family lived in a log house, but in 1832 he erected a substantial brick building which with some enlargement and modifications is still standing,” from Portrait and Biographical Record of the Scioto Valley, Ohio written in 1894.
The significant family acreage went to Martin’s son, Albert C. Peterson, who was born in 1836 and spent his life on the family farm. He was known as a wealthy and influential farmer of Ross County. The farm grew substantially in his, and subsequent, generations, passing through the ownership of Russell Peterson and Albert F. Peterson, Calvin’s father.
“My first job on the farm was with the garden with my mother and dad. During the second World War, all of our hired help was drafted so I was on the tractor at 11 or 12 working the farm with my brother and my uncle. They still had this barn that could house four teams of horses. They had two teams when I was growing up for hauling silage and corn. I remember driving a team of horses, but I was brought up with a tractor,” Calvin said. “They got the first tractor here in the late 20s and the first one I remember was an Farmall M when I was 10.”
Calvin’s family moved to the big brick house when he was very young.
“I moved to this house in 1932 and they put in a furnace in 1935. Until then they had a fireplace in each room and we carried wood and coal in and hugged the fire. I was quite young when we got electric in the mid-30s. I was only four but I remember when we got the indoor plumbing and the coal furnace. We had a coal bin and my father would go down and get the clinkers out and stoke the fire. We could see our breath upstairs and we would run downstairs to get dressed in the morning,” Calvin said. “They had hogs and cattle and we butchered right here on the farm. We’d put it in salt to cure it and then we had the gardens and the women would can it for the winter. We had a hen house and were self-sufficient.”
The farm was very diverse in those days.
“I had a brother and we did all the boy things early. I’d play down at the creek in the sand and come when they would ring the dinner bell. There was always something to do. They sold milk in the mid-30s. The dairy was at my uncle’s place and my brother and I would milk twice a day. Every day we’d get up in the morning and go feed the cows and break the ice so they could drink. Then we’d gather the eggs too when I was young. I remember my kindergarten class came out to see the turkeys and the broilers and that was a big thing,” Calvin said. “When they would harvest the wheat in July, they’d cut the wheat and put it in sheaves and stack it and then thresh it. It would take three days, maybe, to thresh here. A neighbor would travel to 11 places with his thresher. The corn picker came along in the early 40s and that was a blessing. It was all done by hand before that. They would put the corn in a pile and then save the fodder for bedding. It was slow.”
Every aspect of life required significant effort back in those days on the farm.
“There were three dug wells on this farm and they each had a hand pump. We also had windmills with water tanks for the cattle,” Calvin said. “We’d have to go from school to dark working and we worked hard all summer putting hay up. We grew corn, wheat and soybeans and hay for the livestock. We did the hay with a team of horses and a sickle mower with a five-foot blade. They’d cut the hay down and it would cure for two or three days. We had a horse drawn hay rake to put it in a windrow and then they would throw it on a wagon by hand. Then we got a hay loader that would hook on in back of the wagon.”
“My father and uncle were involved with Ohio Certified Seed and they raised it here and processed it,” Calvin said. “They started it in the 30s and sold 90% of it here at the farm and I delivered. My dad and uncle bought the elevator in Frankfort and I delivered seed in the bag to Waverly, Jackson, Chillicothe and Portsmouth. My dad and uncle did a good job and were well known for it. They did that into the 60s.”
The farm continued to evolve as Calvin grew up.
“I went to Ohio State for two quarters. I liked the dirt and I didn’t particularly like school. On Fridays, I would catch city buses to Route 62. Then I would thumb my way back. Back then I didn’t have much trouble getting a ride,” Calvin said. “I was ready to farm and I’d met the girl I wanted to marry at the Ross County Fair. We were married and were blessed with three children. She was a farm girl too. We worked hard from daylight to dark but we had a good marriage for 59 years.”
Calvin’s son, John, grew up with the family tradition as well.
“I started plowing when I was around 12 and I could reach the petals. Mom would plow during the day and when I got home from school I’d take over,” John said. “We had a three-bottom plow and we could do about an acre an hour. Then I started cultivating with a two-row cultivator John Deere A with a hand clutch.”
John now owns the property and his son, Justin Peterson, is the eighth generation to grow up on the farm. Justin’s son, when he visits grandpa and grandma, is the ninth generation of Petersons on the land. Justin and John spent many hours researching the farm’s history to apply for an Ohio Historic Family Farm designation. It seems fitting that the generations who have lived in the very old house backing up to a not quite as Old U.S. 35 have worked so hard to preserve the rich heritage of the farm by looking backwards at the history of their forefathers on the land.
“It is a great thing to be able to learn where you come from and the trials, hardships and joys of living on a farm,” Justin said. “There is a lot to learn about the role our ancestors played in shaping the state and this country. There is a lot of history here.”