the the story of my growing up years at my parents' farmhouse in Blue
Copyright ©2009 Cynthia Rush
The 1845 farmhouse where I grew up, pictured here in August 1969.
On hot summer days at my brand new 100-year old home in Columbus, Ohio, as I chop away at overgrown bushes long overdue for replacement and flower beds choked by years of neglect, I try to remember the lesson taught to me by the pre-Civil War 160+ year farmhouse of my childhood: A house owns its residents, not the other way around. Several owners later, no one will remember that you were the one who gently scraped lead paint from the frames of the hand-blown windows or who agonized over replacing a slate roof with asphalt shingles or engineered the safe update of an electrical system. The story others remember about you will mention only the highlights of what you got rid of in order to write your own chapter to the house's history. Someone may credit you with an important addition, but don't for a minute harbor hopes that anyone but your own family will understand that you really, really did love the place with your whole heart for the time when you were hers.
What I know about the Blue Ball, Ohio farmhouse called the Culbertson/ Eudaly/ Harpring/ Rush /MGM/Hinkle home was learned when I was a child -- smelling, tasting, touching, trampling and loving the surrounding lands as only a child -- still untrained in the workings of the world -- can do. Most of the flowers I discovered there had been planted fifty or sixty years earlier by a daughter of the builder: Frances Jane Culbertson Eudaly.
This is the tree we loved, which died the year after we sold the property. It sat in the front yard to the right of the driveway, and had a tree swing with very long ropes.
|Her story -- still alive and blooming when we arrived -- was the one I loved. We worked to obliterate traces of other owners. I believe, without realizing it, we gobbled up the best chapter that wonderland had to offer.|
Our driveway was very long then -- before the highway department bought up some of the right of way.
on several acres of rolling farmland with a pleasant view to the south,
the bricks for farmhouse were laid in 1845 by a Pennsylvania farmer named
William Culbertson who dug the clay and baked the bricks in a nearby pasture,
according to Culbertson family story. Large patches of orange clay still
dominated the field just beyond our side yard when we arrived.
Blue Ball sits at the juncture of lands shaped long ago by Ohio's ancient glacier. Half the terrain is as flat as only a Midwestern cornfield can be. The other half is hilly, dark, rich and rolling like the middle South. For early travelers, this was the best of both worlds. Rich, fertile soil and good accessibility by canal and highway made the site quite appealing.
Culbertson built his farm on a ridge with a hilly woods to the northwest. An orchard was eventually planted in the level, fertile area just north of the house and yard. South was cropland. Originally the property included several hundred acres.
Stagecoach stops in the area had names which could be described with picture-type signs for stagecoach drivers who couldn't read: Red Lion, Black Horse, Green Tree, Golden Lamb (in Lebanon), and Blue Ball. My cherished childhood trinkets include the little golden sheep we got each time we ate at Lebanon's historic Golden Lamb restaurant. Our own little hamlet boasted only a pub and two vegetable stands, but for generations, local misbehavers targeted the blue sphere suspended at the heart of our village.
Long after the stagecoach era, in 1900, one of William Culbertson's daughters, Fannie, and her husband William Eudaly purchased the property from the rest of the heirs and began remodelling. The Eudalys were a well-seasoned, middle- of-life couple with cosmopolitan experience. Childless, they had travelled widely and they had elegant taste. I believe it is the influence of Fannie Eudaly who died in 1918 which even today still faintly remains on the property. Mr. Eudaly's death occurred in the 1930s. Many chapters of the life of the house occurred between then and the time we bought it in 1960.
For several years, just before we bought the house, it had been merely an investment property abused by tenants. We children couldn't understand why our parents wanted to move to this abandoned spookhouse. Everywhere there were waterbugs (we mistakenly called them cockroaches) and just plain dirt in all the dozen or more rooms -- huge rooms, twice or three times the size of living rooms in normal houses -- plus filth in all the hallways and entryways connecting those rooms to each other and to the four bathrooms. When we first looked at the property, all the porcelin in the bathrooms was so foul, my parents took me out to the orchard and had me squat down behind a bush rather than touch anything in those indoor outhouses.
mother single-handedly transformed this forlorn farmhouse back into the
palace it once had been.
Years later an old man who stopped to buy apples from our orchard described the job he'd had as a boy, working for the Culbertsons lighting fires in all our fireplaces. All day long he traveled from one fireplace to another, running out back to the woodpile, cutting and gathering wood, then carrying logs and kindling back upstairs. There had been a maid and a hired hand to assist the mistress with the gardening.
My mother took on this project alone. Several years into her efforts, a neighbor convinced her to hire a cleaning woman, but by that time, most of the heavy work was done. While my father was at school in Cincinnati in the mornings and evenings all week long, Mother worked on the restoration by herself, shackled by a tight budget but fixed with an obsession to uphold her commitment to the soul of her new home. Her loyalties, unlike mine, were not to Mrs. Eudaly's innovations. If Mom could have had her way, the entire house would have been returned its 1845 design.
I was glad this did not happen, since its original design was a big yellow brick box with only a cut-out place for a porch. I loved Mrs. Eudaly's 1900 addition -- the grand, wrap-around front porch which completely changed the character of the structure.
is a photo of my mother, standing in the kitchen, with the east light coming
in the front door, through the front hall, then the dining room. The house
was huge. We grew accustomed to living in a mammoth-sized home.
Below is an east-facing view of the pine trees in the front yard, shot from inside the house looking down the front walk, which disappeared over the years. The pines no longer stand to the left and right of the front walk -- they grew old and passed on around the time we sold the property in 1986.
Since my mother couldn't remove "modern" changes such as these, as best possible, she honored both realities. The brick was painted white when we got it and we kept it that way (although we later learned the original color had been pale, golden yellow). We had the shutters painted black, instead of green, which gave the place a fresher look. Mother was intent on converting this miserable wreck into an enviable mansion, restoring one room at a time while making it an appropriate professional base for my father, a general practitioner of medicine studying to become the town's first psychiatrist. Working alone, she helped the house metamorphosize from a spookhouse into an elegant storybook mansion, wallpapering, scraping and painting, while I -- with the luxury of time and patience had only by a youngest child -- was free to roam the outdoors of this place where we were living -- this place which had been left on its own to grow as it might these many years.
This was not a windswept Midwestern farm. The road out front was Dixie Highway/ Old Route 25, predecessor to Interstate 75. For decades it was the main connector between Dayton, Cincinnati and beyond. Just-barely adequate distance separated our home from the roaring semitractor trailer trucks which roared over our piece of highway. My father immediately began planting bushes and trees to close out some of the racket. My entire experience at that residence was rather lonely.
|The bustle of truck mufflers was our only reminder of a world beyond our island of 19th century vegetation. In the years after we sold the property and it was "unearthed" by the next owners, people would say to me, "I'd never known that property even existed – it was so hidden back there!" During the Rush family years, it was hidden. But in the beginning (like now), the world could see the house and grounds.|
|Mom and me in the dining room in the late 1960s. In later years, Dad decided he wanted a pool table in the dining room instead of a table (see below). There was still plenty of space to walk through the room, or sit by the fireplace in the afternoon sunshine.|
the hill by the mailbox grew irises tall and stately and wild, lining the
drainage ditch with their flat green blades and purple splendor. On the
south side of the yard in the fenceline near the milestone (which read "Dayton
20 miles, Cincinnati 24 miles") was a mountain of peony bushes, lush and
splendid, crowded into a border of catalpa trees.
Each school day morning I trudged down the long drive to the busstop past a high hedge punctuated by two gnarled trunks of catalpa trees crowned with heart-shaped leaves and clusters of flowers which filled the air each spring with their intoxicating aroma. A carpet of violets blanketed the feet of a huge silver maple tree standing between the two catalpas, the biggest silver maple I'd ever seen then or since, so large three grownups could not hold hands around it. We had a tree swing in that tree with ropes more than twelve feet long.
To the right of the driveway was a bed of some exotic, never-identified bushes with little hairy yellow flowers that bloomed in the spring, situated midway between the weeping willow tree down near the road and a pine tree whose limbs arched protectively around our roof.
In the front yard was another pine, the tallest tree any of us had ever seen. The pine trees at this place weren't like the green triangles I'd known every year at Christmas. These were strange, interesting caricatures of trees, that belonged in a backdrop from a fairy tale. Twisted limbs stuck out in syncopated intervals from their thick trunks like staccato notes dancing against the baseline -- real-life-sized versions of bonsai trees. You could see our supertall tree-- probably seventy feet in height -- from the next township. (Since Blue Ball sat on the county line between Butler and Warren counties, it seems unfair not to mention that of course, our magnificent tree could also be seen from the next county, which was not far up the road.)
credit Fannie Eudaly for the landscaping because I've been told she masterminded
not only the porch, but also the arrangements and clusterings of vegetation.
The lilacs were the correct age to have been her planting work. Only people
like she and her attorney husband who had traveled to Europe and the Mediterranean
and had designed that dramatic Victorian porch utterly transforming the
boxy structure into a gracious and stately home could have conceived of
plantings like the ones I loved. Fannie -- a God-fearing Christian and missionary
devoted to service (according to her funeral announcement) -- may not have
planted every one of the violets I loved, but her mark was all over that
place, like the whisper of a song or the scent of a seductive temptress.
Everywhere on that land there seemed to be lilacs. There were lilacs in the front yard and lilacs clustered near the side doors -- huge lilacs that must've been seventy years old. Out back was a formal party area with a border of eight- foot high lilac bushes on the south edge -- all kinds-- the ones with white flowers, those with the highly fragrant, pale lavander blossoms, and the French lilacs with deep purple, tight little flowerettes.
On the opposite side of that yard was a border of bushes with big white clusters of blooms. I could pick one of those and throw it at my brother just like a snowball! There was also a bush I called a bridal tree, covered with miniature bouquets of white flowers just right for a doll to carry in a wedding ceremony. And there was a weigelia bush with tiny fragrant pink trumpets all over the bush.
the fenceline out back, near what had once been the old outhouse, was a
profusion of daffodils. When I wanted to pick daffodils, that was where
they sent me and I never ran out of flowers to pick. In later years, the
patients and volunteers at my father's psychiatric Day Hospital planted
a bank of daffodils farther south, near what we called the bean patch, but
that was after our pool and poolhouse had been built -- before it was changed
from a poolhouse into apartments. That came much later. Daffodils (Mrs.
Eudaly's?) -- and perhaps some purple hyacinths -- grew by the fenceline
amongst more of those fragrant catalpas when I was a little girl.
Around that wonderful front porch grew heavily perfumed pink peonies petals like moist crepe paper, so heavy with fragrance and beauty the plants nearly collapsed under their own weight.
|Above see the then-"poolhouse" on the left, hiding behind the two camping trailers we parked behind the house.|
Every spring of my childhood I diligently knocked knobby peony buds against
each other to fling the ants off the peony petals. They always returned.
It was only years and years later that I discovered that if not for the
ants, there would be no peony flowers -- the plant requires the services
of ants to achieve fertility and produce blooms.
Lilacs were interspersed with the peonies that surrounded to the wrap-around porch. Nearby, beneath a towering twisted pine tree guarding my parents' bedroom window, grew lilies-of-the-valley.
mother was responsible for a brick walled-in garden connecting the "milk
house" -- a thatched-roof brick outbuilding near the kitchen and an entrance
leading to our dining room.
Mother's garden was modelled after the beloved story "A Secret Garden" -- an enclosed space where cozy, special conversations could be shared and no one but her begonias and my father's bubbling fountain would hear. The brick wall (removed by later owners) created a spot for the fountain my father designed and built, using boulders found on the property. Lilac trees graced the dining room entry door. On cool mornings, my parents sometimes sat around the crab apple tree in the small garden in nightclothes sharing the early morning feasts my mother prepared.
|Above, on left is the milkhouse, situated almost behind the farmhouse, and on the right is the wall that hides my mother's garden from view. The wall enclosing the garden is now gone.||Below, my mother is reading her morning newspaper in her walled in "Secret Garden."|
Mother always prepared even the simplest meal with elegance reserved for royalty -- a silver pitcher for the milk, a sterling berry spoon for your cereal, a frosted bowl for the raspberries and a thermal server of hot, freshly- prepared espresso. Sometimes she brought out a basket carrying a selection of jams and jellies for us to choose from to spread on our toast. If there were eggs and bacon, they were served on heated plates.
Not a trace of those breakfasts now remains at my childhood home. I can only just barely accept the fact that if I were to barge in on the current owners, my parents would not greet me from that garden, smelling of strong coffee and morning dew.
The locally well-known 25-acre "Harpring Apple Orchards," reportedly planted by Johnney "Appleseed" Chapman (which isn't likely, in light of Chapman's year of death and the age of the trees), grew in the field just north of the house, up the hill from the big silver maple and the hedge of bushes. We got the horses a few years after we moved to the farm, probably when I was about ten, while we were still fully intoxicated and very nearly inebriated with the pleasure living this life this place gave to us. Old timers in Blue Ball told my father not to let his horses into the orchard because they would eat the bark of the trees and kill them.
Horses were just great big dogs as far as we were concerned. My father had probably petted a horse once or twice in his life before he decided to buy two of them and free them with wild abandon into the orchard.
Frisky and unshackled they were, frolicking and whinneying in deep rumbling
song, running through the deep grasses flourishing between the neat rows
of well-established apple trees which I can still remember climbing and
finding a crook where I could sit, apple in hand, while I read a book and
felt like one of the Little Women. The apples were good hard apples, pleasantly
tart, red tinged with green, but not the standard Delicious apples you normally
find in a store. They were very round-looking apples, like baseballs.
Near the orchard's edge was a gate where the horses -- whose numbers eventually climbed to four -- bottlenecked on their way to the barn. They stood in this area at day's end, waiting to be let into the barnyard where they would clomp down to the stables braying for scoops of grain and some sweet hay.
Where they stood at orchard's edge, behind the old garage (an eyesore - no longer standing!), they left behind their horse plops. Even years later, in each place where there was once a horse plop grew the tallest most pickable violets you've ever seen with long stems and large pretty leaves and deep, glowing purple petals. They grew in clusters down near where several pear trees once stood along with an apricot or a peach tree, a crab apple, and one particularly outstanding apple tree. The violets I collected there worked very well to make appealing bouquets when combined with the yellow forsythia strands growing nearby.
In the late 1970s or early '80s, my father got rid of the horses and began planting walnut trees in the fifteen or so acres which had been the orchard -- land which he still owns.
Perhaps it was the sight of those leafless wooden carcasses with arms scratching out against the wind after the old timers' predictions came true about the apple trees dying that forced me to accept ideas larger than a child's mind can fully comprehend: that a lover's caress can't always salve the wounds inflicted by an unflichingly accurate universe; that childhood doesn't exempt anyone from disappointments; that none of us ever fully succeeds at the goals we set for ourselves. But I didn't sort through the details of these dim understandings until much later when the walnut trees my father planted were nearly large enough for me to climb, if I'd still had the notion to climb trees.
Horses were just one of the many interesting types of animals we had during my growing up years. We had several peacocks, one of which fell in love with a bantam hen and strutted up and down the driveway displaying his plumage and unrequited love; sheep, which attracted the attention of local boys who used them for bow-and-arrow target practice; ducks; guinea hens; a goat or two; and dogs of all sizes, ranging from Dachshunds to Saint Bernards.
The landscape of the farm changed during the 35 years since we bought it, not always by our intent.
The bushes with the exotic hairy flowers died off over the years, probably because our family so fully appreciated the privacy offered by shade trees and multiflor rose bushes over the wide-open sunny appearance the yard had upon our arrival. Many of the lilacs all over the property eventually got old and died.
The highway department widened Old Route 25, gobbling up the irises and the weeping willow at the end of the driveway. We moved the milestone up to the backyard, lest it be stolen.
Then one evening in the 1980s while my mother and I were out shopping and my father was reading a book in the living room, a wild and brilliant thunderstorm toppled the seventy- foot high pine tree in the front yard. Instead of crashing through the roof, ‚which it could have done, the pine sliced neatly between other trees in the yard without disturbing a thing as it slammed to the ground. All that remained was the bottom twenty feet of trunk -- which turned out to be compromised and had to be removed.
After our family had owned the property for about 25 years, one day some strangers pushed open the gate and drove their Cadillac up the driveway. A couple of young guys wearing tee shirts, blue jeans and flashy, diamond jewelry sat in the front seat. One called out the car window to my mother as she stepped from the car to the front door.
"Hey! Excuse me," the heavyset man asked, while the bald young weight-lifter
waited quietly beside him. In the back seat sat an aged woman, probably
about my mother's age, waiting patiently for my mother's reply. "Excuse
me," he repeated. "Who owns this house?"
Drawing herself up proudly, my mother said, not unpleasantly, "I do. Why do you ask?"
You could have heard her heart beat.
"We want to buy it," he answered.
Several months of discussions, appraisals and paperwork passed before my parents finally chose to begin a sort of retirement, leaving behind the large farmhouse in favor of a smaller property my mother had purchased in town as a kind of investment property. The unusual threesome - Jerry Mitchell, Jim Gault, and Evaleone Mehl (MGM) - became important friends to our family, helping my parents move out of the farmhouse, and bringing them Christmas presents for many years following the house sale.
new owners set about clearing out the overgrowth accumulated over 25 years.
Many people who drove Old Route 25 during the year or so following the sale
said they had never even known a house existed back in there, what with
the multiflor rose bushes and the overgrown trees.
Landscape companies were brought in to prune and groom the trees that summer, the Drought of 1986. I don't know who mourned the most, the new owners or our family, when we all discovered the silver maple -- so large three adults couldn't reach around it -- was irrevocably diseased. In early summer, it turned yellow and shed all its leaves. The tree never grew leaves again.
many years later those owners sold the property to an old Blue Ball family
-- the Hinkles -- who are now adding their own chapter to the history. Whatever
the "Rush" touch was -- fresh wallpaper, repainted brickwork, ruined apple
trees or magnificent breakfasts -- most or all of that has already disappeared.
Years have passed since 1986 when my parents left behind our family homestead. I see it sometimes during visits to Middletown. Always, the thought which occurs to me is "That's MY house. No one else could EVER POSSIBLY own her--"
But of course, the Rushes never owned that farmhouse. For one generation, we were lucky enough to have it own us. Just as it will own so many others.
Note: The Striker family purchased the farmhouse in 2010 and have applied layers and layers of loving care to restoring it to its former glory.