Belmont County couple preserves history of 203-year-old family farm
Bob Martin wakes up every morning with a smile on his face.
Farm Bureau member Marietta Martin, Bob's wife, said that's what's so special about the Belmont County farm that has been in Bob's family for more than 200 years.
"I just thought I'd like to come back and get away from it all and not worry about all the things I used to have to do," Bob said. He spent 45 years away from the family homestead, often moving courtesy of his grocery manufacturing position. But he always returned to the old farmhouse in which he grew up, just like his father and grandfather, James White Martin (portrait above), before him. "I always liked the field better than the asphalt and cement," he said.
The 210-acre farm has been in the same family for five generations. Bob's great-great-great-grandfather, Jesse White, first settled the farm in what is present-day Bethesda. "He was an entry man, that's what they called him, an original settler who got the land from the government," he said.
The original log cabin was situated across the road from the current house, which his great-grandfather Amos Martin built out of the farm's timber and sod in 1856. Cherry woodwork, a dirt floor cellar and an out kitchen with overhead living quarters where hired hands slept are just a few features of the current 19th century home.
Historical documents, including the deed to the land given to Bob's great-great grandfather, James White, cling to the dining room wall, enhancing the old home's historical charm. The fragile papers, some having weathered 20 decades, appear a faded yellow in their antique frames, but the bold signatures and crafty, hand-written calligraphy, once commonplace prior to typewriters and keyboards, proclaim the long-held stake of the land.
The Martins believe the farm was settled in the late 1700s, but the first record is in 1805, when the Quaker Church first documented the family. "I wouldn't allow anybody to say it was before 1805 because I couldn't prove it," Marietta said. And you better believe she can prove whatever she says about this farm.
If it wasn't for Bob's grandfather, James Martin, the farm may not have stayed in the family. His sisters, like many families at the time, wanted to move west and take their part of the farm inheritance, but Martin stayed home. He kept his sisters' letters, along with his journals, and Marietta can practically recite them in her sleep. She said Bob thought her parents spoiled her and he wouldn't marry her until after she did some work. She now has done plenty of work, spending countless hours researching the family and farm to the point that she seems to know her husband's family better than he does.
"I've always liked history. It's a lot more interesting if you can identify with it," she said, sifting through the well-worn and loosely bound journals stored in quick-seal bags.
"James White thought his farm was really something special," Marietta said of her husband's great-great grandfather, whose initials remain in the stone walkway beside the house. "He was meticulous and I see that in my husband," she said. "Who else do you know that thinks it's important to wash barn windows?"
Indeed, Bob keeps his farm looking sharp, from clearing debris in his woods to washing the hand-blown glass barn windows. They've been told they should call it Martin's Park, because he keeps it so tidy.
"Some men have a golf game that they live and die by. Well, the farm is Bob's golf game," Marietta said. "If there's a building with a loose roof or a bad paint job, he's got to take care of it."
With the vast amount of knowledge his wife has about his family and farm, Bob chooses to let her do most of the talking, except for when it comes to the barn; that's his territory.
The Martins have been told they've done a great job restoring their barn, originally built in 1899. But it's never been restored, just immaculately cared for. When they were first married, Bob would save enough money after every paycheck to buy a gallon of Dutch Boy paint for the barn. Like rings on a tree, the building's true age is hidden within layers of deep, bright red coats of paint, glistening pristinely against the deep blue sky.
Its silo is a masterpiece. Carefully crafted from bent Cyprus, it's soft, yet has stored the rewards of countless harvests. It's obvious that haste was not a factor during its construction. Erected four years after the barn, it's built like a house. Every eight feet there are four-by-fours and on the inside, it's plastered and airtight. "It's never split or spread; it's so solid. I've never seen anything like it. Never," Bob said.
"There's not a whole lot of old family barns around that are well-maintained and still in good shape. It was a beautiful barn 108 years ago and it still is today."
Recently added to the beauty of the Martins' barn is a painted quilt square on its road-facing side. As part of the Appalachian Area Quilt Barn Project, the eight-foot square panel is a first in Belmont County. Funded by the Ohio Arts Council, the idea started in Adams County, where at least 20 barns now feature quilt squares. Similar projects also appear in Iowa, Tennessee and Kentucky, and other Ohio counties. Barn artist Scott Hagan, creator of Ohio's bicentennial barns, painted the square on the Martin's barn.
Barn owners get to pick what they would like painted on the square. "We chose a little red schoolhouse because Bob's mother and grandmother both taught in one-room schoolhouses," Marietta said. "My daughter and I were teachers as well. So we thought it was appropriate."
Marietta won't admit it, but she's in the middle of a love affair 203 years in the making. She's not leaving her husband anytime soon, though. "See my name on the weather vane?" she asked, pointing to the peak of the barn roof, where her claim to the land is marked by the vane's contorted metal, spelling out "Marietta." "I want to make sure it's on the roof so Bob's second wife can see it!"
Pretty funny for a lady who tells everyone her husband's the one that wakes up smiling every day.
The Martin family barn was built in 1899, and is what Bob Martin describes as a “bridge barn.” This is a two-story design where the barn is usually built into the slope of a hill or close to an embankment. A driveway leads up the hill or embankment to a large sliding door on the upper floor, which contains an area for grain, silage and feed storage. Sometimes, like the Martin barn, a bridge extends from the embankment to the sliding door. The lower level provides shelter for animals and is entered from ground level. This design is also known as a “bank barn,” “raised barn” or “basement barn.”
Twice the Century Farm
The Martin Farm received the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Century Farm designation a few years ago. The program recognizes those who have maintained a farm and homestead in the same family for at least 100 consecutive years, with emphasis on well-preserved, working farms.
To be considered for a Century Farm designation, a six-part registration must be completed. Documentation of farm ownership in the form of a deed must accompany the registration. Present ownership, location of the land, historical information, current information, a summary of owners and a certified signature must be submitted. It’s a lot of paperwork, and Marietta Martin said many people with century farms go unrecognized because they don’t want to bother with it.
In March 2003, during Ohio’s bicentennial celebration, 13 farms were designated as bicentennial farms, having been in existence for 200 years. No such designations have been made since that time for 200-year-old farms, although the Martin farm would certainly qualify.
“By the time we got the designation, the farm had already been around for 200 years,” she said.