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Miami County family receives Hoosier Homestead Awards 
 
By Michele F. Mihaljevich
Indiana Correspondent

PERU, Ind. – For more than 150 years and through eight generations, Janet L. Hunter’s family has owned farmland in Miami County, Ind. The family recently received Hoosier Homestead Awards for farms it has owned since 1837 and 1873.
The awards – presented by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) – honor farms that have remained in the same family for 100, 150 or 200 years. The farms must have more than 20 acres or produce more than $1,000 of agricultural products annually. During the March 22 ceremony, 59 families received awards. Since the program was created in 1976, more than 6,100 families have been honored.
A third piece of land on the same farm will receive Centennial and Sesquicentennial awards on Aug. 14 during the Indiana State Fair. Hunter was notified of those awards April 11 by ISDA.
Hunter said the idea of applying for the awards came about thanks to a major road project on U.S. 31, which runs between the family’s farmland. According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, the state is in the midst of identifying possible solutions to transportation issues along the U.S. 31 corridor in northern Indiana.
Current plans call for closing off some rural exits, Hunter said. As she understands it, federal funding needs to give additional consideration when historical properties are present.
“My chief concerns are safety of farm operators and machinery, the farm economic impact of inconvenient/fewer farm crossings to get to elevators and packing houses, and the traffic impact on rural roads not built for 50 mph local diverted traffic,” she said. “Are there federal funds to pay to improve these road beds, stripe the roads, provide shoulders – now deep ditches on each road side, stop signs, increase visibility on rural roads with big hills, which will have more traffic once the exits are closed?”
The family’s history in Indiana began in 1836 when Peter and Elizabeth Brower Fisher – Hunter’s great-great-great-grandparents – moved to the state from Preble County, Ohio. They were originally from Franklin County, Va. Their forefathers came from Germany, she said, at the bequest of William Penn, who recruited them to settle Pennsylvania.
The year after Peter and Elizabeth moved to Indiana, Peter purchased 160 and 121 acres of land at the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management office in LaPorte, Ind.
Hunter said she doesn’t know why these Brethren migrated from Ohio.
“Ohio became a state in 1803; Indiana in 1816,” she said. “The Brethren families liked to live near each other and often intermarried. I am guessing that the need for more land for large extended families and relatives was the reason for moving to Indiana. At that time, farming was for subsistence and land was needed to feed the families. Many of the Brethren settled in Carroll, Miami and Cass counties in Indiana.”
The couple’s oldest son, George Fisher, and his wife Barbara Moss Fisher, had nine children, including Hunter’s great-grandmother, Sarah Jane Fisher. She married John Henry Balsbaugh. Their daughter Nellie married Ezra Musselman, and they were the parents of Hunter’s father, Raymond E. Musselman.
The 1873 farm, containing 80 acres, came into the family when the land was purchased that year by a son of George Fisher. Sixty acres of the property were sold to Hunter’s parents in 1952.
The third piece of land – to be honored in August – is another section of the 1837 farm, a little over 95 acres of the original 160 purchased by Peter Fisher.
Early on, the 1837 farm was self-sustaining, Hunter noted.
“It’s purpose was to feed the family and take care of those less fortunate in the church community,” she explained. “The original barn held grain bins, a winnowing floor, corn crib, haymow, milking stanchions, calf pens, farrowing pens for hogs, feeding and shelter for cattle and horses. A milk house stood next to the barn.
“The farm had a house with a summer kitchen, an orchard, woodlands for timber to heat and cook, for maple syrup and wood to build furniture, structures and wagons.”
From 1950-2000, the farm raised 6,000 hogs annually, and had 1,600 laying hens and a herd of Angus beef cattle, Hunter said. Animals are no longer part of the farm operation. The farmland today has many sod waterways, new plantings of 9,000 trees (Conservation Reserve Program on marginal farmland), pollinator strips and a crop rotation of corn and soybeans, she said. The woods are being managed for future harvests.
Hunter shared her thoughts on how things have changed in farming over the years, and what her ancestors might have thought of some of those changes.
“Ezra Musselman could only say, ‘it’s red,’ when he saw the new tractor his son/my dad proudly showed him, replacing the horses he used to farm and his way of life. Animals, man, water, pneumatic power and windmills have been replaced by mechanical, electricity, cell towers, cell phones and windmill fields. U.S. 31 ‘freeway’ speeds would astound those who walked or rode horses and buggies.
“The mechanization and large farm equipment, cars and trucks, would be unfathomable to the ancestors. They made their clothes, furniture, and with community, buildings. Vegetables, fruits and meats were canned, pickled, smoked, dried or picked/killed before the meal. Store-bought food would have been frowned upon as a sign of laziness or lack of self-sufficiency. Waste, luxuries and greed were unthinkable and considered sinful.”
Consumerism was unknown to her ancestors, Hunter said, and politics were frowned upon as the topic took away from spiritual connection with God, family and nature. Rural electrification replaced hand milking and kerosene lamps, she reflected. Telephone calls went through an operator in Mexico (Indiana) for connections.
“The first farm telephone was wooden, a wall piece with a talking horn and a hand-held earpiece, before the heavy table model rotary dial telephones replaced it,” Hunter said. “Telephones replaced the ‘visiting’ that happened before and after church, at the elevator, within the family at meals and in the evenings, and with close neighbors.”
Hunter said her ancestors would be honored to see the values of stewardship, tithing, family love and community caring as their legacy.
“It is truly only by the grace of God that our family became the stewards of this historical resource,” she said. “There were so many other ways it could have gone. My heart overflows with gratitude for this rich legacy and abundance. We have a responsibility for future generations.”

4/19/2024