Fry Ohio Homestead ~1826

For a number of years I had heard stories of a Fry family farm in Suffield. For my 69th birthday my wife, Laura, and I decided to try to find and visit it. A short history of the Fry’s on this particular farm, and our visit there, follows:

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John Fry was born about 1790 in Pennsylvania. James Smith Fry wrote that his grandfather (John) served in the War of 1812 in the Army of the Center. (There is a record of a John Fry on a payroll submitted by Lt. Joseph Dreibelbies, in the Regiment of Lt. Col. George Weirick, for October, 1814.)

Following the war, John Fry brought his wife, Anna, and family to Stark County, Ohio around 1815 (just 12 years after Ohio became a state). About 1826, he acquired a farm of 100 acres in Suffield Township, Portage County, Ohio. The original farm and acreage can still be seen today on Pontius Road, just east of the Summit County line.

John was a farmer and shoemaker. His children were Wyerman Fry born 12-7-1816, Oliver Perry Fry and J. Porter Fry. John was to only live on the farm about a year and a half, then died of a fever in 1828. He is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery, Uniontown, Ohio.
Wyerman married Martha Maria Brown about 1840. Their children were: a male infant born April 8, 1842, who died in infancy; Mary Ann Fry born February 9, 1844; John William Fry born April 2, 1846; Margaret Jane Fry, born January 9, 1848; Martha Alvira Fry born September15, 1849; and James Smith Fry, born February 14, 1854. Wyerman remained on the old homestead, where he passed nearly all his life. He died about 1861.

James S. followed his father and also lived all his life on the farm on which he was born, with the exception of four months spent at school in Deerfield. February 20, 1879, he was married to Mary Ellen Myers, born Sept. 12, 1856 and died Feb. 1, 1887. Their children were Elson M., born January 9, 1880; J. Cleve, born June 13, 1882, and Lester R., born January 11, 1892. The deceased were H. Floyd, who died May 13, 1887, aged six months, and Lillian Grace, who died March 30, 1890, aged one year and twenty days.

Mary Ellen Fry died three weeks after her son, Elson, seventeenth birthday. James thereafter had household help; since there were no daughters in the household to do the indoor chores of cooking, canning, washing, mending, cleaning and all the other tasks necessary to keeping a home functioning smoothly.

Elson M. Fry, who had lived only his early years on the farm, died February 4, 1946 and is interred in Greenlawn Cemetery in Uniontown, Ohio.

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James L. Fry, is the youngest son of Walter Logan Fry, grandson of Elson Fry and great grandson of James S. Fry. Jim’s youngest son is Jonathon Eli Fry, named for his G.G.G.G. Grandfather, John. Our branch of the family has lived on our farm on Southern Rd. Richfield Twp. since 1956. We have raised sheep, cattle, Christmas trees, pumpkins, chickens, pigs, made hay, grown corn, oats and organic produce, and attended to many of the same farm chores as our Fry ancestors did on their farm in Suffield. My wife, our children and I are continuing the family tradition of farming. We also teach heritage skills classes (including soap and cheese making, milking and butter making, rending lard, gardening and more) to the many people who visit here from across the United States and foreign lands. We also have created a Western Reserve Village of over 40 buildings saved and moved here, including an 1825 Post Office probably familiar to our great, great, great Grandfather, John. Of the many shops and trades represented in the museum is a shoe making shop, containing many of the same types of tools once used by Grandfather John.

As we made our way to the farm on Pontius Rd. (north of Uniontown on Rt. 43, then east on Pontius a mile or two to 650 Pontius) we were at first puzzled. We expected to see farms, but everywhere was suburban housing. Eventually we turned around to look again, and with the help of our brother, William Logan, on the phone, we finally spotted a barn and sheds behind the roadside trees and brush. The first drive we tried was gated and posted Keep Out. The second drive led to several falling down buildings, and a fellow working under the hood of one of the many derelict cars crowding a good bit of the property. A rather large black dog came walking up, so I shouted out the truck window, asking if the dog was unfriendly. The fellow yelled back, -Yes! I shouted again asking if he was a problem, and the guy relied the dog was ok, it was he who was unfriendly. I said well I was somewhat unfriendly also, so we could probably have a fine talk.
Laura and I went up to the car and the fellow (somewhat indistinctly) said to go to the house and ask somebody there about the farm. At the house, Gerry Grable answered the door. She was also a bit “indistinct”, but we talked awhile and she finally said we could walk around, look in the buildings, and take as many pictures as we wanted.

She was 66, had lived there all her life, and knew the Fry’s had once lived there. She said several years ago a tree had fallen in the front yard and when they were digging out the roots they discovered the grave stone of Mary Ellen Fry. They put the stone back in the tree root hole and left it there. According to their family history and lore, the Fry’s had a family cemetery near that spot, which has since been plowed under and presently serves as their garden. They had been told that past generations of their family had found bones in the “garden”, but the current generation didn’t know if that was true. At one side of what folklore says might have been the burial ground, there are two forsythia bushes, spaced such that they may have been on either side of a fence gate. {Note: We know that James and his wife, Mary Ellen, have a tombstone at Greenlawn Cemetery in Uniontown. It may have been that Mary was buried on the farm, then later moved to Greenlawn at the time of her husbands passing. Since her first stone would have no longer been needed, the family may have left it in the ground from which she was removed. Perhaps our family also planted the tree (that was removed by the Grable’s) to mark the spot.}

The farm itself is in an advanced state of disrepair. One of the Grable boys (now deceased) had collected enormous amounts of junk metal, machines, bull dozers, cars, trucks, earth moving equipment, and more. There remains a large dairy barn, a smaller barn the Grable’s called a pig house, and several other buildings. All of them are in poor shape, and also stuffed full of effluvium. The house carries the remains of pink paint, has had multiple additions tacked on in a somewhat haphazard jumble, and looks to be a prime target for a fire departments practice drill. It’s all quite sad.

   

     

But, in the course of building the Richfield museum, I have had occasion to visit farms in worse shape, and restore buildings in as poor of condition. Those experiences have allowed me to see “our” family farm as it must have been in Grand-dads time. The house had been large and beautiful in it’s day. It occupies the highest ground for miles around. It has a beautiful view of the still remaining farm fields. Conveniently close by is the barn where every morning John, Wyerman, James and Elson walked to milk the cows. If there was a cemetery there, they would have passed by it’s front gate as they tended to their chores. The just fresh cow’s milk is actually quite yellow and may have reminded them of the Spring daffodils and forsythia still blooming along the way to the barn.
The 80+ acres of farm fields are still tended, and look to be well drained and fertile. In the back is a small pond, nearby a grove of tall pines. Along the field drive is two large walnut trees perhaps once climbed by a young Elson. Between the barn and “piggery” remains the foundation of a silo that may at one time been built of 2 1/2″ tongue & groove chestnut boards (such as once stood on our Richfield farm). It clearly must have been a beautiful farm when the Fry’s cared for it. -(It is doubtful it could have lasted until today unless it had once been well kept.)

Gerry Grable said they were probably going to sell the farm in the next couple of years. My guess is that the land has a great deal more value than the buildings. Our old family home will most likely become a suburban development as all the surrounding farms have become. If someone happened to have a spare million or so, the place could be saved, the house and barns returned to their 18th Century style and beauty. There could be a white post and board fence across the front and horses could once again pace the fields. But it is very unlikely to happen. The Grable’s have just left things go for too long.

 

 

James L. Fry
Stone Garden Farm. Richfield