Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Apples, Maple Syrup, and Potatoes: WRA's Farm Years

Between 1916 and 1953, WRA offered a student "farm activity" that was part of the school curriculum. This was carried on at Evamere Farm on Aurora Street, the 300 acre estate that belonged to school benefactor James W. Ellsworth (1849-1925). When Ellsworth reopened the school in 1916 he had the farm option included to give students a chance to be outside one afternoon a week, and to contribute to the welfare of the school. Almost everything that was done on the farm benefited students and faculty alike. The large herd of cattle provided eggs and milk that were used in WRA's kitchen, as were the other crops that included corn, apples and potatoes. In the late winter students could go to the sugar bush at the north end of the farm and tap trees to produce maple syrup, also used for meals. In 1919 Ellsworth deeded the farm to the school and the school's agriculture teacher offered classes and accompanied the students to the farm for their hands-on experience.

Ralph Burl Simon, who had a degree in agriculture from Ohio State University, came to the school in 1919 as a teacher of biology and a few years later became manager of Evamere Farm. He would be in charge of the farm program for over thirty years, retiring in 1952, about a year before the program was discontinued. Students participated in a wide variety of tasks including milking the farm's herd of Ayrshire cattle (although much of the milking was done by machine), cleaning out the barns and chicken coops, plucking chickens, assisting the hog master, collecting milk cans, helping to clear the fields in the fall, and stocking the barns and silos. In the winter they could cut and store blocks of ice from the farm ponds at a time when the school and many faculty homes still used ice boxes instead of refrigerators. Students could learn how to use the ice-cutting saw while sliding across the ponds. In late winter they followed draft horses back into the sugar bush to tap maple trees, hang the buckets, and later retrieve the sap.

In the fall of 1949 Mr. Simon reported that the school had an abundant crop of apples and potatoes, and that both were largely harvested by the student body working in the fields and orchards. He noted that this was the best year for apples in about a decade, and many would be used for cider, applesauce or apple pies, all of which would be served in the dining hall. Many apples would go into cold storage. The fall crop of potatoes also proved to be an excellet one with more than a thousand bushels gathered and packed. By this time the farm activity was not a requirement, but many elected to work their afternoon at Evamere Farm. In 1951 Bert Szabo became the Evamere Farm Manager, the last one WRA would employ. He had a background in agriculture and was responsible for his student helpers. He later wrote that by the early '50's "students no longer were interested in donning work clothes and cleaning the barn or feeding chickens. They detested the odors of the barn and chicken-house." So the farm program came to an end in 1953.

Two years later, a huge auction and "complete dispersal" was held at Evamere Farm in May, 1955 at which the school sold off its herd of 74 Ayrshire cattle and lots of farm equipment. Evamere Hall itself was dismantled, and the farm was sold off in parcels, much of it to the Hudson Schools for their campus plan along North Hayden Parkway (named for WRA's Headmaster). In June, 1957 Bert Szabo left to take a position with the Akron Metropolitan Park District. Of all the buildings that made up Evamere Farm, only the Gate House survives.