Before the advent of modern equipment, and when the area was more of a rural backdrop, the Batdorff family farm on State Route 108 began raising cows, hogs, some chickens, and a small variety of crops.
The year was 1919, and 10 years later Robert Batdorf was born to carry on the tradition.
This year, Batdorff Long Lane Farm just south of the Wauseon city limits has been designated an Ohio Century Farm by the state’s Department of Agriculture. The honor came with a proclamation by Governor Mike DeWine and a commendation from Fifth District Congressman Bob Latta. It also came with an “Ohio Century Farm” sign that hangs at the entrance to the old homestead.
The accomplishment was recognized during the annual meeting of the Fulton County Farm Bureau, and will be spotlighted Oct. 1 at the Fulton County Historical Society’s Annual Museum Member Banquet and Meeting.
The “Century” designation is matter of pride for 90-year-old Robert Batdorf, who, with his father, Jay, spent a lifetime in agriculture when farms were smaller, their acreage was less, and tasks were completed with more brawn and less technology.
“He was a very dedicated farmer, always reading and studying what was recommended, and kept updated on everything he did,” said Carol, his wife of 56 years.
Historical records show the land on which the farm now sits was purchased through the U.S. Land Office in 1837. An early orchard on the farmland was supposedly planted by John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed.
The farm was owned in the 1840s by someone named Cannon, and by Levi Brown, a judge and ambassador to Scotland, in the 1890s. It was purchased in 1919 by Hiram Batdorff, a third-generation Ohioan who had a steam engine built in Swanton to power his farm equipment.
Hiram’s son, Jay Batdorff, purchased the farm from his mother and his brother Earl in 1940. One of the first farmers to plant hybrid seed corn in the area, Jay was also a Clinton Township trustee. Family history says it was he who removed an F from the surname.
Robert Batdorf was born in the old homestead in 1919, at a time when the nearby City of Wauseon was far from its current development. The original house was torn down and replaced by a modern home in the 1950s, but the original “was more stately than these larger houses now,” Batdorf recalled.
He began helping his father run the farm during his teens and well before he graduated from Wauseon High School in 1947. During the school year Batdorf would put in a couple of hours before classes, and the same after he arrived home.
He briefly considered a career in agronomy, then earned an FFA American farmer degree from Ohio State University in 1950.
“Farming was a lot different in those days. It was more physical labor. We didn’t have any of this (modern) equipment,” he said. Duties included milking cows at 6 a.m., hauling manure, and enduring the dusty process of making hay. The Batdorfs raised wheat, oats, hay, soybeans, corn, cows, hogs, and a few chickens on farmland that originally held 108 tillable acres.
During winters as an adult, Batdorf worked at American Gauge, a Wauseon, factory, and also did tax work in Napoleon and Defiance.
Batdorf was an early proponent of minimum tillage farming and lobbied for farms in Washington, D.C. He was involved with the county farm bureau, the Fulton County Cattlefeeders, a local 4-H club, The Ohio Soybean Council, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Masonic Lodge, among other organizations. He was given the Wauseon Honorary Chapter Farmer Award in 1984, and was inducted into the Fulton County Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1997.
His longtime friend, Craig Myers of Wauseon, said Batdorf provided area students with a step up. “He gave an opportunity to a lot of high school-aged kids to get experience on his farm,” he said.
Batdorf retired in the late 1990s, and for the last 15-20 years has rented out the farmland, located behind the adjacent home he and Carol purchased in the 1950s on State Route 108.
Erin Dillon, program administrator for the ODA’s Office of Farmland Preservation, said Batdorf’s farm is among about 1,700 farms in Ohio that have received an historic designation.
“It’s a great way to honor the heritage or our farmers…and the contributions those folks have made to our economy,” she said. “It’s a feel-good program they can be proud of.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.