It’s not too often you receive a letter from the President of the United States. This past December, Sharon Gingerich, our Geauga County Recorder, presented a framed letter from President Trump to brothers Ty and Josh Pilarczyk (on behalf of their family) recognizing the 200-year-old legacy of their Clarke family farm in Huntsburg.
“It started with a 20-day trek from Lunenburg, Vermont in late winter—via horse (and later oxen)-drawn bobsled,” wrote Ty when sharing the history of the farm. “The family of Ebenezer Clark IV, in the company of several relatives, made much of the long journey on the frozen surface of Lake Erie. Ebenezer’s son, Truman, was only 2-1/2 years old, and rode the entire trip in the lap of his sister, Lucy. They arrived in Huntsburg on Feb. 24, 1818 and in short order erected the first structure, a crude cabin, on their 100 acres of Western Reserve wilderness. This was their home until around 1822, when a more formal home was built.
Today, that same home stands proudly atop a knoll overlooking those original 100 acres, surrounded by fields of corn, soybeans, and hay. Most of the land is owned by three sisters of the Clarke family tree: Helen (“Billie”) Sudyk, Kay Dietrich, and Harriet McCoy. The trio were reared on the family farm by their father and mother, Hal and Ethel Clarke along with two other sisters, Mary Ellen and Patricia, and love to tell about their times there.
Billie, 95, has many fond memories of life on the Clarke farm. She loved feeding the calves and running to the living room on cold mornings, warming herself with the others between the potbelly stove and wall. She exclaimed, “The real fun was backing in without burning your backside!” Billie also recalled coming home from a date with her now husband, John. As John attempted to steal a kiss on the porch, “We heard little giggles from above.” Her sisters had sneaked out a window and onto the porch roof to eavesdrop.
Kay, 92, loved everything about farm life, and enjoyed learning all about it from her dad, Hal. “I was my Dad’s shadow,” she remarked. She recalled delivering piglets, lambs, and calves, and bringing her dad lunches in the sugarhouse. Her favorite memory was the addition of a tractor to replace the team of horses. “Dad would plow and stop the tractor when he saw a rock. He would have us girls jump off and take the rocks to the edge of the field.” She reminisced about the day she and Billie decided they were done with helping fill the silo. “Our job was to pack the hay down along the edges of the silo. Our legs were green to the knees.” Just when the silo reached capacity, their father decided one more load should be sent up. “We were almost smothered up there, choking on the dust, and when we finally got it done, Dad said, ‘It took it, didn’t it?’ Billie and I swore we would never, ever do that again.”
One story they all remember was the day Harriette, the youngest of the Clarke sisters, decided she wanted to be with her big sisters in the top of the silo. “I do remember climbing up and looking in,” Harriette recalls. While Kay and Pat were tossing silage down for the cows, the 5 or 6 year old ascended the tall silo, with ladder rungs spaced over 2 feet apart. She managed to avoid the dangers of a nasty fall and being caught by a pitchfork at the peak. “They spent some time trying to figure out how to get her back down safely,” said Billie.
Now 81, Harriette enjoyed different era on the Clarke farmstead. By then, her parents were advanced in years, and the operation mainly consisted of raising sheep. “I remember spending hours on the rope swing in the front yard. I loved spending time by the stream catching crawdads and creatures.” She was driving the tractor by the age of 12. “I was in 4-H with sheep and won first place for showmanship at the Geauga County Fair,” she remembered.
Through there are many stories of good times, farm life had its share of hardships as well. The Great Depression, the total loss of two cow herds to disease, and several health scares threatened the farm in the early 20th century. Upon the passing of Hal in 1960, the farm was put into a government program to rejuvenate the soil, then the fields were eventually rented to local farmers. Son-In-Laws John Sudyk and Gene Rose continued to care for the grounds.
In January of 2014, the author, another descendant of Ebenezer Clark, was invited by ‘Aunt Billie’ and ‘Uncle Johnny’ Sudyk to inhabit the old farmhouse, the first descendant to do so since John and Billie’s son, Jack, in the early 1970s. My family and I jumped at the chance. While our move was slightly shorter and less treacherous than that of my fourth-great grandparents–a whole two miles with modern transportation and conveniences—the arrival was just as exciting. I, along with my daughter Eleanor, represent the seventh and eighth generations to call this bicentennial farm our home.
Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my ancestry here. The beams of the house hewn by my fourth great-grandfather Ebenezer, the foundation of the old sugarhouse, the grape vines and apple trees that still mark the old orchard, the East fields terraced and tiled by great-grandpa Hal; all of it speaks to me of the hard work, successes, and struggles our family faced here. I am left to ponder what mark I will leave on this land, and how many more descendants will get to ponder the same.”
Congratulations Clarke family and descendants!