In August of 1976, Elizabeth Arrel Thompson and I strolled across her historic 200-year-old Arrel Farm on Arrel Road in Poland.
As we walked, bluebirds flitted around us, perching on fence posts, and we listened to them and to the quiet conversation of her royally bred Hereford cattle that grazed in lush pastures.
She quoted from Robert Browning’s poem, “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be,” and we visited the cozy log cabin she had restored, using foundation stones from an original dwelling built near the “good flowing spring,” the site chosen by John Arrel in 1799 on his first trip to Ohio from Franklin County, Pa.
In 1978, Elizabeth wrote in a family history, “This beautiful day in mid-January, clean white snow covering ground and bushes and pleasant inside, and I’m prompted to set down what I know of how Margaret and John Arrel managed to survive when in 1801 they established their home in Ohio.”
There is much, much more to this fascinating historical subject, and although Elizabeth has gone to her reward, at the age of 90, held captive by Alzheimer’s for her final years, her niece, Elizabeth Wymer-McAfee of Syracuse, N.Y., now constitutes the eighth generation of her family to cherish these priceless 200 acres.
I am privileged to obtain this information through that niece, daughter of the late Isabelle Arrel Wymer, a classmate of mine at Poland Seminary High School. We had remained friends over the years and both of us had belonged to Poland Village Club, so we saw one another at least once a month.
Fortunately, her sister, Elizabeth Thompson, had the foresight to write down details of the family history, so when she died her survivors knew the information they could in turn pass along to their descendants.
This is so important, in these times of loss of farmland to developers who have no interest in preserving anything “over 10 years old.”
Certainly statistics are important — the 202.5-acre farm was purchased by David Arrel, a Revolutionary War veteran, of Chambersburg, Pa., from the Connecticut Land Co. — but I especially like what Elizabeth Thompson, widow of James B. Thompson of Stambaugh-Thompson, wrote about the John Arrels’ first winter:
“That first winter must have tried their souls. Food must have been limited in variety if not also in quantity that first year. Their home was most likely a log cabin, cold in spite of all the chinking between the rough-cut logs, and heated by a fireplace with an insatiable appetite for wood.
“Wood was what they had the most of, but it had to be cut in usable lengths and hauled in. John had to do it himself, though it may be that Margaret, age 27, would bundle up three-year-old Martha and toddler Margaret and go along, helping 28-year-old John pull the cross-cut saw. Not only did they have to keep wood for the cabin but keep cutting trees to increase the size of their tiny barn and a the same time clear a bit of land for their first year’s crops.” Not incidentally, John also served in the War of 1812.
Tracing the chain of descendants is of interest mostly to family members. Suffice to say that in 1978 Elizabeth Arrel Thompson became sole proprietor of the Old Arrel Farm; in 2003 it went to Isabelle Arrel Wymer, and is now operated by her daughter and granddaughters.
In 1999, before Isabelle’s death, the large barn was completely renovated — shored up, re-sided and re-roofed. Many support posts are still bark-stripped logs, and it is hoped it will last another 100 or so years.
It should be underlined here, that for more than 40 years, Jim and Claire Deemer have been overseeing day-to-day operations at the farm, and their loving care has been a real blessing.
It should also be noted that in Poland Presbyterian Church there is a magnificent Tiffany stained glass window, “The Shepherd Window,” given in Memory of John Arrel 1773-1848.