EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. – Bev Minor hangs out on the front porch of The Spring House, overlooking the Eighty Four auction barn and just around the corner from the 84 Lumber world headquarters.
And from her front porch perch, she has one mission: to count every single car that passes by.
It’s a habit that’s been a long time in the making, she admits.
Even before she and husband Sam bought this property more than 30 years ago – and even before they took at a look at the farm’s homestead, its barn foundation, its acreage – she counted cars here.
Every one of those cars passing by would either make or break the Minors’ dream business tucked into the hills of Washington County, Pa.
* * *
Both Sam and Bev Minor grew up on dairies in southwestern Pennsylvania and met as teens showing their stock at the Greene County Fair. Sam went away to Penn State and, two years later, Bev followed. He graduated, taking a job with the Guernsey association and then went on to work in artificial breeding.
Between Bev’s junior and senior years at Penn State, in the summer of 1961, the couple married.
Soon, though, Sam decided the job that kept him away from his wife and home so much wasn’t his dream job. He wanted to do something different.
So he and Bev packed up and went to stay with friends. They found themselves selling milk and working alongside the friends in their farm market, learning the ins and outs of the business.
Sam help build a restaurant there; Bev helped set up a bake shop.
“We absolutely loved all of it,” Bev said.
And after working there a year, it dawned on them: This is what they wanted to do with their lives.
* * *
Their farm search started. First in northwestern Pennsylvania, then a bit further south along Interstate 79, and then further south again.
“We weren’t sure where we wanted to be, honestly,” Bev said. “But the more we kept looking, the closer we got to home.”
The couple wanted their children to spend time with their grandparents and to grow up on farms like they both did.
So when they saw 80 acres with a 200-year-old stone house, bank barn and frontage to state Route 136 advertised, they chanced it.
Farm Credit took a risk, approving them for a loan backed by zero capital and a whole lot of faith. The couple made a “ridiculous” offer on the property, way below what the seller was asking.
“And we got the place!” Bev said.
* * *
The couple moved to their new farm in 1973, and spent the next two years planning and gathering the financing to start working toward their dream. They lived on faith and savings while they waited for everything to work out.
“We prayed a lot, gosh, we did,” Bev admits, reflecting on a journey that surprises even her.
In July 1975, they broke ground for the first Spring House store at the bottom of the farm lane.
In December of that year, they finished building a parlor from 30-year-old equipment and milked nine cows on their own farm for the very first time.
They processed that milk, bottled it, and opened the store.
“Everybody thought we were crazy for doing this,” Sam recalled. “But we just knew it was going to go.”
* * *
The first day the store was open, they sold 17 gallons of milk.
But both Minors agree they weren’t quite satisfied with it; neither of them ever wanted to limit themselves to just milk in the cooler.
So Bev started looking for information, attending farm market conferences, talking to other market owners. There had to be more she could do to keep the business going, to keep it growing to support the entire family.
Relying on her past experience, she started making soups and buns to sell in the store. And when customers stopped in for a gallon of milk, they’d see what was available and started asking Bev for something more: Would she pull one of those buns from the bakery and make a sandwich?
Soon she was offering one homemade soup, salad and sandwich every day. And she kept selling out. The store tripled in size in 1986, allowing the Minors to add a kitchen, hot buffet and bakery.
More than 30 years after it first opened, The Spring House is enjoying sweet success. Its employees empty two 10-foot cases of fresh salads each day, dip gallons of ice cream, and cook up an ever-changing hot foods menu to boot.
* * *
Today’s Spring House store is more than a restaurant. It’s a lunchtime hangout for the locals, a bakery, a quiet stop for ice cream in the evenings, or a raucous weekend destination for kids and adults alike.
The Minors focus today is family, they say. Whether it’s through a Father’s Day feast or one of their summertime corn roasts, the Minors have propelled their business into something more than a dairy farm that happens to sell milk.
The Spring House is a destination and a tradition.
“We hear so often that it wouldn’t be Mother’s Day or Father’s Day for families without a stop here. We’re part of their family traditions, and that’s so special,” Bev said.
The Spring House is also a family tradition for the Minors. Sam and Bev and three of their five children call this place home and work: Daughter Marcia operates the store, daughter Jill heads up their catering services, and son Sam still milks a 200-cow herd to provide fresh milk to the processing room.
And in everything they do – whether it’s daily milking, hosting school tours or fall bonfires, fixing home-cooked dinners or catering conventions – they’re sharing a bit of their farm and their family with every person they reach.
* * *
Despite all their successes, the Minors nearly closed the Spring House eight years ago. Thanks to mining subsidence, their farm lost two wells, a pond, two barns, five springs and a manure pit. Three silos came down.
They were devastated.
“It really destroyed our whole farm,” Sam Minor said.
The family was faced with a tough decision: Either sell it all and shut down, or restore everything and keep going.
“Our kids are here. We wanted to keep going,” Bev said, noting 11 of the Minors’ 20 grandchildren are also growing up on their farm.
“We keep going for them, and for everyone who has come here over the years.”
The Minors said the mine subsidence was interrupting to their mental health as well. And so, while they restored themselves and their facility, they made another decision to transition the business slowly to their children.
“It’s hard to let go and step aside. But my son lets me help when I want to,” Sam joked.
* * *
The Minors’ dairy is one of the last milking dairies left in their part of the county. PennDOT says 7,000 cars pass by The Spring House every day.
The farm is also smack-dab in the midst of North Strabane Township, the fastest-growing township in all of western Pennsylvania, they say.
Less than 5 miles from the farm, they’ve got 130 acres of retail shops, eight restaurants, and another mall and outlet is already in the works.
And while it could be seen as nasty competition, the Minors see it differently. All of that means more people to eat and shop at The Spring House, people who want their children to pet a calf, drink fresh milk, and know a bona fide farmer.
“People walk all around here and act like this is their place,” Bev said.
“And we’re thankful for it,” Sam said.
* * *
Look closely, in the corner of The Spring House’s milk processing room, and you’ll see where Bev Minor scrawled a simple phrase into wet cement years ago: “Dreams do come true.”
For the entire Minor family, this place is exactly that, a dream come true.
“We did this all on a prayer, and made it work. We’re proof it pays to dream,” Bev said.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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