My paternal great-great grandfather John Myers owned our first farm in the U.S., probably in Fairfield County Ohio where his son Lafayette was born in 1861. It likely was was a few acres of low rolling hills that still are better suited to small farms than large-scale grain production. To this German-speaking immigrant from Basel the land must have looked like home – even today it resembles the fields east of Munich. A surviving family portrait from about 1912 is framed by the white porch of a farmhouse in Ridge Twp, Van Wert County Ohio. This remarkable photograph includes John, his son Lafayette, Lafeyette’s wife Elizabeth, and the oldest (William J.) and youngest (Jennie Mae) of Lafayette and Elizabeth’s 10 children.
A biographical sketch of William J. Myers, my grandfather, written by my father describes him as “a farmer at heart” although he worked at a variety of jobs over his 86 years. Between 1925 and 1965 he farmed up to 80 acres. I remember only two of my grandfather’s barns. Both were well-seasoned, having housed working horses and cattle, corn and hay. For a boy growing up in Detroit time spent there with gram’pa offered a glimpse of his completely different lifestyle, a first tractor ride, and the smells and sounds of the livestock. There was also a sense of his ownership, from the heavy barn doors that took a man’s shoulder to open to the high stacks of baled hay in the loft that was my playground.