One of the treasured publications in the library at the Powell Liberty Historical Society is "The Brown Fruit Farm: 100 Acres in Orchards," lovingly written by Bernard "Brownie" Cellar in 1997.
The orchard and farm were in the Brown family for three generations. The Cellar family was involved for two generations.
The Brown Fruit Farm was located on U.S. Route 23, about 3 miles north of Worthington on land now part of Highbanks Metro Park. The orchard comprised 100 acres of fruit trees on the 150-acre farm.
Cellar said the orchard probably originated in the 1800s when the first settlers began planting trees. That would have been something he could have imagined well; he was a descendant of Thomas Cellar, who was born in Washington County, Maryland, in 1741 and served in the Revolutionary War. Thomas Cellar bought 4,000 acres in Liberty Township and came here in 1802. His family is recognized as one of the first white settlers.
Brownie Cellar's father, Murrin, was general foreman, and his mother, Leona, was a cook for the Brown family. Cellar was raised on the farm, spending 23 years there as a child and as an employee during his teen and college years. He recorded his memories because he thought it was important "to describe to future generations a style of life which began in the Great Depression years and ended in the inflationary years following World War II."
In reading, it appears the young Cellar boy, born in 1926, felt he was the luckiest child in the world, as he could wander endlessly through the field and trees and down to the Olentangy River, where locals enjoyed a swimming hole called Three Willows. He learned much about tractors and sprayers and other necessary equipment needed to carry on the work of such a business. Cellar also was given responsible jobs, such as taking the farm truck to sell apples at the Central Market in Columbus. Imagine a country boy who learned to drive in the fields and orchard on a truck route beside a semitrailer.
He learned about people, from the well-to-do owners to the migrant workers and those in between, orchard employees whose good fortune it was to live in cottages on the farm and raise their families there. These people became family.
The Brown Fruit Farm sold apple juice, apple butter, apple candy, honey, cherries and plums. In a newspaper clipping from 1940, Michael Desmond wrote, "In the fall, the Brown Fruit Farm has to have a traffic man on Sunday afternoons to keep the autos untangled." There were 13 salespeople on those busy days. I understand the orchard had 55 varieties of apples with between 30,000 and 40,000 bushels of apples obtained by the end of October.
The city dwellers who drove out to the country likely never considered there would be a "trench" on Route 23 north of Worthington that their children and grandchildren would see built in 2015 to help them speed up the highway.
It was 1958 when Molly Brown Caren Fisher found it necessary to discontinue the family business. Cellar wrote there were several years of early spring freezes and noted "the diminished fruit crops added to the demise of this land use for enough profit to support the families involved." It wasn't until 1980 that the farm was sold to Planned Communities. In the interim, Cellar's parents continued to live on the property and served as caretakers.
Cellar, who died in February, was well-known in central Ohio. He was an educator and a coach. His obituary said he "loved his family, friends and the world of nature."
His distress about the development along the river was evident in his writing: "The river's natural meanderings were straightened into a canal-like waterway by men and machinery." He wondered how we could have let this occur to the beautiful natural river and valley he so loved in his youth.
T.K. Cellar, one of Brownie and Barbara Cellar's sons, will share photos of the Brown Fruit Farm in a PowerPoint presentation set for 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at Highbanks Metro Park.
Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell Liberty Historical Society.