Photos by Jodi Miller
“The farm, with its red brick barns and miles of white board fences is another Calumet. From any approach it makes a picture travelers will never forget—chestnut, bay and sorrel colts gamboling with their mothers; wide, towering trees dotting the rolling pastures, a captivating Midwest scene.”
This description of Pickwick Farms in a 1951 Toledo Blade article perfectly captures the memories of those who used to visit or drive past the Standardbred (harness) race horse breeding farm located at two different sites near Bucyrus. The farm’s owner, Walter J. Michael, had a passion for horses and in 1950 converted the family’s successful Jersey dairy operation into Ohio’s version of Calumet Farm, the world-famous Thoroughbred breeding and training facility in Lexington, Ky.
“That place was beautiful. With its white board fencing and brick barns, you’d think you were at one of the big farms in Kentucky. It was one of the most historic (horse racing) farms in Ohio and was very well known in the horse racing world,” said Jerry Knappenberger, general manager of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association for 21 years and now retired. “It was really state-of-the-art and drew people from all over.”
Over time, the horses were sold and the property along State Route 4 started to deteriorate with the barn stalls becoming trash receptacles. Today, the farm has found new life in the form of a farm market, event center, u-pick operation and hands-on agricultural learning center. Three local families – Kent and Laura Stuckey, Greg and Rose Hartschuh and Chris and Andrea Schimpf – are pouring their time, money and passion into restoring the farm. Renamed Pickwick Place, the farm’s rebirth is due partly to the vision and determination of a teenager.
Ethan Stuckey had lived his entire life next to Pickwick Farms on his family’s dairy and grain farm, Pfeifer Dairy, but decided he was more into apples than cows. He was inspired by his grandparents’ successful apple orchard in Indiana. Ethan spent all his free time learning about orchards and on his 16th birthday, he wrote down his birthday wish: half an acre of land to start an orchard.
His birthday wish quickly came true after land his family rented for crops came up for sale in 2014. The Stuckeys bought 40 acres of Pickwick Farms, which included the three brick barns and several rundown rental houses. The houses were demolished, and the Stuckeys started considering what to do with the deteriorating but structurally solid brick barns. One would be used as a farm market to sell Ethan’s apples and the other produce he was growing, but what about the other two?
That’s where the Hartschuh family comes in. Crawford County Farm Bureau members Greg and Rose jumped at the offer to relocate their hands-on agricultural learning center, Sycamore Run Farms, from their rural dairy farm to the more urban Pickwick Place. The business was renamed Acres of Adventure and became a popular field trip destination when it opened last fall with students rotating through agricultural learning stations, petting farm animals, wandering through a corn maze and picking out pumpkins.
“We were able to increase our visibility and bring more people out to the farm,” Rose said. “Pickwick Place is the perfect location. It’s right on the city limits of Bucyrus and right where farming starts.” Rose is a former agriculture education teacher and worked for Farm Bureau coordinating the Land and Living exhibit at the Ohio State Fair. “The experience I gained as an agricultural education instructor is invaluable,” she said. “Every day, I use skills that I developed as a teacher, like lesson and program planning, classroom management and communication.”
Chris and Andrea Schimpf are the other partners in Pickwick Place. For years they grew and sold fresh cut flowers at farmers markets in the Columbus area but stopped after it became too time consuming. They are in charge of finding local produce to sell in Pickwick’s farm market such as cherries from Clyde.
“Our goal is to have top quality and affordable produce. We won’t sell it if it’s not the best,” Kent said. Market Crates is the newest addition to the farm market. It’s a community supported agriculture (CSA) type of program in which customers pay a flat rate to receive a weekly crate of fresh fruit, vegetables and other items such as goat milk soap and maple syrup for six, 12 or 18 weeks.
All three families are involved with Pickwick’s event center, The Loft, which opened this June and is used for weddings, family reunions and other special events. The families worked hard to retain the rustic charm of the barn while modernizing it, including putting in air conditioning and an elevator. Repurposed wood from the old horse stalls is found in the bathrooms and along the staircase, and the brick walls on the second floor are the same as when they went up in the 1930s. The solid brass chandeliers once hung in the dining hall of Ohio Dominican University.
While still a work-in-progress, Pickwick Place has already had an economic impact in the community. The Loft is attracting out-of-town visitors who spend money on hotels, restaurants, stores and services such as photography, catering and flowers. The market is supporting the local farm community and connecting consumers with their food. Pickwick Place recently partnered with a local agency to provide on-the-job training for developmentally disadvantaged people.
“Oh my, have I fueled the local economy,” Kent said, pointing to the 1,200 yards of concrete poured at Pickwick Place, 142 new barn windows and 30-foot, two-story addition on the back of the loft.
The ultimate vision of Pickwick Place is to become a must-visit destination with much more in the works. This year Ethan, a high school senior, planted 225 apple trees and plans to add another 2,800 over the next two years. He oversees 16 acres of produce production, which includes strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, melons, pumpkins and squash. “I don’t know what people do other than work,” he laughed.
Kent is working on finding the perfect partner to transform the last unfinished barn into a restaurant. Once that happens, Acres of Adventure will be moved into a 72-foot-by-120-foot building that will be built on the site. Ethan would like to eventually add a cider press and with two of the families running dairies, adding a creamery is a possibility.
Bucyrus Mayor Jeff Reser is thrilled with the transformation of the old Pickwick Farms. He used to visit it in the 1970s with his veterinarian father-in-law and was dismayed by its decay over the years. Recognizing Pickwick Place’s potential, he and other city officials have reached out to hotel chains about putting up a hotel next to it. Pickwick Place is located just a couple of yards from State Route 4, a major route for people traveling to Cedar Point, Lake Erie and Columbus. Reser said that on summer weekends, more than 15,000 cars pass through Bucyrus, which is known for its bratwurst festival in August.
“God bless the Stuckeys (and other families). They are in the process of revitalizing the whole north end of town,” Reser said. “When I first heard about their plans, I was so happy I couldn’t stop smiling. I knew it was going to be a huge undertaking for them but I knew these were folks who had a vision and a plan and had enough drive to get it done.”
Pickwick Place is located at 1875 N. Sandusky Ave., Bucyrus.
Visit thepickwickplace.com to learn more about Pickwick Place’s market, event center and agritourism activities.
Pickwick Place’s Acres of Adventure was recently featured on the Our Ohio TV show.
Originally published in the September/October 2016 issue of Our Ohio Magazine.