Editor’s Note – It has been widely speculated that Hillsboro was the only town east of the Mississippi with two active stockyards. That statement is hard to prove, but the heritage that Hillsboro enjoys with The Union Stockyards and Producers Stockyards, is unquestioned and continues to be a highlight of Highland County’s agricultural history. The Highland County Historical Society is planning several events to highlight the county’s ag history.
It is fact; however, that the Highland Soil and Water Conservation District was the first district to be formed in the state of Ohio when the Ohio Soil Conservation Commission first met to open a new era of soil conservation leadership on March 25, 1942 when the commission met for the first time. Its membership included OSU Dean of Agriculture John F. Cunningham, ODA Director Robert Brown, Harry Silcott of Fayette County, Cosmos D. Blubaugh of Knox County and John Grierson of Highland County. Six petitions for the formation of local Soil Conservation Districts were presented and the commission conducted official hearings on petitions from Clark, Highland and Columbiana counties and recognized receipt of petitions from Butler, Morrow and Coshocton counties.
Practically all districts in Ohio were organized along county boundaries and carried the county name as recommended by local petitioners. Although the first hearing was for the Clark Soil Conservation District, the Highland County district sponsors conducted its election of supervisors sooner after its hearing and thereby wase officially designated District No. 1 in Ohio.
In February of 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent this message to the governors of the then 48 states. It said: “The dust storms and floods of the last few years have underscored the importance of programs to control soil erosion. I need not emphasize to you the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action, as a nation and in the several states, to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
That beginning, brought to the attention of the nation and the world as the “Dust Bowl” brought the nation to its knees in the 1930s during the Depression. It led to the enabling legislation that allowed the Soil Erosion Service to become the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and, for the first time, offered direct federal assistance to landowners working with the SCS through the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to prevent erosion and improve our soil resources.
In September of 1957, Southern Ohio hosted the third annual World Ploughing (Plowing) Contest and Symposium and the first of only three to be held in the United States. That unequalled event was held in Adams County near Peebles. The Highland County Historical Society has contacted John Wickerham of Peebles to speak at the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro about that famous event. The Wickerham Farm was the central location for the contest. The historical society also hopes to develop an article about that event, which saw the Mootz family of Danville participate. Stay tuned for notice of that presentation schedule.
Another article the committee would like to share is the history of the Highland County Fair. Prior to the 1930s, several fairs were held in Highland County. These early firs had been held in Rainsboro, Greenfield, Hillsboro, and the Southern part of the county at Robert’s Park. Efforts to revive the fair in the ’30s finally led to the formation of the Highland County Agricultural Society, and in 1947 the society held its first fair under tents on a site with buildings. The group added adjacent land at that site and permanently established the fair at its current site in Hillsboro.
The committee would also like to develop an article and presentation about the Highland County Century Farms and the state program organized to recognize these long-standing family farms. Longtime Hillsboro resident John Levo, himself an owner of a century farm north of New Vienna, has agreed to do the presentation.
The committee also anticipates hearing other ideas from the public and its membership as the series goes forth. It has already discussed a toy tractor display and articles highlighting agricultural-related businesses such as the Old Lynchburg Distiller and the grain mills produced by the CS Bell Company.
The Historical Society hopes the public will find the articles and presentation informative and interesting. Look for the articles in the area papers and notices of the presentations at the Museum. It is our hope to make Agriculture a more prominent addition to the Highland House Museum.
John Kellis is a Hillsboro resident and member of the Highland County Historical Society.