Wow –That’s a magazine

Buckeye Farm Beat

A 150-year-old copy of The Ohio Farmer has lots of stories to tell.

Published on: April 13, 2011

Between PBS television and the local paper there is plenty of Civil War history being circulated as we begin the 150th anniversary of that event. I wouldn’t say I’m a Civil War buff, but I do find the history of “the war between the states” interesting. So an article in the Columbus Dispatch today caught my attention. (You can find “Marketers Mine Civil War” at

With a photo featuring a re-enactor of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, the article bemoans how Ohioans have not taken as full advantage of their Civil War heritage to attract tourists as other states have. Sherman is from Lancaster and his historic home is only a couple of blocks up the street from where I am writing this. The article notes that often no more than two or three visitors stop by a day to view the home and all the Sherman memorabilia it contains. This weekend a symposium here in town will examine his battles with Gen. Joseph Johnston of Tennessee as the southern general tried to fend off Sherman’s advance on Atlanta in 1865.

The Ohio Farmer itself nearly fell victim to the Civil War. In fact the publication did not show up in post offices in August of 1862 because of the war’s economic impact on agriculture. The next month The Ohio Farmer, which was published in Cleveland, was purchased by The Ohio Cultivator published in Columbus. The merged publications bore the name The Ohio Farmer – A Family Newspaper. It has not missed a scheduled publication date since.

BIG TIME: Of all the bound volumes in my library, this is by far the largest.

While I have many of the old issues stacked on shelves here in the office, the five-year Civil War era is among the missing volumes. The closest I can come is a book that binds the volumes from Jan. 1860 to Dec. 1860 before the war started. It is among the most magnificent old publications you will ever see. It is huge. Bigger than any of the others. With pages 18.5 inches by 13.25 inches it makes today’s over-sized version look like Reader’s Digest. The masthead stretches over an engraving that features a man plowing with an oxen on the left, a paddle-wheeler steaming across the water on the right and a farm scene that includes hogs, cattle, sheep, a sheathe of wheat, a basket of apples, a butter churn and barrels of something in the center. It reads, “The Ohio Farmer.”.  Below it says, “A FAMILY PAPER DEVOTED TO AGRICULTURE, SCIENCE, LITERATURE, SOCIAL IMPROVEMENT, & CO. Tho. Brown is listed as “Editor and Proprietor.”

FARM SCENE: Here is detail from below the boilerplate of The Ohio Farmer in 1860.

Scribbled in pencil on the top of the first page of each edition is “E.G. Sturtevant” who I take to be the subscriber. Mr. Sturtevant or someone in the family was a bit of naturalist as there are pressed leaves in between many of the pages. I recognize some maples, oaks and ferns that may now be 150 years old too, depending on when they were pressed.

LEAF PRESS: Who knows if this was a 4-H project that came later or an interest of the original subscriber.

Most of the articles seem to be reports and comments from various farmers in the field. They run under headings like “Prospects for Crops” or “About Cherries.” Some are more direct: “To Keep Cisterns Clear of Insects” or “Farmers Should have Thermometers.” There are separate sections for poetry, literature and fashion as well.

I did find some small mention of the coming Civil War under the “Political News” heading of the December issue. It is the fourth item following a report on the Electoral College’s vote for a president (Lincoln), news of the condition of the U.S. Treasury (shaky), and the status of the Homestead Bill (moving).

It is headed, “The Secessionist Movement” and details a coming state convention in South Carolina for Dec. 17, 1860. A little more than a year later the S. Carolinians would begin their assault on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Bay and the war would be under way. Ohio would supply 300,000 soldiers -- more per capita than any other state. Sherman would prove that “War is hell.” And The Ohio Farmer would continue to provide information for the farm family.