150 Years; One Name

WARREN, Pa. – The 150th anniversary of the Wenzel Farm on Dutch Hill Road stretches back five generations to 1849 when Henry Wenzel and Salome Kashner married in Germany. Shortly after, in 1854, the Wenzels immigrated to the United States and moved to Manhattan, a poor immigrant neighborhood at the time.

In 1863, thanks to a neighbor in New York who had relatives in the area, Henry, Salome and their six children moved to Warren County and bought the farm on a wooded area on Dutch Hill where about 15 other German families were living.

“This reminded them of Germany, I was always told,” Scott Wenzel said. Salome only spoke German and Dutch Hill with Rhine Run stream running on the farm became home.

Henry built the barn in 1884, which is still standing today, complete with handmade ladders and support beams held together with wooden pegs.

“These structures were built all from our wood, every barn on the farm comes from our wood, the hemlock and pine down in the woods,” Wenzel said. “He did a good job, it’s still standing. We put a new roof on, we re-sided it, all those original big hand-hewed timbers are still in that barn from when he built them.”

In 1864, Henry’s son was visiting from Hamilton, Ohio, when a horse in the barn kicked him in the kidney. He died eight days later on the farm.

Salome survived until 1909 when ownership was passed to her son Michael Wenzel, Scott’s great-grandfather. At Salome’s funeral a horse-drawn hearse with black plumes traveled through a January winter to Oakland Cemetery where she was buried with Henry.

Michael Wenzel ran the farm mostly for subsistence until he died suddenly in 1923 of a heart attack.

Michael’s son, Harry, who served in World War I, and Scott’s great-uncle, ran the farm from 1923-73. This was a period of transformation from a subsistence farm that grew fruits and vegetables sold and bartered in town to a cash-based operation to purchase modern machinery and expand production.

“He was a wonderful farmer,” Wenzel said. “This farm was relatively obscure. I think to a lot of people, he generally was the one that started taking products into town.”

The Wenzel farm began producing more fruits and vegetables and Harry raised potatoes, cabbage, dairy and multiple types of berries.

“He would have us weed hay fields when we didn’t have anything to do,” Wenzel said. “He was very meticulous. Excellent farmer, produced very good crops, kept the farm in good shape, very environmentally aware. Just was a real good steward of the land. He was a wonderful teacher for my dad and me.”

Richard Wenzel, Scott’s father, who served in the Navy in World War II, took over the farm in 1975, and expanded even further by renting nearby properties for pick-your-own and ready-picked strawberries.

“He’d get home at 12:30 a.m. from Struthers Wells and get up in the morning whistling and go farm,” Wenzel said.

Operations on the farm shifted in 1982 when the Wenzels bought and opened the Hatch Patch on Russell Lander Road and Miller Hill Road in Lander. The Hatch Patch signaled another expansion of acreage which meant more machinery, employees and responsibility. With a central location, the Wenzels no longer had to go to town to but could direct market their fruits, vegetables and beef.

“I think always their first love was the fruits and vegetables, that I think made us a little different from other farms. It’s interesting how you’re still affected by that from 150 years ago,” he said. Family diaries from 1917 show the farm in a barter situation with hundreds of quarts of blackberries were picked a day and plums and potatoes were traded for flour. Later in the 1920s and 1930s the farm expanded in potato acreage and bringing products like milk to creameries.

“My great-great-grandfather obviously couldn’t farm 500 acres of land with horses,” Wenzel said, “and it’s interesting where you see the change – the first car was bought in 1915, and the first tractor had steel wheels, generally used for belt power.”

Some things haven’t changed on the farm. In the winter the livestock is tended, hay is produced, firewood is sold and machinery is fixed. Henry’s initials are still carved on a wooden beam in the barn from 1884, a pine tree by the dirt road running by the house was planted in 1923 by Wenzel’s aunt when she was married and a white birch tree near the house was brought back from Canada and planted by his aunt and father in 1940.

“It’s been a wonderful experience being a fifth generation on this farm,” he said. “Everyone made their contribution and each brought us maybe a step further, acquired more properties and things like that. My great-aunt Mae used to talk about her dad dynamiting stumps out and my great-great-grandpa cleared a lot of this. All the lumber that’s on our farm has come from our properties, including this house.”

Over the years Wenzel said he has seen a “radical departure from being on a hill and owning the Hatch Patch, it was a dream for my dad … I certainly enjoyed farming with my family.”

Richard passed away in 1990 and Elaine Wenzel, Scott’s mother passed away in April.

Now, 150 years later, Wenzel, the sole owner of the Hatch Patch, wants the property to remain farmland.

“When a piece of property is in your family that long you really treasure it. At least I do,” he said. “It’s a well-drained farm, it’s fertile, it’s a nice hill farm, and my hope is the property always stays in agriculture. I think that’s a real important contribution to our area, no matter whose farm it is or who owns it. It supplies local food and I’m hoping this farm is sustainable.”

“Warren has been very good to us, I attribute our expansion and growth to wonderful patronage through the years from the Warren area,” he said. “You just don’t have customers, you make friends along the way.”