I don’t know if I can ever fully appreciate how Johannes Holliger must have felt that early spring day in April 1833, as he readied himself to leave his home in Rein, Switzerland. Johannes was 30 years old, bankrupt, and I suspect, jobless. His father had died when he was four, leaving him, his mother and his younger brother virtually in poverty. Johannes had been incarcerated twice for stealing wood from the surrounding forests in order to support himself and his family. At any rate, Johannes ‘walked away from it all’ to come to America, the “Promise Land,” in search of a new life. In his heart, he probably knew he would never see his family again….
More than likely, he traveled north up the Aare and Rhine Rivers to Amsterdam before securing passage to America. Our family history reflects he entered the United States in Washington DC in 1833. From the east coast he made his way to Northwest Ohio. At that time the Black Swamp was being drained and there was land available for homesteading. On his discharge from military service in 1828, Johannes listed his occupation as “Landmann.” I think he was more of a farm laborer than a farmer. But I also believe it was in his soul to be a farmer.
He married Eve Cripliver in 1834 and they subsequently settled on a property just east of Whitehouse, Ohio on Cemetery Road. I imagine they had to clear the land of trees, brush and critters before they could build a home or farm the property. At any rate, 10 children were born to Eve and Johannes on the family homestead between 1838 and 1856. Johannes passed away in 1881, a very wealthy man I reckon. Not particularly wealthy in the material sense, but certainly in the spiritual sense. From modest beginnings, Johannes was truly blessed.
John Holliker was born on the family homestead in 1846. He was the fifth child of Eve and Johannes Holliger. In 1882, John’s siblings deeded the Holliger Homestead to him for the sum of $ 1.00. John was 36 at the time. He then married Lydia A. Richter in 1884. (Bear with me a minute here; although there is no sex or violence in it, this story is going somewhere!) John farmed and worked his property until his ‘premature’ death at 90 in 1936 – he was knocked over by a train on his way home from church one evening.
John, like his father Johannes, loved that property; he too, loved being a farmer. As Johannes grew older, John became ‘the Man;’ farming and caring for his parents. That explains why his brothers and sisters signed over the property for just a dollar, and why perhaps, he married later in life.
In 1890, Lydia became sick and John moved his family into town, into Whitehouse. However, he continued to work the farm. At sunrise he would walk out on the tracks of the Wabash Railroad to the family homestead, work all day, and then head back into town in the evenings. I was told he worked this way well into his eighties. As his hearing failed, the train engineers would often have to stop the train, and get John off the tracks before proceeding on.
I have had an intense interest in my family heritage for quite some time. From my teenage years, I have collected various bits and pieces of our family memorabilia. Over the past 10 years or so, I have been exploring our family history. Last week I met with a Whitehouse historian and began quizzing him about the Holliger Homestead. I wanted to know where the original house stood. He brought out an old county map of Waterville Township from 1875, and showed me exactly where the house stood. He said it wasn’t much of a house and it sat on an elevated portion of the property.
Last Saturday night I decided to walk out to the old homestead from Whitehouse, retracing John’s path out the old Wabash Railroad. It was a clear, warm evening with a light trace of wind. It took about 25 minutes, as I was not in any particular hurry. As I walked along, I wondered what John might have looked at, what he might have thought about as he made his many trips out and back on that railway. The portion of the property I wanted to see is now a llama farm. As I walked up the driveway, toward the barn, a woman tending the animals met me. I sensed she viewed me with suspicion and I knew she was not ‘of Whitehouse.’ After I explained the purpose of my visit she was very cordial. She pointed to an elevated place, just south of the existing barn, where the old house stood. The site is surrounded by trees, and the old well is still there. I was elated! After all those years of research, I was going to be able to stand where my ancestors once lived! I could almost ‘sense’ the house; I could almost hear an old creaking windmill, and I felt warmth from unknown, yet familiar spirits. I felt ‘home,’ really home – for the first time in my life!
Then, in the next breath, the woman told me, “You know, the property has been sold. It is being developed for 38 home sites.” At that moment, I felt my soul had been cored! I don’t know if she saw it in me or not, but I wanted to walk up to where that house sat, and I wanted ‘to go away from it all.’ I wanted to be embraced by the spirits I felt and ‘taken away…’
I have never lived on that homestead, yet I am of that homestead. When I think of it, it is with quiet reverence, and deep respect. When I think of it ‘being developed,’ it saddens me…. However, I am grateful that neither Johannes nor John will ever have to witness the ‘progress’ on the property they both loved so much. That house may not have been much of anything, but I would give all I have for just 1 chicken dinner with those folks of yesterday….
So, it is with this adaptation of an Iris Dement song, “Our Town,” I say ‘goodnight…’
“And ya know the sun’s setting fast
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Go on now, and kiss it goodbye
But hold on to your lover, ‘cause your heart’s bound to die…
Go on now and say goodbye, to our land…to our land.
Can’t you see the sun’s setting down on our land, on our land
Up the tracks, in the small little town
In a house next to Homer’s, is where I was first laid down
In the Whitehouse Inn, I had a few beers,
It’s been fifty years and I’m still here.
Its here I learned to swim and I had my first kiss
I’ve walked up Providence Street in the cool morning mist.
Over there is where I kept my first car
I loved that old Packard, and it carried me far.
I’ve lived virtually everywhere
Yet belonging nowhere.
And forever I’ve been drawn to this small, little town
To where I was first laid down.
John and Johannes are asleep over there
Across from the homestead they worked with care.
I think about them about every day
But I got to cry when I think what they’d say.
If they could see the sun setting fast on their land…
Now I sit on the porch and watch the lightening bugs fly
But I can’t see to good, I got tears in my eyes
I’m leaving tomorrow but I don’t want to go, I love you my land, you’ll always live in my soul.
But I can see the sun setting’ fast
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts
Go on, I got to kiss you goodbye
But I’ll hold on to my lover ‘cause my heart’s ‘bout to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our land, …to our land
I can see the sun’s gone down on our land, on our land
Bobby Holliker .