By Rebecca Sloan

Malabar Farm offers unique sites

The farm is the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield.

LUCAS, Ohio — In some ways, Malabar Farm is a farm like any other.

The sheep need to be sheared, the pigs need to be fed and the rooster crows at dawn.

In other ways, Malabar Farm is anything but typical.

It’s a place where Hollywood legends once hung out and hobnobbed.

George Burns shoveled manure in the barn, for example, and Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart got married in the main house.

Speaking of the main house — with 32 rooms, twin open staircases, French antique furniture and Grandma Moses paintings, it isn’t exactly your run-of-the-mill farmer’s dwelling.

It’s more of a mansion — a mansion overlooking a turkey pen and a silo.

But that’s OK. Somehow it works.

Located in Lucas, Ohio, among the rolling hills of Richland County, Malabar Farm is the former home of Louis Bromfield, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who penned numerous best-selling novels before his death in 1956.

A native of nearby Mansfield and the son, grandson and great-grandson of farm folk, Bromfield never forgot his humble roots.

Despite his soaring success as a novelist and his glamorous ties to Hollywood — several of his books were adapted to the silver screen — Bromfield preferred a quiet life on the farm.

He purchased the 1,000-acre property that became Malabar Farm in the 1930s and, with the help of architect Louis Lamoreux, expanded the humble 1800s home situated there into the sprawling mansion that exists today.

Bromfield also restored the fertility of the surrounding farmlands and preserved the farm’s woodlands.

The result was a place filled with natural beauty and tranquility — tranquility that attracted Hollywood acquaintances seeking a wholesome escape from La La Land.

The result was also a place where new farming methods were put into practice.

That’s because Bromfield wasn’t your average farmer. Instead, he was a dedicated conservationist and a proponent of organic and self-sustained gardening, and his ideas were revolutionary for the time.

He was the first farmer to ban pesticides, for example, and he allowed his farm to be used as a government test site for soil conservation.

He also experimented with crop rotation, management intensive grazing, prevention of soil erosion and water conservation.

Malabar Farm continues to be a place where the latest conservation methods are used and explored.

Machinery operates on biodiesel fuel, buildings are heated and cooled with geothermal systems, and a wind turbine and solar panels provide electricity to the farm’s visitor’s center.

Malabar Farm became a state park in 1976 and is open to the public year-round.

Besides the spacious main house (known as The Big House), visitors can tour a dairy barn, a smoke house, a sawmill, an outdoor aviary and much, much more.

In the springtime, a maple syrup festival is held on the grounds, and the Malabar Farm Restaurant — located in an 1820-tavern situated on the property — serves lunch and dinner.

Since Malabar farm is spread out over several hundred acres, the best way to see everything is to take one of the farm’s wagon tours.

These tours last about an hour and are offered May through October.

Sit back and enjoy the scenery as a tractor pulls the wagon along and a guide tells all about Malabar Farm’s interesting history.

Visitors will quickly discover Malabar has some wild surprises.

One of the most shocking surprises is that the picturesque property was once the scene of a triple murder.

No, the killer wasn’t Lizzie Borden, but she was a young woman, and she did murder her family.

Her name was Ceely Rose, and in 1896 she used arsenic to poison her parents and brother after they discouraged her affections toward a neighbor boy.

Ceely was mentally handicapped, and the neighbor boy didn’t return her feelings but was too polite to tell her so.

Ceely thought her family was trying to keep her and the boy apart, and so she simply killed them. She was tried for the crime, found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of her days in asylums.

The home where the murders took place is still standing. It’s located a short distance from The Big House and is a popular curiosity for tourists.

Ceely Rose’s tragic tale was the inspiration for Bromfield’s similar story in his novel “Pleasant Valley.”

Here’s another surprising thing about Malabar Farm: Parts of the 1994 film “Shawshank Redemption” were filmed here.

The movie’s opening scene was shot at the Pugh Cabin, a rental cabin on the farm, and the gigantic oak tree featured in the film is in one of Malabar farm’s fields.

After a wagon tour, most visitors are eager to tour The Big House.

As they step through the home’s front door, a player piano – a glossy baby grand – greets them with an elegant and cheerful tune.

The piano sits in front of the home’s twin open staircases, which make quite a grand statement of their own.

Lauren Bacall thought so, too. She descended one of those staircases when she wed Humphrey Bogart in 1945.

Another thing that makes The Big House so special is that it looks exactly as it did when Louis Bromfield died in 1956.

Every stick of furniture, every plate, every picture on the wall – everything here belonged to Louis Bromfield and his wife, Mary Appleton Wood, and their two daughters.

Not many house museums can boast such an abundance of personal artifacts.

The desk where Bromfield wrote still holds his battered black typewriter, and beside the desk, hanging on the wall, is his Pulitzer Prize.

Bromfield won the Pulitzer in 1926 for his novel “Early Autumn.”

During the height of his fame, he was considered as great as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

For unexplained reasons, Bromfield’s popularity as a writer hasn’t endured the same way Fitzgerald’s or Hemingway’s has.

Today he is remembered more for his contributions to conservationist farming methods, and in the 1980s, he was posthumously elected to the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame.

And, of course, he is also remembered for the beautiful farm he created.

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