Three Trumbull County families honored for more than 200 years of farming

By Ed Runyan


Tom Caldwell of Hartford Township is a descendent of John Kepner, who in 1805 walked to Trumbull County, bought 636 acres and began to farm. It was two years after Ohio became a state.

Because native Americans burned down Kepner’s first log cabin, Kepner returned to Philadelphia to buy another axe to rebuild it, Caldwell told an audience at opening ceremonies Tuesday for the Trumbull County Fair.

Caldwell said he has a grind stone from the earliest days of the farm and found arrow heads that date back to the 1700s.

Today, he and his wife, Carole, raise all of their own vegetables and eat almost exclusively from the land.

“We live as close to the land as possible,” Carole said.

Tom, a retired Michigan police officer, said they rent 40 acres of their land for farming and use the rest for recreation — for themselves and for their family, who enjoy hunting, riding four-wheelers and sled-riding.

The Caldwells and two couples living on adjacent properties in Kinsman Township were honored during the opening ceremonies for being among the first 64 farms in the state to be recognized as bicentennial farms — meaning continuously owned by the same family more than 200 years.

David Daniels, Ohio agriculture director, said owning a farm that long is “just solid.”

“Look down Main Street and tell me how many businesses have been in operation more than 200 years,” he said.

Nearly 1,000 farms that have been in the same family for more than 100 years have been honored since 1993. This is the first year for the bicentennial designation.

Jim Lillie grew up on his family’s farm on Morford East Road in Kinsman Township, as did his father, Flick Lillie. A member of the Lillie family has owned the farm since Henry Lillie settled there in 1811, coming from Connecticut.

Henry’s son, James Lillie, built the farmhouse in 1869 that Jim and his wife, Barbara, live in today. They are the fifth generation of Lillies there.

The Lillies and the third family recognized Tuesday, Jack and Joyce Keir, live on adjacent farms on Morford East Road. And one of the things that ties them together is that Jim Lillie’s father, Flick, and Joyce’s father, John Morford, grew up together and helped each other farm for four decades starting in the 1940s.

“His dad was a John Deere man, and my dad was a Farmall [tractor] man,” said Joyce, who grew up on the farm. “They harassed each other,” Jim Lillie said of the tractor rivalry.

“They helped each other fill silo and thrash and they had good times together,” Joyce said. “I always thought it was making difficult times fun,” she said.

When they were boys, one of their fun times involved putting a goat on top of a house and watching to see the reaction of the puzzled homeowner, Jim Lillie recalls.

Both men died after living into their 90s.

Joyce Keir’s ancestors, Peter and Nancy Lossee, bought 104 acres for $235 in 1812 from John Kinsman. The purchase created one of the first recorded deeds in the county.

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