When driving from the city to the outskirts of town you will notice the subtle hum of the hustle and bustle slowly fading into the distance. Traffic lights dwindle and roads turn from straight to winding. Rolling hills lead to tunnels formed by leaf covered branches and deliver you into the flat open fields which signals you have arrived in the humble land of the country.
Tucked in between fields of soybeans and corn lies a house that was home to one of America’s earliest settlers whose parents had traveled from Germany, settled in Somerset, Pennsylvania and weathered their way to Southwestern Ohio in hopes of finding success. John and Sarah Wehr settled on their track of land of 192 acres, deeded to them by President James Monroe in 1819. Being one of the earliest settlers in the area, they constructed a Federal-style home made of field stones found buried beneath the earth and bricks which were crafted by hand from clay on the property. Little did they know they were building a home that would outlive several generations and leave a mark on not only local history as a prominent tavern stop, but on the lives of those who visited and called it home.
In the winter of 2018, my husband and I, along with our three children, stepped out of our comfort zone and left our new build home in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio to become the next caretakers of the Wehr homestead. We were longing for a place with cascading views, open spaces for our children to play and explore, and where quality time could be found by simply stepping outside our back door. While we had our own expectations of what life would be like in the country, we never expected what would unfold in our first year as caretakers.
As winter fell into the rear view and the colors of spring crept into the fields and onto the trees, we became more familiar with the quirks and charm of our new old house and continued our efforts to decelerate the deterioration that had occurred over time. The warmer weather called us to outdoor projects and soon we began to be greeted by those passing by with a friendly honk and a wave. The simple hello from the locals gave me hope that maybe one day we would feel a sense of belonging in this well-established farming community that had been woven together through friendships and marriages for 200 years.
As we tackled projects both inside and out, I grew more curious of our home’s history. I found myself becoming lost in wonder when studying the staircase pinched behind our dining room wall. The treads of each step were concave with the edge forming a wavy pattern from years. I pondered if these stairs were worn by the weary hog drivers who came to warm up around the hearth and stay while the home was a tavern or if it was from all the tiny feet of children who grew up in the home. The plaster walls felt saturated with stories that could not be told and in effort to reveal some of the memories retained by the house I reached out to the local community on social media as well as sent dozens of private messages to those with the last name of Wehr. Soon after, my inbox began filling up with messages from the decedents of John and Sarah Wehr as well as locals whose stories were dripping in nostalgia of their time spent with the Wehr family. It was through these connections I learned the, lovingly referred to, homestead, had a history of hospitality and left many feeling a deep sense of belonging.
In July of our first year, nearly twenty Wehr family members were scheduled to arrive by caravan to visit the homestead. Having straightened the house so she would look her best, I anxiously awaited their arrival. I wondered if they would be happy to see the home as it was or if they would leave in disappointment of what it had once been over fifty years ago. Shortly thereafter my thoughts were interrupted by the sight of vehicles pulling into the drive. Car doors opened and in a blink of an eye children had scattered throughout the yard playing as if they had always been friends while I greeted those family members who had gravitated towards the porch to escape the summer sun.
As I invited them inside, I could not help but pause as they crossed over the threshold of their ancestor’s home. It was as if life was being breathed back into the homestead with every single person who entered. While some stayed near, others comfortably floated between the rooms and climbed the winding staircase to explore the upstairs. I found myself listening intently as memories were ignited and storytelling ensued in hopes I would not forget a single detailed shared. With sounds of laughter and commotion in the distance, it was in that moment I knew I had found the place that I not only belonged, but that so many others belonged to as well. Through rekindling the past, a sense of vulnerability grew present, and friendships were formed as a ripple effect to what had been established by those who came long before us.
Since that summer, more Wehr family, their friends, as well as past caretakers have made their way back to visit the homestead. Some even booked flights and drove several hours proving that as individuals we are capable of deeply connecting to places where we find meaning, peace, authenticity, and belonging. As a steward to this home, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude towards all of those who have opened themselves up to share their family’s history and memories as it has taught me that stepping out of your comfort zone, finding your place, and living a more intentional life will lead you to the place where you belong the most.