Like his New England forefathers, Charles Oviatt Hale was of hardy stock.
“Among the characteristics of the Hale are a good constitution,” he once explained. “Love of friends and home, conscientious with religious inclinations. A keen sense of humor. Fond of music. A good physique and strength.”
He gained that strength through hard work on his family’s homestead in Bath Township.
A farmer all his life, Hale appreciated nature’s bounty and was happy to share it with others. During visits to Akron in the 1920s, he was known to carry a basket filled with apples from his orchard and hand them out to strangers.
“Gentlemen, I have some very good apples,” he’d say. “May I offer you some of them?”
Some trees in Hale’s orchard were more than 100 years old because his grandfather, Jonathan Hale, had planted seeds as a Cuyahoga Valley pioneer.
In 1810, Jonathan Hale settled in the Western Reserve’s Town 3, Range 12, after crossing from Connecticut in a covered wagon. He stopped in Cleveland, a village of nearly 70 people, to pick up belongings that he had shipped from Buffalo, then continued in the wagon along a rugged trail through the valley.
One of the area’s first settlers, Hale owned 500 acres in what initially was known as Wheatfield and later Hammondsburgh. The name changed to Bath upon Hale’s suggestion at a town meeting.
Jonathan Hale began construction in the mid-1820s on a three-story brick house to replace his family’s log cabin. He made bricks from clay on his property and burned stone to create lime for mortar. The home served three generations of his family.
The last Hale to reside there was grandson Charles Oviatt Hale, better known as C.O. Hale. The son of Andrew and Jane Hale was born in the home March 14, 1850, and resided there his entire life.
“I have always felt a pride in being a citizen of ‘Old Bath’ — the township that contains neither great wealth or poverty, whose citizenship is made up of law-abiding, industrious people,” he wrote in 1926.
Active in politics, Hale was elected for two terms as township trustee and served three terms in the Ohio House: 1892-1895 and again in 1914-1915. His Republican colleagues included future U.S. President William McKinley of Canton and future U.S. Sen. Charles Dick of Akron. Hale made it a point not to introduce legislation, although he did sponsor a bill to build the Akron Armory.
“It would seem to me that we could get along very well with fewer laws, especially the fool laws, and then we should strive to adhere to and observe the laws,” he said.
The Hale homestead was the center of his world. He lived to be 88 and credited his longevity to a good diet, pure water, fresh air, proper sleep and hard work.
He helped organize the Summit County Horticultural Society in the early 1880s, served as president and was its last surviving charter member. Hale won hundreds of blue ribbons at the Summit County Fair and Ohio State Fair for produce from his farm, including apples, peaches and honey.
He was especially proud of his sugar camp. In the late winter and early spring, the Hale family collected sap from 20 acres of maple trees and boiled it down in giant kettles to make maple syrup and maple sugar.
It took about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup. Hale produced more than 250 gallons of syrup during one record season. In the early 20th century, he built a sugar house and installed a wood-burning evaporator.
For decades, Hale kept a journal of his work. Excerpts reveal the hard labor involved in running a sugar camp.
March 2, 1883: Father and I tapped the trees today.
March 6, 1883: No sap.
March 10, 1883: Oscar and I gathered 8 barrels sap and boiled it down. I finished up about 8 p.m. 7 gallons.
Feb. 25, 1903: Hauled buckets out the North side of the bush with the ponies.
March 3, 1903: Tapped trees all day. About 70 left to tap.
March 13, 1903: I chopped wood in the sugar camp all day.
March 12, 1913: Went for jury duty. Treated the judge and jury to sugar.
March 19, 1913: Worked at the bush. Boys gathered 24 barrels.
March 22, 1913: Sugared off for 18 people who came on train.
Indeed, the Hale homestead was a popular destination for field trips. Hale and his wife, Pauline, a former teacher, welcomed tourists from the Ira train station.
In 1983, retired Beacon Journal associate editor James S. Jackson reminisced about visiting the farm as a boy: “I remember going with a Sunday School class, probably about 1915, on a B&O train from the Howard Street station to Ira where we were met by a team of horses pulling a bobsled for the one-mile ride to the farm. At the sugar house, we were supplied with dishes in which we put snow and then spoonsful of hot syrup, which we stirred until cool enough to eat.”
C.O. Hale, nicknamed “The Sage of the Cuyahoga Valley,” kept the home fire burning after his wife died in 1924.
“It’s a bit lonesome to be here all alone in this big house,” a 77-year-old Hale told the Akron Times-Press. “I have had plenty of opportunities to go to the cities and live, but I just cannot do it. This old house holds many precious memories. Here I have lived all my life.”
And that is where he died April 16, 1938.
The farm became the property of Jonathan Hale’s great-granddaughter, Clara Ritchie, who bequeathed it to the Western Reserve Historical Society.
In 1958, the 90-acre homestead opened to the public.
The maple trees went untapped for nearly 50 years until Hale Farm & Village resumed the practice in the early 1980s using the old methods. The sugar house is the focal point of the annual Maple Sugar Festival & Pancake Breakfast, which continues next weekend at the farm.
A new exhibit features C.O. Hale’s sugaring journal, tools and other artifacts.
“The stranger who came to the old brick house 75 years ago always received a welcome,” the Akron Times-Press noted in 1928. “Fifty years ago, other strangers received the same welcome. Twenty-five years ago, it was ‘Make yourself at home, stranger.’ Today it is ‘Hello, stranger, what may we do for you? There are some good apples in the cellar. Might you enjoy them?’ ”
In the 21st century, strangers are still always welcome. That Hale hospitality flows as sweetly and smoothly as maple syrup on pancakes.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.