Annual trip to Ohio takes on new meaning

Annual trip to Ohio takes on new meaning
Brewmaster Kevin Ely splits his days between farm chores and making beer on the 90 acres in Coshocton County, Ohio, that belonged to the Norman family for several generations. He feeds his wooly pigs (their coats get heavier and curlier as temperatures drop) the leftovers from the brewing process at what is now called the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

We pass right by and don’t even know it — the farm that had been in my paternal grandmother’s family for many generations.

We see the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery sign and can smell the aroma that tells us the proprietors are hard at work, but we are on a mission and have no time to stop for a beer.

The single-lane road changes to a gravel drive, then a sign that tells us we have arrived at Bowman Cemetery. The small plot of damp, leafy land holds about 40 occupants; several are my ancestors — members of the Norman family who have been in central Ohio’s Coshocton County (current population 47,000) for more than 150 years.

Most of the tombstones are well worn, but we are able to decipher some of those that bear the name of Norman.

One of two Norman cemeteries sits on a hilltop near the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery in Coshocton County, Ohio. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

I’d never heard of Coshocton County and knew little about my paternal grandmother’s family until a recently discovered second cousin in Oklahoma sent me the fruits of her family tree research. My husband, Jerry, and I decided to visit Coshocton County during our annual autumn pilgrimage to Ohio. Armed with my cousin’s information, diligent research by my brother-in-law, Ken, and few expectations, we headed south from Youngstown. Expecting mostly a day of sightseeing, we instead discovered two family cemeteries, a wealth of information in the genealogy room at the Coshocton Library, and our ancestors’ farm.

We find the first family cemetery on the private land of Bob McKenna, a businessman who owns several stores that cater to tourists who come to enjoy bucolic Coshocton.

“We discovered the cemetery when we were building our home in 1990,” McKenna explains in between making dozens of box lunches for a tour group. “We saw a few tombstones sticking out of the ground a few inches — the cemetery had been covered over. So while the construction crew is busy pouring footings, my wife and I are poking the ground with poles, trying to locate all the graves.”

McKenna says they uncovered about 40 tombstones by hand, and he kindly allows us to explore the small cemetery in his side yard on his hilltop property. Most tombstone inscriptions are partially obliterated, but we find several that tell us the Normans once walked this earth.

Later, after leaving the second cemetery, we explore the beautifully maintained historic Roscoe Village, where we chat with Mindy in the Coshocton Visitors Bureau. She seems to know everything about everybody in the community and we mention the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery.

Roscoe Village in Central Ohio was once a busy port town on the Ohio & Erie Canal that was used to ship produce. Today tourists can take a ride on a replica canal boat on a restored one-mile section of the canal. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

“Oh yes,” she says, “that’s the old Norman farm.”

Jackpot.

We retrace our route to the farm and find co-owner and brewmaster Kevin Ely feeding his herd of — yes, wooly pigs. Officially known as curly-haired mangalitsa pigs, they are described as a cross between a pig and a sheep with the personality of a dog. (What’s not to like?)

Ely, who discovered the pigs while traveling in Bavaria, ferries buckets of beer byproducts from the brewhouse to the pig pen, which sits in the shadow of the large red barn built by (I think) my fourth great-grandfather. The farm has been in the Norman family since 1860s.

“It’s the original barn,” says Ely, who takes time from his chores to relate some history. “It was built in 1866. We just put a new roof on it.”

The clapboard farmhouse, in need of paint, was built in the 1930s, Ely says, and he and his wife plan to build their new home just to the left.

A brewmaster who has lived and worked worldwide, Ely grew up in this area. His wife, raised on the farm next door, wanted to return. Ely and his brother-in-law had their eyes on the Norman farm for some time, but owner Ron Norman was reluctant to sell. (Norman and his mother had worked the farm since the sudden death of his father when Norman was 14.)

The opportunity to buy the property arose after Norman’s death in late 2013 — a new start with a new family. As we chat, I can tell that Ely loves the land and will be a good caretaker.

For more photos of Coshocton County, Roscoe Village and the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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