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  • Writer's pictureAnneliese Abbott

The Hills of Ohio: My First Visit to Malabar Farm

Mount Jeez at Malabar Farm
The view from Mount Jeez, July 2015

I knew I was getting close to Malabar Farm when I started to see hills.

Before I took my first visit to Malabar Farm in 2015, I had spent most of my time in Ohio in the flat part of the state. The drive from Michigan to Columbus went through northwestern Ohio, an area so flat that one of the cities is called “Bowling Green.” And Columbus, located at the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers, is also flat.

Malabar Farm is located on the border between the glaciated and unglaciated regions of Ohio, which makes the land unique and beautiful. It has sandstone outcroppings, flowing springs, and fertile land in the valleys.

By July 2015, I had been researching Malabar in the archives for several months, and it was finally time to make my long-awaited site visit to the farm. I’d arranged in advance to meet with Tom Bachelder, unofficial Malabar historian and part of the Malabar Farm Foundation. I stayed at a hotel near Mansfield and arrived at the farm at 8:30 a.m., with lots of time to spare before my 10:00 appointment with Tom.

Leaving the car outside the visitor center, I walked past the Big House, barn, and other buildings. I wandered down Bromfield Road, past the Ceely Rose house and the working farm. Black Angus cattle looked out at me curiously through their fence. Long windrows of hay lay in one of the contoured fields, waiting for the dew to dry so they could be baled.

It was still early, so when I reached Pleasant Valley Road, I turned right. Soon I came to the winding, gravel road that leads to the top of Mount Jeez, the highest hill on the farm. The road is open to vehicles, but I wanted to climb it on foot. I followed the track through the woods, across the wildflower-dappled pasture, and up to a small gravel parking area at the top of the hill.

The sun had risen over the woods, bathing the forests and fields in a golden light. To the east, although I couldn’t see it, lay Pleasant Hill Lake. Directly below the hill were the hayfields and the working farm I had just passed. And off to the west was the Big House, perched halfway up a hill. The whole farm lay spread beneath me, a panorama of golds, greens, and browns. I could see why Louis Bromfield had fallen in love with this piece of land when he visited on that winter day in 1938.

I glanced at my watch. It was 9:30. Taking one last look at the view, I hurried back down the gravel path, out to the road, and toward the visitor center. It was just before 10:00 when I arrived at the building, invigorated from the brisk walk. Tom Bachelder was there, waiting for me.

“I just got back from climbing Mount Jeez,” I explained.

“On foot?” he asked, duly impressed because most Malabar visitors drive up the hill. Tom himself, an avid hiker, would certainly have been able to do the climb.

“Welcome to Malabar,” he continued. “I’m so excited you’re doing this research. Come on inside, and let’s chat.”

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