Sacred Cow

ca. 1880

“HOLSTEIN HEIFER, 2 years old.” Hand-colored engraving printed ca. 1880.

I recently received an inquiry from a longtime reader of the blog. What did I know about Wellington’s most famous bovine citizen, the nineteenth-century Holstein cow called Molly Bawn? I had to confess that I did not know much. A quick Google search uncovered a parcel of self-described “legends” about the animal. Local cheese dealer Charles Horr went on a trip to Europe, where he discovered that Holstein cows produce much higher volumes of milk than their American counterparts. Impressed, he bought a two-year-old specimen called Molly Bawn (or Mollie Baun, or any combination of variant spellings) and brought her back across the ocean. Horr thereby introduced Holstein cows to America/Ohio/Lorain County…you get the idea. Molly went on to produce record-breaking amounts of milk, perhaps the most milk ever produced by a cow, and that is why Wellington became famous for cheese production–and why we still remember Molly to this day. The trouble is, existing historical documentation does not support any of those assertions.

Holstein Friesian cows (rather confusingly known as Holsteins in America, but Friesians in Europe) are the highest-production dairy animals in the world. The breed originated in the northern provinces of what we today call the Netherlands, namely North Holland and Friesland. The enormous black-and-white or red-and-white animals were being shipped to America as early as the 1600s, when Dutch settlers in New York brought or sent for “Dutch cows” to fill their pastures. The Holstein Herd Book, first published in 1872, noted that the initial import of “pureblood” breeding stock occurred with the shipment of a single cow to Massachusetts in 1852 (pg. 19).

Map of Holland province

Map of the northern provinces of the Netherlands, showing Holland and Friesland. Holstein Friesian cows originated as a breed in this region, and Molly Bawn was born here.

The first eight volumes of the Holstein Herd Book are available digitally, spanning the years from 1872 until 1885. Every breeding-stock Holstein cow or bull that was registered by its owner is found in the Herd Book, described in great detail and assigned a unique and sequential identifying number. Examining the first two volumes, I was able to determine that by 1875, there were nationally-registered Holstein cows in fourteen of the thirty-seven states then in existence. They grazed from Maine to California, though admittedly were predominantly concentrated in the northeastern quadrant of the nation. So Molly Bawn was certainly not America’s first Holstein, by two centuries or more. What about Ohio, then? I’m afraid not. The same series of volumes show that by 1880, these overachieving milch cows could be found in at least fifteen different communities across the state, including Wooster, Franklin, Xenia, Toledo, Canton, Painesville and Hudson.

Charles Horr was a very successful businessman who made his fortune selling other people’s cheese and butter after the Civil War. His company, which had multiple names over the years but is most often referred to as Horr-Warner, at its high-water mark controlled the output of seventeen cheese factories in the region. The most visible signs of Horr’s status were luxurious offices in the busy commercial district of the village and an enormous estate on its still-rural outskirts. Horr visited Europe in 1877 and “made permanent arrangements for an export trade” of Ohio cheeses to foreign shores (Wellington Enterprise, 10/10/1894, pg. 1). While he certainly already knew about Holstein cows and their reputation for stupendous and reliable milk production, it is possible that Horr took a side-trip to Holland to see a few in person. As we have already established, though, there were multiple specimens a great deal closer to home.

One thing is certain: Charles Horr did not see Molly Bawn on this 1877 European trip, nor did he purchase her there or bring her back to Ohio. Molly was not “calved,” or born, until February 24, 1880. This is reflected in both her official Herd Book entry, and in another volume called the Holstein-Friesian Advanced Registry.

Holstein Herd Book v5 1881

Holstein Friesian Register 1886

Though Molly did enter the world in North Holland, six months later she was on her way across the ocean, courtesy of a breeding operation called Smiths & Powell, based in Syracuse, New York. It was from Smiths & Powell that Charles Horr purchased Molly, along with two of the three other animals that made up his initial Holstein herd. The fourth cow, graced with the lyrical name Lady Ethelind, was purchased in Painesville, Ohio.

The name “Molly Bawn,” incidentally, probably originated from an Irish folk song–alternatively sung “Polly Vaughn”–commonly known since the late eighteenth century. A popular novel had also been published under that title in 1878, by Irish writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. (The novel was later made into a silent film in 1916.) Charles Horr christened his opulent home Bawndale–or Baundale–and while we know that construction on the house was completed in late 1872, we do not know if Horr named the house after the cow, or vice versa.

Barn cropped

This magnificent wood-frame barn, possibly once home to Molly Bawn, stood behind the Horr residence at 563 South Main Street. It was dismantled in the mid-twentieth century and relocated to the Hayden family farm, 1.5 miles north of the village. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

In 1883, the Wellington Enterprise published an editorial about getting the maximum return on investment possible from cattle purchases. Choose the breed best suited to the task at hand, the paper advised. Holsteins were well understood to be superior milch cows. The Enterprise offered as an example C. W. Horr’s three-year-old “Mollie Bawn” who had birthed a calf of her own that winter and was reliably yielding more than sixty pounds of milk per day. In the following week’s edition, “to answer the many questions” that resulted from the previous report, a table was printed showing Molly’s production tallies for the first ten days of May. It was nearly seven hundred pounds of milk.

I believe this editorial and follow-up piece may be where Molly’s fame was born, not necessarily in the nineteenth century but perhaps in the twentieth. Ernst Henes, the editor of the Enterprise in the mid-1900s, liked to scan old issues of the newspaper and write about what he found, both in special commemorative issues and in print publications. I would hazard a guess that it was Henes’ work that ensured Molly Bawn a place in the current memory of the town. (She also served as de facto mascot of the now-defunct Wellington Cheese Festival for nearly two decades.) Charles Horr gave a lengthy speech to the Ohio State Board of Agriculture in 1891, describing how he had built a herd of 130 exceptional Holsteins over a decade. He mentioned several animals by name, but Molly was not one of them. When he wished to advertise the sale of cattle from his “Bawndale Herd,” it was not Molly’s image Horr published in the paper, but instead a cow called Nundine. In another advertisement, Molly’s name was one among many “celebrated” breeders including Aaggie, Lady Netherland, Sadie Vale and Saapke.

So Molly was not America’s first Holstein. Nor Ohio’s. Nor even Lorain County’s. Oberlin’s Ohio Weekly News is filled with early 1880s notices and advertisements referencing Holsteins with thoroughbred status and the Herd Book numbers to prove it. But surely Molly must have been Wellington’s first Holstein? Charles Horr must have been the first person from Wellington to import the breed? In fact, he was not. According to the 1881 Herd Book, O. P. Chapman, a breeders association member, was the first Wellington resident to register a Holstein. His bull, Captain John, was purchased in Painesville, Ohio sometime after its birth in 1880 and was the 619th registered in the country. (Horr’s first Holstein bull, Syracuse, was 822nd on the list.) Chapman’s cow, Queen Anne, was born in North Holland in 1880 but bought from the same operation in New York patronized by Horr. Queen Anne was the 1,256th female Holstein registered in America. The 1,292nd spot belonged to Chapman’s cow Mildred. Horr’s Molly Bawn occupied slot 1,298.

The most wonderful thing about this, at least from my perspective, is that O. P. Chapman spent a quarter-century living in the house next door to my current home. He built the magnificent carriage house that is now part of my property. When it was completed in the spring of 1883, the Enterprise noted, “O. P. Chapman has the best arranged and finest finished horse and stock barn on his place on South Main St. we ever saw. It will pay any admirer of good things to call and see it. He has also some very fine blooded stock, and is giving special attention to their growth and improvement” (5-9-1883, pg. 3). I never realized that our cattle stalls once housed Wellington’s first Holsteins. Queen Anne, Mildred and Captain John may well have lived out their lives in my backyard.

Carriage House

O. P. Chapman’s carriage house. Originally built as part of the property for 318 South Main Street, it is now included in the parcel for 326 South Main Street. Photo by author.

Charles Horr spent nearly fifteen years building up a magnificent collection of what he termed “deep milkers.” Initially he imported animals from locations in North Holland and Friesland with names like Purmer, Hoorn, Bovencarspel, Westwoud, Beemster, Wieringerwaard, Schermerhorn and Harwerd. But soon he felt that the quality of his stock was advanced enough that he no longer required outside blood. While in volume one of the Holstein Advanced Register, for the year 1886, he imported eleven of the fourteen cows listed, by volume two (1887 to 1889) he “owned and bred” twelve of the nineteen submissions.

He entered members of his herds (Horr also raised Ayrshires, Durhams, Herefords and Aberdeens) in cattle shows and agricultural fairs; served as president of the Holstein-Friesian Association of America; and was an organizer of the National Dairy Union. After Horr’s untimely death in 1894, the Enterprise commented on the speed with which his Holsteins were being purchased and shipped around the country. But the Bawndale Stock Farm endured under the leadership of his son, also called Charles, who continued to breed, sell, and host annual visits of faculty and students from the agricultural department at Purdue University in Indiana.

I suspect Charles Horr would be amused by the mythology that has grown up around the humble animal known as Molly Bawn. It was Horr’s considered opinion, after all, that “a dairy cow should be regarded as a machine designed for the conversion of food, air and water into milk” (Enterprise, 1/21/1891, pg. 4).  Whatever else may be said about Molly, the milk-producing machine discharged her duties exceptionally well.

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Program Announcement IV

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The Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts, Wellington, Ohio.


Into the Wilderness: A Massachusetts Household Emigrates to Ohio
Inaugural Lecture of the 2018 Wellington Bicentennial Series

Patricia Lindley Center for the Performing Arts
January 9, 2018 | Doors open at 6PM; lecture begins at 7PM

In 1818, a Dutch farming family from the Berkshire region of Massachusetts left behind all they knew and traveled west on foot to begin a new life in the Ohio country. Many of us have heard stories of the founding of Wellington, but what you may not know is that one member of that settler household was a woman of color, a freed slave who had formerly belonged to the family she now accompanied “into the wilderness.”

This talk is free and open to the public. If you would like to indicate your interest in attending, you can do so on the Wellington Bicentennial Facebook page. And please take a look at the other monthly lectures and presentations scheduled for the remainder of the year!

Nearing the Finish Line

22540112_1462986340416558_4120680513426473012_nRegular readers of the blog may have noticed that it has been fairly quiet of late. That is because I have been spending a great deal of time on finishing up the manuscript and publication process for my forthcoming book! I received the first proof this week and have been busy copy editing.

The book was due to be shipped to those who pre-ordered a copy in December. We are currently running ahead of schedule and it looks as if copies may be mailed out in November. Fingers crossed!

Happy Sesquicentennial, Wellington Enterprise!

Exactly one hundred and fifty years ago today (September 19, 1867) the inaugural issue of The Wellington Enterprise was published by editor James M. Guthrie. Over the past four years, I have written more than six thousand words on the history of our hometown newspaper. If you would like to learn more the Enterprise, check out some of these earlier posts:

To read about the very first issue of the Enterprise ever published, click here.

For a complete nineteenth-century history of the paper and its editors, click here (part one) and here (part two).

For biographical information specifically pertaining to co-editors John and Mary Hayes Houghton, click here.

To learn more about the type of printing press used in the Enterprise offices while the Houghtons were editors, and to see a video of the press in operation, click here.

To see the very first color issue ever printed by the paper, click here.

Happy birthday, Wellington Enterprise! Here’s to a few more centuries in operation.

 

 

Success!

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 1.20.48 PMGreat news! The Kickstarter pre-order campaign for my forthcoming book Fully Equal to the Situation: Nineteenth-Century Women of Wellington, Ohio successfully concluded this morning. We reached 160% funding, or more than half-again over our first goal. The completion of the stretch goal means that we will be able to add more content than originally planned. Nearly forty books were pre-ordered. If you would like to purchase a copy, never fear! Once the book is published, it will be available in Wellington, and online via a link which I will add to this site at that time. Thank you to everyone who has supported the blog and book!

Another Year Has Gone By…

Mock Up Cover
Hard to believe, but another year has come and gone. Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog. Many exciting things have happened in the past twelve months, not least of which has been the upcoming publication of my book. (At left is a mock up of the cover.) There are just about three weeks left to pre-order a copy, which you can do here. I have already submitted the manuscript to the publisher and we will soon be working on finalizing illustration choices, etc. I am proud of the work that has gone into this little volume and I hope those of you interested in reading it will find it compelling and informative. Many thanks to everyone who has already ordered a copy, and to those of you still following this blog as we enter our fifth year together.

Exciting News!

Logo RSP Inc.

 

Railway Station Press, a local history publishing house based in Alexandria, Virginia, has invited me to write a small volume of stories about the women of nineteenth-century Wellington. Initial publication expenses will be defrayed via a Kickstarter campaign. If you have enjoyed reading this blog and would like to pre-order a copy, please click here. The campaign is active through mid-September. Copies are expected to ship in December. Many thanks for your support!