WALDO, OH – When an aunt died and left the 113-year-old farmhouse to John Knickel and his 12 cousins, Knickel inherited the role of maintenance man for a home full of memories.
The auction of what's known as the Oborn Hilltop Farm, which sits on land owned by Knickel's ancestors since the 1870s, was bittersweet for the 70-year-old member of the last Claridon High School graduating class.
"I'm wore out," said Knickel, who commuted several times weekly from his residence in Findlay to keep the property in shape. "I was only to take care of this thing for six months, and I've been doing it for seven years. ... It kind of got overgrown. I was taking it back to when I was a child, when I got to come here and hang out with my grandparents."
Will Park and Anna Schlegel Oborn built the house in 1902 shortly after marrying in Buffalo, New York, where Knickel said the couple went to shake hands with President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exhibition but had to leave early because of time constraints; McKinley was later assassinated at the event.
Knickel and other family members petitioned to auction the property, at 3945 St. James Road across from Kings Mill Golf Course, after one family member voted against the auction, said Vickie Dutt, Knickel's sister. Dutt also attended the auction in the home's front room.
"When you leave something to 13 people ..." she said, her voice trailing off, later adding: "I'll be relieved when everything is finally settled and life goes on."
Top bid received
The winning bid on the house and immediately surrounding land was $130,000, and the top bid for an adjacent 66 acres was $450,000, auctioneer Ben Higgins later announced.
Knickel said he was pleased with the auction results.
"We didn't care who bought the place as long as it was an open and fair sale," he said, adding that the property, auctioned in two pieces, sold for about the price family members expected.
He said his ancestors arrived in the area of the farm in the 1820s, taking ownership of land on both sides of the Whetstone River near the St. James Road bridge, which is due to be replaced with a covered bridge this year.
The house, which stands within view of the river, and yard became a favorite haunt for him when he was a child.
"It's special," he said. "I really loved my grandparents, and my grandma was blind. She still went out to her flower garden, and I'd help her with it. She still liked to go out and smell the flowers."
He said he visited his grandparents after he finished fishing.
"I used to come down here," he said. "I was too young to help with the farming."
Instead, he'd be dropped off at Grave Creek.
"I'd get tired of fishing, and I'd take my fish to their house, and Grandpa would clean them, and I would hang out with my grandparents."
Many fond memories
He started mowing the yard for his grandfather, who in 1955 began taking him to the Little Brown Jug harness racing event in Delaware.
He said those running the races would get their hay from his grandfather, adding that, "back then," spectators could sit in their own chairs to watch the event.
"He needed someone to carry the chairs, and that's how I got to go to the Little Brown Jug," Knickel said.
In the past seven years, as he put about 160,000 miles on his truck making the trip to check on the property, Knickel gained a perspective of the home he'd never had previously.
"It's an incredible place at night," he said. "All you hear is the water coming over the dam. I never expected that until I came here to take care of it."
Though the location holds precious memories, it's also been a lot of work.
"There's always something to cut down, something to burn, something to move," he said. "It's been overrun by honeysuckle. I'm always trimming the trees back, and I always had a project going on, just maintaining the place. It used to be very little mowing, but I kept cleaning up the area ... and I had that much more mowing to do."
Dutt, who lives about 2 miles away from Hilltop Farm, said that, although she is ready to move on from family discussions about the property, it holds enough sentiment for her that she submitted an opening bid at the auction.
"I just wanted to make the effort," she said.