by Guy Thompson
History isn’t always found in large places. Sometimes, it can be found in an old sorghum container filled with papers from generations past.
Rob Scrogham and his family – wife Amanda, son Logan and daughter Madison– are the current owners of a farm that has been in Rob’s family for 140 years. Sitting along SR 120 a little east of SR 13, it was founded by Rob’s great-great-grandfather, Gustav Wittlinger, in 1878. The first family lived in a small building next to the barn for the first few years, Rob said, before building their house in 1895.
And the house has been full of history ever since.
Gustav was a German immigrant from Wurttemburg, who listed himself as a mechanic when he arrived in the U.S. The house itself was built from trees harvested from the property, Rob pointed out. The farm even predates the road in front of it, as rocks and gravel from the farm were actually used to fill in a low spot just to the west on SR 120.
The farm changed over the years as it passed to the next generation, and Rob has documents showing items sold from the farm and how much hired hands were paid dating back to the turn of the century – the previous century, that is.
Soon, Rob was working with his father, Gene, on the farm as well. In the late 1990s, joking that they had a “rock farm” due to all of the rocks they uncovered in the fields, they approached a local quarry, who took a look at the property and found it was rich with rocks. “You could cut into a hill and rocks would pour out,” Rob recalled. Soon, the farmland was leased out to the gravel quarry, which surrounds the house today.
A few years after his father’s death, Rob and his family moved into the house. “I knew this is where I wanted to be,” he said. “I was never much of a history buff, but getting into this (the house), it sucks you in.”
As the family works to refurbish the house with an eye to the historical elements, they continue to find more history, sometimes hidden, throughout the house. A lot of what they find can be listed under “they don’t build it like this anymore.” Solid rock foundations over two feet wide, ornate window latches and door hinges, wide wooden planks, and more. Rob and Amanda have been doing painstaking work to refurbish as much of the historic hardware as they can. The window latches, for example, are dated 1888. They’ve stripped and refinished doors. Fixed walls. All with an eye on the history of the building itself.
Sometimes, the finds are amazing, like a collection of records dating back to 1880. Or the above-mentioned sorghum container that had kept its papers in pristine condition for nearly a century. There is the old journal of farm sales, listing transactions and who they were with, up until 1950.
Other finds are unique to the history of the area. There is a small cemetery on the farm and, along with family members, it contains the resting place of the first school shooting victim in LaGrange County. A teacher was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1871 in the school near Stone Lake.
For Rob and his family, the history is more personal than anything else. Each room has a story. Cabinets were made by great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers. The split door between what had been the dining room and sitting room made especially for that spot. They find items, books, papers, as they work.
One room in the house was a spot where Rob, as a young child, was forbidden to go into, he recalled. “Grandma said stay out, so we stayed out,” he remembered. It was 16 years after her death before he actually went into it, expecting it to be a small closet. Instead, it was a 16 ft. deep closet filled with a variety of items dating from the 1950s up through the moon landings. “There were baseball cards. Newspapers. Lots of photos,” Rob said. Many of those were photos of family and friends, which while maybe not valuable to others, meant the world to the family to find and save.
Helen Scrogham, his grandmother, had her 1924 high school yearbook in there, filled with signatures and stories from classmates, including remembrances of their first plane ride, held at the LaGrange County Fairgrounds that year.
Helen and her husband, Fred, were among those honored back in 1987 with the Hoosier Homestead Award, recognition from the state for family farms that are 100 years or older. At the time, she recalled working on the farm, and, it was noted, she enjoyed rock collecting.
And now, 30 years on, it is still in the family. Still being watched after. And still filled with history.