Posts Tagged ‘Oliver and Anna Mae Hertzler’

Gone Except for the Memories

Today we went to Denbigh (Newport News) to attend the 120-year homecoming celebration at Warwick River Mennonite Church in Newport News. But first, we had to drive past the farm-Quarterfield Farm, Gene’s home place fronting on Colony and Hertzler Road.  Well, it used to be a farm, now it is just a memory.

 

The house site

The garden plot

For 118 years, it was a fertile, productive farm (dairy, then a horse boarding facility) within sight of the Warwick River and belonged to the Hertzler family: Great-grandpa, grandpa and then dad Hertzler.

The once lush meadows and pastures are now pushed over trees, tractors have given way to bulldozers and houses are starting to grace the landscape instead of pecan, walnut, crepe myrtle and oak trees. They tell us the house, barn, machine shed, milk house and shop were demolished 2 weeks ago. What once was a familiar homestead is now a dirt construction site. The pecan trees and shrubbery are still standing marking the outline of the yard but we were told they too will soon be gone. All traces of history have been removed, never to be recovered or preserved. This history was more than just Gene’s family. It was an important part of the history of Mennonites who came to Denbigh. In 1897 D.Z. Yoder and Isaac D. Hertzler (Gene’s great-grandpa) came to Denbigh and purchased a 1200 acre plantation for $10 an acre. This quickly attracted the interest of many other Mennonites in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other parts of Virginia who moved there. The land was divided between the families forming a very unique close-knit faith and agricultural community called  “The Colony”.

A new house now built in the front pasture.

The neighbors fought hard against city hall pleading for a park, a preservation of the cherished land. They fought City Hall and City Hall won. A sign saying “Hertzler Meadow” almost feels like a taunt.

It feels sad and as a family we now only have a marker in the church cemetery a mile from the farm to document Oliver and Anna Mae Hertzlers’ existence.

But, they are not forgotten. We have memories, lots and lots of memories, precious memories and pictures that we do and will continue to cherish. Dad Hertzler knew the inevitable was coming and he had worked out the plans before his death. We are just glad he didn’t have to see the reality of it.

It reminds us of the frailty of life. We are only here for a few short years and then we are gone, never to return.

What will be our legacy?

How will we be remembered when there is nothing left but a tombstone?

 

All flesh is like grass, and it’s loveliness as the flower of the field.

Isaiah 40:6

As for man, his days are as grass; as the flower of the field so he flourished. For the wind passes over it and it is gone; and the place remembers it no more.

Psalms 103: 15-16

This is a unique, to scale model of “The Colony” made by Sam Brunk for the 100th Anniversary showing how it was in 1947. It is now solid development. The 60 acres owned by Dad Hertzler was the last piece of land to be sold. He held on to the land tenaciously even though the city was determined to force him out.

Quarterfield Farm, farm of Henry-Anna Hertzler, Gene’s grandpa.

 

Some related blog posts about the farm.

Bringing Closure

Yesterday coming home from church Gene said, “Where are we going to ride today? Do you want to go to Denbigh?”  One year ago that meant, do you want to go see Daddy?  But times have changed and Daddy is no longer at 567 Colony Rd. Denbigh. He now has a much grander address on a street of gold in heaven.  This trip was on our bucket list for this spring but now going to Denbigh is just a trip down memory lane, a reflection on the has-beens of life.

We had a cd playing as we cruised along but just as we approached the Newport News exit we suddenly became aware of the song that was playing; “I Can Only Imagine” by Bart Millard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xwzItqYmII

This song had become one of Daddy’s favorites in the last months of his life as he anticipated “going home”.  Somehow it seemed like a God-moment as we listened to the song and remembered Daddy.

In May 1897, D.Z. Yoder and Isaac Hertzler (Gene’s great grandpa from Long Green, Maryland)  purchased a 1200 acre cotton plantation for $10 an acre. They very quickly generated interest in numerous other Mennonite families who came to the Tidewater area, drawn by the lure of affordable farm land. The group became known as the “Colony”.  They tilled, planted and rejuvenated the worn out, overgrown land turning it into productive fruit orchards, dairy, poultry and produce farms.  This fascinating story is told in  the book “Fifty Years: Building on the Warwick”. During the next 100 years, the land was divided, subdivided, developed and sold until only 45 acres remained in the middle of the city where Mama and Daddy Hertzler lived. Daddy tenaciously withstood pressure to sell and held on to his beloved farm. But now that era and the “Colony” are officially gone. The streets; Colony Road, Hertzler Road and Miller Road surrounded the farm like a hedge of protection, keeping the city at bay.

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We circled the block around the farm twice and snapped a few pictures from the road. Someone else now lives in the house and owns land. It is no longer in the family.  The farm still looks the same but it is definitely missing Daddy’s magical touch.

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After circling the farm, we stopped at the Warwick River church cemetery, opened the wrought iron gate and quietly walked to the gravesite to pay our respects.  It almost seemed like hollowed ground. We know a cemetery is just a bone-yard but they are beloved bones and their resting place is the only spot on earth that is still a connection to them. Someday those old bones will come to life as they spring out of the grave and meet the Lord in the air (I Thessalonians 4: 16-17).  Daddy loved trees and his burial spot is underneath the boughs of an old tree, the only tree in the cemetery.

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We walked among the headstones and talked about the many familiar names; Issac and Fannie Hertzler (Gene’s great-grandparents), Henry P. and Anna Hertzler (grandparents), Menno Hertzler (an uncle who died in a boating accident on the river), Uncle Dan and Aunt Dora Brunk, and many other relatives and church acquaintances with the names of Yoder, Burkholder, Fisher, Moyer, Nice, Hahn, Shank, Hostetter, Ziegler, Schaefer, Brunk, Miller, Shenk, etc. Each headstone represents a life lived, some briefly, some many years. Each was a life with a story to tell and most had a huge impact in the Warwick River Mennonite Church community and beyond.

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I took the next three tombstones because they were a part of the many folks who migrated  west to Powhatan and have had significant influence in the church and community here.

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Finally we were ready to leave. With a few backward glances we got in our car and drove away.

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We decided to stop by a friend’s home on our way out of town. The hours ticked by as we talked about Mama and Daddy and some of the many challenges they faced, particularly in their last years. This friend understood and the time spent there was life-giving and healing.  We left feeling that, finally, we could have closure on that chapter of life.

A few final pictures:

Great-grandparents, Isaac and Fannie Hertzler, build a stately house with a white picket fence on the bank of the Warwick River just a stone’s throw from the farm. The lot was part of the farm at one time. The house and grounds have been very well maintained through the years. I had to take a picture of the old wagon sitting in the front driveway.

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