Source: NMHS Newsletter, November 1998 

A Productive and

Well-Loved Woodland

A History of the Herbert L. Taylor Audubon Preserve during the five generations of the Taylor Family

by Jay A. Taylor

The Herbert L. Taylor Audubon Preserve contains the remaining acreage of a woods that was enjoyed by five generations of the Taylor family.

When George W. and Elizabeth Taylor and their son, Robert F. Taylor with wife Molly and eight children sold their small farm and truck patch respectively in Arcadia, OH. they bought 156 acres of land east of Liberty Mills, IN in 1903. More land was needed for the younger family would soon have a ninth child. The older Taylors moved to a home in Liberty Mills, and the younger family moved into a 5 room, story and a half, bungalow style house which was enlarged that year with a two story addition providing four more rooms and a partial basement for root storage. That improved house still stands about midway along the south edge of the farm.

The 156 acres was located in two counties and 4 separate quarter sections bounded on two sides by roads. The Eel River was the north boundary. There was 25 acres of woods on the farm. It is the history of the woods about which I write.

In a sense the woods and river along it were always a community place. By crawling over two fences and walking 1/8 mile from the east

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edge of Liberty Mills anyone was able to crawl through the fence and enter the woods. Thus in mushroom season most days would find several persons turning over leaves looking for morels or elephant ears. Others came to view wild flowers. This writer remembers meeting Rose Martin hunting mushrooms one spring day. She stopped to show him how to create whistles from the green limb of a pawpaw bush. She tapped the bark to loosen it; slipped off the bark and opened up a sound chamber. Then she slipped the bark back on and adjusted the length of the out end of the twig to change the pitch of the whistle.

Now and then a man or boy would trap fur bearing animals or fish along the banks of the river. Bert Cordier kept a row boat in the back water of the Liberty Mills Dam and frequently "pushed" his oars to tend traps or fish along the edge of the woods.

Many winters the Taylor families were kept in honey by watching "bee trees" that were cut on a morning when the temperature was 20 degrees or lower. The honey was taken to the house to be extracted. About 1950 Byron Taylor had spotted such a tree west of the drainage ditch near the river. I was home for the Thanksgiving break from college on a morning that was cold enough to stop normal activity in the hive. The family owned a two-man Mall chain saw like those developed by the Army Corp of Engineers for use during the Second World War. It had a 36 inch cut. I was operating the saw by holding handle bars projecting out from the engine like the handles of a wheel barrow. At the other end was a single handle held by brother Robert J. Taylor. We had started well below the opening used by the bees and were cutting off blocks of stove wood while watching for evidence of honey. Finally in the middle of a cut bees began to appear. They were sluggish enough to offer no trouble until my partner lifted up his end of the saw with a jerk. Several bees landed on my face which was warm enough to inspire them to go into the fight mode. After two days with swollen eyes I shared the joy of honey with the rest of the family.

The woods had about 500 sugar maple trees in 1904. There was an abundance of elm trees, and in 1924 hickory elm became one of the main timbers in the barn erected to replace one lost by fire that year. During the 1932 syrup season the fuel for syrup making came from the woods supplemented by discarded ties from the adjacent railroad. A

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wood lot was always important for fencing, gates, framing lumber and fuel.

When Byron Taylor moved to the farm in 1932 the woods took on added importance. As Robert F. Taylor grew older he had not actively pursued live stock husbandry. Soils were quite depleted and only a few acres could be pastured by live stock. White oaks were cut, taken to the mill, sawed and used for fence posts to carry lots of three-strand barb wire fences. White oak, although as dependable as any in the woods, still were bound to rot off at the ground level within approximately ten years. A variety of trees were also cut to create a crib approximately 16 x 20 by 7 foot high on which wheat and oats straw was blown at each threshing time to create a tramp shed and winter protection for cattle. The cattle tramped the straw during the winter and in the spring it was spread on the fields to provide fertilizer. Additional fences required gates, and these were created by taking logs to be sawed into rough lumber. The gates were heavy, but serviceable.

A gravel pit was dug along side the drainage ditch in the woods to provide gravel for improvement of the drives and lanes. A variety of Indian artifacts were uncovered as many loads of gravel were used.

The river was the summer bath tub for the males of the family. Until professional trash removal became a reality the river bank was the depository for broken dishes, tin cans, discarded fencing and Fords, as the relic on the west end of the woods still attests. Black raspberries and blackberries were plentiful enough along the east edge of the woods to provide for eating and canning. Walnuts and butternuts were available in the fall of most years.

The sugar camp was opened in 1905 by Robert Taylor. He borrowed $65.00 from his oldest son, Grover, and with other resources purchased an evaporator, pails, spiles and constructed a building in which to carry on the operation. From 1932 until 1939 during the author's contact with the sugar camp about 650 pails were hung. Syrup was made each year from the smallest quantity on a poor year of l50 gallons to the most prosperous year when 515 gallons of syrup were made.

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Lack of fuel became an issue, since 40 gallons of maple sap had to be evaporated to create one 12-pound gallon of syrup. The adjacent railroad was so poorly maintained during the depression era that it provided few discarded railroad ties suitable for fueling the evaporator. The Erie Railroad had a very aggressive maintenance program each summer but ties were supposed to be stacked and burned. Section bosses, however, were quite cooperative. With the gift of a couple of gallons of syrup, they let the Taylor crew "steal" discarded ties left near the fence a day or so before burning. The family during the August lull in farming boarded a team adjacent to the track section being improved, acquired access and trucked the discarded ties back to the farm. Once the process was established the goal was to dry them for 18 months. By cutting a 16-inch block out of the center the two ends were the proper length for the fire box of the evaporator. In later years those two cuts on each tie were made with a special heavy duty saw blade. After 50 cuts the first blade was removed and a second one installed. While the crew ate lunch the sawyer, usually Roy Taylor, sharpened both saw blades for another 50 cuts each. The properly cut ties were split in about six to eight pieces during December and January and placed in the attached woodshed of the sugar house.

Making syrup was a very labor intensive procedure. The holding cistern, evaporator, pans, pails and all had to be scrubbed at the beginning of the season. Only hard maple trees were tapped. Trees were drilled for one to four spiles depending on the size of the tree.

The best sugaring weather happens when nights are significantly below freezing and days are warm enough to bring sap up the tree trunk. The north side of the tree was avoided because many days it would not be warm enough for sap to flow. A good tap during a good run would drip about three gallons of sap a day

Extensive rain or thaws required pails to be removed, and rehung if/or when proper sap-producing weather returned. In the author's memory there were times the evaporator ran 24 hours a day except on Sunday for two weeks at a time. In 24 hours approximately three batches of eight gallons each would be finished off, strained and sealed in gallon cans.

A kerosene lantern was the only illumination in the early years.

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With the cloud of steam always rising from the process this left much to be desired at night. During the last few years of operation lighting was much improved with a Maytag washing machine, two cycle engine belted to a six volt auto generator and storage battery to provide power for two bare bulbs. A lantern was still required as a back-up for the wood shed or in case the mechanical apparatus failed.

These descriptions may make the operation sound like a dreary time of drudgery. A great deal of socializing took place during the syrup season. Evenings and week ends saw a fairly constant flow of visitors to watch the evaporation process and visit. Sunday school classes came to watch. Friends would come by car and on foot to watch, chat and sample hot maple syrup. Since samples were free from a common dipper the unsuspecting person was usually warned that fresh, warm, maple syrup didn't always proceed through the digestive system in an orderly fashion.

In the strict religious home only "Old Maid" and "Flinch" were allowed as card games to be played in the farm house. At the sugar camp when the younger Taylors were giving their dad a break a wider variety of card games were only interrupted to stoke the fire and skim off the foam and pump up sap from the cistern. Inquisitive visitors even seemed to enjoy working the cistern pump to bring sap up to the tank from which it automatically flowed into the evaporator pans.

Much of the marketing was to local customers. Some kept a running order for the "first run," because they wanted light colored, mild flavored syrup. Others didn't mind later runs which were a darker color with more intense flavoring. Occasionally larger quantities of syrup were wholesaled or sold by family members in distant locations. This was an important cash crop during a period when cash was scarce. Rex Lukenbill, Elkhart, who often spent time helping his grandparents remembers hearing his grandma, Mrs. Robert R. Taylor tell that in 1918 the syrup run was so good, and so much syrup was sold at $1.50 per gallon that the farm was required to pay income tax for the first time.

Robert F. Taylor acquired the entire farm in 1923 at the death of his father. He experienced uninsured losses that left him with a large mortgage even after he retired. In 1939 he sold the 80 acres of land

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with the woods to Minear Lumber Co., Warsaw who especially wanted the maple and other hardwoods. That sale cleared the rest of the farm indebtedness.

Byron Taylor, who rented the farm beginning in 1932 continued to farm. In addition he bought the hardwood tree tops for $200.00 and sold hundreds of cords of fine stove wood. In 1942 the Minear Co. wanted to get out of the farming business and sold the 80 acres to Byron Taylor. Two years later he bought the 76 acres from his father and once again the entire property was under the ownership and care of the Taylor family

The sugaring house was no longer needed and was razed. The south half of the woods was so decimated that it was returned to farm land.

When Byron and Hazel Taylor needed care the farm was exchanged for life care at The Peabody Home in 1971. The woods and certain areas in Kosciusko County were not needed by the new owner, Dean Buyers, who then offered two parcels for sale. He encouraged a member of the Taylor Family to buy the land. Herbert Taylor cherished the woods and purchased it and the easement to access it.

As Herbert became increasingly incapacitated he donated the woods to the Tippecanoe Audubon Society. Once again it is being increasingly used as a woods where young people learn about the environment and where people of every age can find inspiration and enjoyment.