History, farming, and family- the bedrock of Cherry Fork’s community

By Patricia Beech – 

Cherry Fork – This rural crossroads village is not the place Russ Brewer knew growing up. The little town of white clapboard houses surrounded by a prosperous farming community is steeped in history, and like many small towns across America, it has attracted newcomers, but its once prosperous business community has dwindled.
Brewer’s family moved to Cherry Fork in 1958 when he was just eight years old. He recalls a thriving village.
“In the 1960’s there were two doctors, two churches, and four gas stations – three of which were full-service stations, a post office, and two General Stores where you could buy anything from nails and groceries to paint,” he says. “When I was a kid I could name a hundred percent of the people in Cherry Fork, but now I bet I couldn’t name 10 percent of the people.”
Despite the influx of new faces, the Cherry Fork community remains home to a bedrock of farming families who settled the area generations ago.
“It’s a very old community,” says Brandy Persch. “We are farming families here in Cherry Fork, and once you own a farm here it’s passed down from generation to generation to generation.”
The Fulton, Purdin, Wamsley, Shupert, Osman, Taylor, Grooms, Hesler, Persch, and Baldwin families are among those who built Cherry Fork’s successful, multi-generational, family farms.
“It takes a special breed to be a farmer – especially a dairy farmer, it’s a 24/7 commitment, and we all take pride in being a part of that community,” says Persch, lightheartedly. “I guess you could say it’s the milk that holds us together.”
“We’re a small community of very neighborly people,” says Jane Hesler. “It’s a good place to raise a family, and to be involved in community activities – it makes you feel like you’re contributing and making a difference.”
“It’s a close knit community, everybody knows everybody,” says Betty Baldridge. “My husband’s family has been here for generations, since the American Revolution, and he was very proud of his family and their Scotch-Irish Covenanter roots.”
Many of the town’s original settlers were Scotch-Irish Covenanters who were pledged to uphold Presbyterianism.
A plaque in the Cherry Fork Cemetery proudly declares their arrival in Adams County.
“In 1804, a group of Scotch-Irish Covenanters from Rockbridge County, Virginia, erected a log church on this location,” it reads. “In 1805, they organized the Cherry Fork Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.”
Two brick churches were subsequently built in the same location in 1832 and 1854. The present Cherry Fork United Presbyterian Church was built in 1976 and houses the the oldest congregation of Covenanter origin in Ohio.
The Cherry Fork Cemetery is the oldest burial place in Wayne Township. According to Evers & Stivers History of Adams County, General Robert Morrison dug the grave for the cemetery’s first internment – “the little son of William Davidson killed by lightning in the year of 1802.”
The cemetery is also the final resting place of Roscoe Parker, a 16-year-old black man who was accused of murder and subsequently hanged by a lynch mob on Jan. 12, 1894. According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch at the time, Parker died declaring his innocence. “He was hanged after one or two efforts by the somewhat unskillful executioners, who left him after firing bullets into his body.” The following day the Dispatch reported that Jesse Prewell, “a well-to-do bachelor farmer from Winchester, blew his head off with a shot gun after writing a letter which said that remorse for having helped to lynch young Parker the night before had driven him to the deed.”
Not surprisingly, the cemetery is said to be haunted by these and other troubled souls.
While Samuel Wright is credited with being the first pioneer to settle in the Cherry Fork valley in the year 1700, the village wasn’t officially founded until 1848 when Col. William McVey, a radical Abolitionist, established a post office and named the town North Liberty.
According to Adams County Commissioner Brian Baldridge, whose family has lived in the area for seven generations, the community became an important link in the Underground Railroad with several area homes providing “secret rooms and hidden passageways where many runaway slaves were hidden during their flight north to freedom”.
By the turn of the twentieth century the village population had grown to 300 people. The town had two general stores, one drug store, a hardware store, a furniture store, a tailor’s shop, two doctors offices, two churches, one hotel, and the annual North Liberty Fair which drew large crowds from neighboring towns and counties.
By the 1940’s Cherry Fork was enjoying a degree of prosperity that paved the way for the construction of Adams County’s first airport on the north side of town.
Following World War II, a Flying Club was formed by war veteran and Cherry Fork native, Charles Mathias.
“I was always hanging out at the airport trying to get rides when I was a kid,” says Brewer. “It was an amazing place, and we had a lot of fun flying out of that airport.”
In 1955 the town’s high school was merged with North Adams, forcing families to choose whether their children would attend school at Winchester or Seaman.
“It was a big deal because there were a lot of people who wanted their kids to go to Winchester’s school,” recalls Brewer. “There were some spirited discussions over where we should go, but they fell short of all-out fights.”
Brewer believes the loss of the village school was a setback for Cherry Fork.
“A school brings a community together,” he says. “When that’s gone the community tends to lose some of its cohesiveness and spirit.”
Still, residents of Cherry Fork remain loyal to their town.
“I was born here, I went to school here, and I’ve gone to the Presbyterian Church my whole life,” says Sarah Kay Blythe. “There are so many amazing people in our community, we’re just like one big family.”