Farm family suffers loss of home of 5 generations

June 06, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Sherri Hosfeld is a Carroll County farm girl who has lived a little. She studied photography for the past two years in New York City, lived near Greenwich Village, hung out in Central Park and spent hours in art museums.

"I moved to New York to be where the action is," the 22-year-old said.

Now she's back on her family's farm in Westminster, and there are "For Sale" signs at the end of the driveway. Although she knew her career might take her away, she had hoped to always come home to the farm.

Ms. Hosfeld is a modern young woman with an old-fashioned ache in her heart.

Her extended family -- relatives live in three houses on the 104-acre farm on Pleasant Valley Road -- is moving because its neighbor, Carroll County Regional Airport, is expanding.

Ms. Hosfeld has watched her family cope with losing what's been theirs for five generations. They feel sadness and anger, while they talk about lawyers and bank loans. It's too painful to talk about losing their history.

But Ms. Hosfeld, who is observant, articulate and sometimes dramatic, understands and wants others to know what her family is enduring in the name of progress.

"It's a private hell we're all going through. I wanted people to know what we feel like. We're a dying breed of people," she said.

Her family won't become city folk. The county paid them enough to buy and renovate an 88-acre farm five miles away off Bachmans Valley Road. They will build another cluster of homes, but it won't feel right for a long time.

"That's the part that kills me. There's such a bond between man and land, and it's just going to be taken," Ms. Hosfeld said while walking through one of the fields this spring before corn was planted. Blue airport hangars are within sight, and corporate jets shake the houses as they fly over.

The airport is just south of their farm, part of which will become the end of the new runway.

"It's not an equal thing [moving to a new farm] because you can't replace what's lost," she said. "I grew up here, my cousins grew up here.

"I never appreciated anything about how I lived or where I lived until I moved away. Moving to New York City made a big difference.

"I go through deep depressions when I'm there. I need fresh air."

Ms. Hosfeld's family is practically a throwback to another time. Her grandmother, Pauline Byers Shaffer, lives in the white farmhouse around which the farm is built; her parents, Helen and Richard Hosfeld, have a house just up the hill; and her uncle, David E. Byers III, lives with his family across a cornfield. They visit each other without knocking.

Mrs. Shaffer, who doesn't like to give her age, is the matriarch of the family. She fought county government for several years to keep the farm where she came to live as a bride more than 50 years ago. After her first husband died in 1961, she and her son ran the crop farm. She also worked for 47 years at English American Tailoring Co.

She finally sold the farm last December. The county paid $850,000 for the land -- $165,000 more than the appraised price. She also received $50,000 to help cover moving costs.

The process was an ordeal.

"We always thought it would go away," Mrs. Shaffer said. "I guess we'll survive. I hope so.

"I take a lot of flak, even at the grocery store. [People say,] 'Let her pay for my groceries, she's got a lot of money,' " she said.

"I didn't get too much money," she said.

Even though most family members don't like to talk about selling the farm, Ms. Hosfeld and her boyfriend, Matthew Bass, persuaded them to be interviewed on film last year. The two made "Eminent Domain," a grainy, black-and-white, 16mm film that earned Mr. Bass an "A" in a film class.

The 20-minute film is sad and serious and makes no pretense of being objective.

It opens with her cousin, 10-year-old Jon-David Byers, holding a picture of a tractor he drew and saying, "When I grow up, I want to be a farmer."

Ms. Hosfeld coaxes her uncle, Mr. Byers, who teaches physical education and coaches varsity basketball at Westminster High School, to talk about his attachment to the land. She tells the audience he takes it personally when it doesn't rain.

"There's a certain bond you have with the ground," he says in the film. "It produces for you because you take care of it."

He says it upsets him to think that bulldozers will come to the farm and take away soil he has worked years to save from erosion.

"It's like taking a part of you," Mr. Byers says.

Ms. Hosfeld graduated this month from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and is looking for a job. Her dream is to be a photographer for Life magazine.

She will help her family move to the new farm. No one has lived there for 15 years, and it shows. The dirt road leading in is rough, weeds grow everywhere, and the farmhouse is in disrepair.

"It's not very pretty, not yet at least. But it's got potential," Ms. Hosfeld said. "I'm a nut about old things."

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