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One hundred years ago, preserving a farm for anything other than for its agricultural value would have seemed senseless. Farms and farmland covered almost every acre of Frederick County, exclusive of the city itself. Farming was a way of life here. But with progress and a chancing economic base, farmland has given way to industrial parks, neighborhoods, and retail space. So, when someone makes a conscious effort to preserve a farm, it should be noticed.
Such is the case of Ostertag, a picturesque farm located off Rt. 40 in Myersville. Don Easterday and his wife Wanda have spent the last several years renovating the barn, houses, and outbuildings where generations of Don's family have resided for the past two centuries. Some may have seen Ostertag on the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage Tour this past year, but if not, take a look at this unique property, a testament to an era long since passed.
Ostertag, which is German for Easterday, has been in Don's family since 1770 when Michael Ostertag came to Frederick County from his home in Central Nordlingdon, Germany. Over the years there have been four separate homes on the farm, all occupied by the Easterday family. The oldest, a stone structure, dates back to the 18th century and was the first house built by settlers in that area or Frederick County, says Easterday. A second log house was also built sometime in the 1700's, although some time later. A brick house built in 1810 collapsed in 1994, and the fourth and youngest house, constructed of log with vinyl siding, sits at the front entrance of the farm and was where Don was born and raised. The focal point of the farm is a large barn, originally built in the 1800's and rebuilt following a 1929 fire.
All of these buildings, with the exception of the brick house, have been completely renovated in the last five years. What really ignited Don's move to preserve his family farm was the barn. "Many barns are being destroyed today because of the changes taking place in agriculture," says Easterday, "and I wanted to go the other way and preserve this one." Easterday, who is the administrator of the Frederick County Farm Bureau, appreciates the value of farming in this community, although he himself no longer farms. He leases most of the 144-acre property (not including the buildings or immediate land) to a local farmer, but has found an ingenious way to turn a profit without picking up a hoe by rending out the barn, which can hold up to 150 people, for events such as weddings and civic group functions such as dances and dinner parties. This has enabled Easterday to keep the family farm intact while some revenue to help with the cost of upkeep. Even though the farm is of historical value to the community, almost all the money put into the farm to date has been out of Easterday's pocket. He has done all the renovation work himself, with the exception of the replacement of the barn roof.
Easterday hopes to one day create a cultural center at Ostertag. He already has an artist in residence, David Moreland, whose grand paper-mache sculptures and paints grace the barn's interior. Easterday hopes to attract more artists in the future where "they can work in a more isolated environment." For the past three years, he has sponsored "Arts and Crafts in Paradise," a showcase of works by area artists held at Ostertag each fall. The success of the art fair gives Easterday hope that his dream of a cultural center is slowly being realized.
The barn is a gem. From the sky box atop the barn looking down, one can comprehend the enormity of the renovation task Easterday had before him. What is most impressive about the structure are the large beams across the top of the barn, support beams constructed of single pieces of wood, each from one tree. Each beam is 40-feet across. The name "Ostertag" appears on the floor of the sky box, painted by Moreland and fanning outward to accentuate the vastness of the barn itself. Looking down onto the floor of the bar, one can see a beautiful compass rose with a paschal lamb from the Easterday family coat of arms occupying the center, painted by Moreland on the floor itself. The same compass rose can also be seen on an exterior wall of the barn and one the sign at the entrance to the farm.
Much of the barn is climate controlled providing an ideal space for working artists. The basement of the barn, once used for milking cows and as a horse stable, is now used for art classes. Just outside, adjacent to the barn, is a milk house, built in the 1940's and enlarged in the 1950's. Climate controlled, this space is currently being used by David Moreland as part of his studio.
Down the hill from the barn are the two oldest buildings on the property, the stone house and the log cabin. Restored several years ago, Easterday took some liberties with the cabin, replacing a wall on the second floor with glass windows, adding more light and affording a beautiful view of the small farm pond. "This is my hideaway, so I made it the way I wanted it, rather than the way it originally was" he says. It is interesting to note that the chimney on the cabin doesn't actually come through the second floor, but rather bends around it. The cabin was used for storage over the last century, but at one time as many as 11 people lived in the tiny two-room structure. This was a typical early-German pioneer farm house, built so that many necessities were supplied conveniently and naturally, such as a spring under the house, providing water for the family and refrigeration for food.
When the Easterdays completed work on the cabin, they wanted to do something a little different from the neighbors that following Christmas, so they decorated the cabin as it would have looked at Christmas in the mid-1800s and held an open house for friends and family. There is little in the way of furniture in the cabin, just a chair or two and a table on which the Easterday family bible, dating back to 1765, is displayed under glass at certain times of the year.
Just past the log cabin sits the original stone farm house, built from fieldstone found on the property. Don employed the idea of adaptive reuse when renovating this house, which means he made some changes from the original structure to make better use of the property. Mainly, he omitted a side wall from the basement level of the house and added steps on the inside leading down to the basement, so that the space could be used for storage. The basement was originally partitioned and one side used for storage, the other as the family kitchen. The family would have to exit the front door and go around the outside to reach the basement. Now the steps provide direct access from the main floow to the basement. Also, dormers were added to the house to create more light in the interior. Timbers from the floor and cabinets built into the walls came from the brick house that collapsed. Don isn't quite sure how he will use this particular house, but he has made improvements that he fells will make the house more user-friendly.
Easterday has just about completed the renovation work on the farm. He is now turning his sights to promoting the property as a great location for artists to come and people to hold special functions. Ostertag is open this month during the third annual Arts and Crafts in Paradise, to be held October 11 and 12 from 1p.m. to 6 p.m. For directions and more information, call 301-293-3345.
Caroline Tatum Pugh is associate editor for the magazine.
"Location, location, location," is a popular phrase applicable to the importance of a wedding site.
For those who want to get away from it all, Ostertag Vistas combine peacefulness with history and tradition.
Located near Myersville, Ostertag Vistas is run by Don and Wanda Easterday. The 144-acre farm has been in the Easterday family for generations, dating back to 1700.
"Couples are asking to get away from the usual fire hall and hotel idea for ceremonies but still stay traditional," said Mr. Easterday.
"Ostertag" is German for Easterday, signaling to patrons the importance of the Swiss and German history of the family. After 10 years renovating the barn and surrounding historical homes, the couple opened the vista to the public in 1998 for corporate meetings, church groups, birthdays, anniversaries, and weddings.
"We want it to be a special place, for special events, with special people," said Mr. Easterday.
The farm itself boasts deep rooted history and incorporates that into the hosting of events. The first house ever built in the area is located on the farm with a working water wheel. It was constructed by Easterday ancestors in the early 1700s.
Another home built in the mid 1700s has been renovated to host wedding ceremonies along its outside walls. A smoke house is still present on the property and once serviced to original four homes built on the farm.
"At one point in time, there were 17 people living within the four homes," said Mr. Easterday.
Looking out on 144-acres of backyard from the barn's deck, guests will find a pond in the right hand corner that in the summer is covered in water lilies. Also on the right is the second oldest home used as a ceremony site.
A half mile road travels the expanse of the farm. The bride and groom take a carriage ride around the land while guests wait back at the barn for the reception. Some brides choose to enter their ceremony via the house drawn carriage. Bradford pear trees line the road leading up to the old house.
Other outdoor wedding sites include a gazebo in the middle of the farm, an outdoor stage area covered in grass and trellis work with vines, and a willow tree in the far right corner where the couple walk out to exchange vows.
Inside the barn Mr. Easterday wanted to maintain as much tradition as possible. Beams are exposed, original hay tracks hang from above and a 42 foot wooden piece beam extends the entire width of the barn.
The main room can be used as a dance hall or dinner area. If the weather isn't ideal, the couple can wed inside the barn. To the left is a lofted stage used to house either more tables for large parties or musicians and DJs.
"The barn is virtually acoustically perfect. Musicians love it here because they are above their audience and have their own space and the guests have room to dance," said Mr. Easterday.
Underneath the left lies the groom's room, decorated with a hat rack, chaise lounges and an Oriental rug. Walking out on the deck, newlyweds use the space for toasts and bouquet throwing into the crowd below on the red brick patio.
To the right is a room often used for tables or buffet space. Walking up the steps, one will find the bride's room, decorated with exposed beams, a full bath and full length mirror, vaulted ceilings and a balcony for her hair and makeup crew.
Going up one more floor, the skybox is where children can play with pillows and checkerboard while looking out onto the dancing crowd below. Many brides choose to toss their bouquets from the balcony.
"We wanted to provide a vantage point to show how these barns were built with wooden pegs and single beams of wood," said Mr. Easterday. An electric train runs the perimeter of the barn and a working compass rose with the family name is found in the center of the floor.
Below the main hall is the finished basement that used to be a horse stable. The flooring is all stone to remind the guests of the farm's heritage. Arrowheads are cemented in along with stones mapping the outline of Germany and Switzerland. Their family seal is in the middle of the floor.
To the right is a small room used for kitchen needs and caterers. The room to the left showcases artwork of the region and is called the Ram's Den, a tribute to the hangout at Mr. Easterday's alma mater Shepherd College. The sliding glass doors walk out onto the patio where guests can toast the couple on the deck above.
"The wedding idea happened entirely by accident," said Mrs. Easterday. "The primary objective was to save the barn from neglect and the wedding thing just took off. People were asking for it," she said.
The pair have handled some interesting requests during their four years in business, including the take-off of a hot air balloon, the entrance of a groom on camel and a western ceremony where the men wore blue jeans and the bride wore a short white dress with white leather knee-high boots.
Couples have come from as far as central Europe, Jordan, and India to wed at Ostertag Vistas.
"The biggest payoff is meeting the most interesting people," said Mr. Easterday.
Ostertag Vistas is already booking for 2003 and is only available for select dates this year.
"It's uniqueness, it's peacefulness, the space and the flexibility of the rooms" are what separate Ostertag Vistas from other venues, Mrs. Easterday said. "We love the history and just being someplace different."
Nestled somewhere between history, timelessness and classic beauty, is a place where visitors are welcomed, where legacies are preserved, family is valued and traditions are upheld. A place that highly regards preservation of the land but shares itself as a gorgeous venue for modern day weddings, corporate events, reunions and more. Located in the beautiful Middletown Valley, this 165-acre working farm is brimming with the splendor of the outdoors, the dreams of brides and grooms, and stories enough to satisfy the biggest history buff. Welcome to Ostertag Vistas.Read More