Charles E. Curtiss doesn’t recall the precise date, but he remembers fondly when machinery replaced horses at the Willow Marsh Farm at 343 Hop City Road in the town of Ballston.
“I can’t tell you when exactly, but I know it was one of the happiest days of my life,” said Curtiss, 78, whose great-grandfather, William S. Curtiss, purchased the property back in 1846. “It was probably back in the 1960s. I liked horses, and I still do, but they can’t keep up with a tractor.”
The Willow Marsh Farm, which has been in the Curtiss family for five generations, will help the town of Ballston celebrate its 225th anniversary with an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Different events will be held that day throughout the town, which was formed in 1788 as part of Albany County.
At a glance
Town of Ballston 225th anniversary celebration
WHERE: Willow Marsh Farm, Hop City Road, Ballston, as well as other locations around the town
WHEN: Farm open house 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, other events throughout the day
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 885-0310 or www.townofballstonny.org
It became part of Saratoga County in 1791, when that county was formed, but there was little in the area back then, except for a small group of families living near the intersection of Charlton and Middleline roads, where the Ballston Center Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church now stands.
“Rev. Eliphalet Ball and his flock of approximately 40 churchgoers from Westchester County moved to the area in 1770 and established his church,” said town of Ballston Historian Rick Reynolds. “The only other settlers that were here were the Macdonald brothers, and they were over by Ballston Lake.”
Farms, however, quickly started popping up in Ballston after the American Revolution, and in the 1840s, when William Schuyler Curtiss moved to the Hop City Road area, he wasn’t the first farmer in the neighborhood.
“Presumably, there was somebody there first, but we’re not sure who exactly, and we don’t know what they were farming,” said Reynolds. “The Hop City Road area was great for growing hops and it attracted many farmers, but eventually, farming hops kind of died out.”
Charles E. Curtiss said the stories his parents and grandparents told him about the farm, located just a few miles west of the original settlement of Ballston Centre, support Reynolds’ sketchy history.
“I think the house was already built when my great-grandfather moved here, so it’s probably even older than 1846,” said Curtiss, who changed the name of the farm from Willow Brook to Willow Marsh in 1978. “I guess I never really thought about the history that much, but when somebody says ‘five generations,’ yeah, that’s kind of interesting. But it’s not like we planned it that way. We just kinda kept on going.”
Curtiss, who was preceded by his father, William Schuyler Curtiss, his grandfather, Anson F. Curtiss, and before that the first William Schuyler Curtiss, still works on the farm most every day. But in 2000, he handed over the reins of the property to his son, Charles B. Curtiss.
Both Curtisses can remember when the place had more than 1,000 chickens and a variety of other animals, but those days are gone, and the little roadside, help-yourself farmstand has been replaced by a store specializing in raw dairy products.
“We’re primarily a dairy farm, and we have cut back on the number of cows we have,” said Charles B. Curtiss. “We have about 30 milking cows right now, and we have our store where we sell our dairy products, milk and cheese. We used to go to the farmers market, but we decided to expand our store, so we kind of changed directions and we’re doing things this way now.”
There are also about 30 beef cattle on the farm, according to Curtiss, making fresh and natural meat also available at the store.
He says he never seriously considered doing anything but following in his father’s footsteps and keeping the farm in the family.
“I was never hesitant about it,” he said of continuing the Curtiss legacy. “I was born into it, it’s something I’ve always done and I’ve always loved it. It’s hard to understand unless you were born into it. It’s a challenge, but you have the freedom of being your own boss, so I never had any regrets about it.”
There is a sixth-generation Curtiss also working on the farm, but nothing is set in stone and the workforce isn’t nearly what it used to be.
“There were nine siblings in my father’s family, and all the families before were always large for generations and generations,” said Charles B. Curtiss. “I only had one brother and one sister, and I have a son who’s working on the farm now with me, along with some extended family members. We’re not sure just yet what’s going to happen in the future. That’s a good question.”
Curtiss’ wife, Darlene, is a relative newcomer to farm life.
“I’m from Lansingburgh, so I didn’t know anything about farming,” she said. “I met Chuck on Match.com, and he said he owned his own business. I didn’t know I was getting into this, but I like it. It’s definitely a great place for kids and grandkids to grow up.”
‘Ball’s town’ tale
The Macdonald brothers also saw the Ballston area as a great place to raise a family, but they also enjoyed raising a ruckus, at least according to local legend.
“They were the original white settlers, so the town was going to be named after them,” said Reynolds, who added that he can’t verify the story. “But one day they had a meeting with Ball, and they worked a deal with him. They said if he gave them a certain quantity of rum, then the town could be named after him, and that’s how the deal was secured. It became Ball’s Town and eventually Ballston.”
As for Ball, there isn’t a whole lot to be said about him. He died in 1797 at the age of 75, and while Reynolds does have a picture said to be of the man, the picture’s authenticity is another thing he can’t confirm.
“Town historians are wonderful people, but a lot of them aren’t professionally trained,” he said. “I came across Ball’s image in the files when I took over, and there was nothing there documenting the picture, so I’m not positive it’s him. But it’s the image our town officials have used as him for a very long time.”
Ball’s image and other various historical artifacts will be on display at the Ballston Town Hall from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The Ballston Community Library, the Burnt Hills branch of the Ballston Spa National Bank, the Merchant Farm and the Ballston Center ARP Church will also be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“Around 3 p.m. at the Town Hall, we’re going to have a re-enactment of a Town Board meeting from 225 years ago,” said Reynolds. “Fortunately the town has preserved those records, so we know exactly what happened.”