Photos by Thomas Sprunger
Kristie Fuller’s recently donated 56-acre Wells County farm and forest, named for her father, Francis Fuller, and her grandfather, Hurb Fuller, tells her family’s story on the land. Fuller’s tale is a firsthand account of a larger narrative of Hoosier land use history in the 200 years since European settlement.
By 1910 when her grandfather purchased the property, much of the land beyond and including it had been clearcut — almost completely logged — and sent to Grand Rapids to make Victorian oak and walnut furniture. All that remained were saplings, “half as big as your wrist,” says Fuller.
At the time, Indiana led the hardwood industry nationally. The land showed it. When European settlers, pioneers, arrived only a century before, Indiana was 85.4% forested. By 1900, less than 10% of this forest remained — cleared for resources: farmland, communities and income.
“My grandfather, whose parents lived near here, remembered as a boy, trees so big on this land that three to four men together couldn’t put their arms around them.”
In her own lifetime, Kristie Fuller’s seen loss on the land: “The area’s lost a lotta little things — yellow violets, ginseng, mushrooms. As a child in about 1960, I could wade into patches of yellow and white trillium. Now they’re gone. Wild pink roses were so common in fence rows.”
“Every year things just disappear, are cleared out. Wild geraniums. Disappearing because they like wet soil and it gets drained.”
The last three generations of Fullers have farmed, each generation also planting their share of trees, some reaching 2 1⁄2 feet in diameter in the last 80 – 90 years. Under protection by ACRES members, these “new” trees will continue to grow, living out their natural lives in place.
Fuller’s grandfather farmed his land with a horse-drawn plow led by wild broncos he tamed, naming them Bing and Bang. He knew and respected naturalist Gene Stratton Porter, famed champion of wetlands and his Adams County neighbor. Before purchasing his Wells County land, Fuller’s grandfather had owned land and an oil well near Loblolly Marsh (before it was drained). When walking to pump his oil well, he’d wave or stop to chat with “The Bird Lady,” as Stratton Porter was known. Kristie Fuller reminisced: “Of course, when I came along, my grandfather bought me all her books — you know, Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost — and told me, ‘You’re gonna like her.’”
Fuller explained: “I don’t have children. I’m the last one on my line. I think my family would have thought this was a good thing to do, to keep the place taken care of in perpetuity, with their names on it.”
Her thoughts for ACRES members about protecting land? “You need to protect corridors along creeks for wildlife. To connect patches of land. I remember when some community members platted out suggested strips for protection along the river here. You need more people, more donors to help you do that.”