Life on a Groveport farm in the early to mid 20th century


By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Messenger photo by Linda Dillman
Groveport resident Bette McNeal stands in front of her family’s former homestead on Old Hamilton Road. McNeal now lives next door in a home built by she and her late husband in 1963.

Imagine looking out on a busy modern road and in your mind you can still see it as a dirt road with electrical lines far off in the distance and cows in the pasture next to your house.

This is what life was like for Bette McNeal, who was born on a farm on Hamilton Road in Groveport when it was called McGuffey Road and Warren Harding was president.

She was born on Nov. 7, 1922, Election Day, shortly after women gained the right to vote, in a home where water was pumped by hand and electricity was still a dream.

“Mama said that was the only time she missed casting her vote,” said McNeal, in the home she and her first husband built in 1963, next door to the stately brick farmhouse her parents Spencer and Fern Cole bought in 1918—along with 100 acres—from the Swisher family.

When the Coles settled in Groveport and welcomed their daughter Bette, bread was nine cents a loaf, a new car cost $305 and houses sold for $7,000. They cultivated fields using four-legged horse power and welcomed more children to the family.

“My mother was a teacher and taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Iowa before she was married,” said McNeal. “She told me how she would go early in the winter to get the wood burning stove going before the children came. After she got married, she had to give up teaching. In those days, married women were not allowed to teach.”

One of the most exciting times of the year for young Bette was threshing time. Her father and four other farmers joined together and purchased a threshing machine, which was moved from farm to farm to harvest wheat and oats.

“On threshing day, the farmers would come from all around with their horses and wagons, go out to the field and bring the loads to the threshing machine, which separated the grain from the straw,” said McNeal, who would bring jugs of lemonade by horseback out to the men in the field. “The women came too, and brought food. At lunch time, we had a big feast outside under the big old oak tree. The men would rest and then go back to work. Kids came too, and we all had a great time.”

A windmill powered a pump providing water to livestock.

“As long as we had wind, that was fine,” said McNeal, “but when it was still, it was us girls’ job to keep the tank filled by pumping it by hand. We took turns, 100 strokes apiece, until we filled the tank.”

Everyone was expected to pitch in on the farm, whether out in the field, the barn or in the house. At the end of the day, clean-up was as close as nearby Blacklick Creek.

“When we were kids, we worked hard all day, and then we would grab a bar of soap, a towel and a change of clothes,” McNeal said. “We would go down to Blacklick Creek and scrub off the day’s dirt. Daddy put up a diving board. Soon, some of the boys from Groveport learned of the swimming hole and started coming out to join us.”

In the winter, cold winter snows would sift through windows in the brick home and stay on the sill for days before thawing. Food was cooked on a wood burning stove, which also served as a source of warmth for baby animals.

“I remember Daddy bringing the newborn pigs and lambs into the house when it was real cold, wrapping them in old blankets and placing them on the open oven door to keep them warm so they got a better start,” said McNeal.

Journeys into town for Sunday school were via a neighbor’s Model T Ford. A little grocery store on Main Street in Groveport, across from where the post office is now located, was a favorite destination. The small store was heated with a potbellied stove and furnished with shelves stacked with boxes and cans. Penny candy filled glass jars on the counter and farmers sat around the stove, keeping warm, sharing stories and teasing young Bette when she visited the store with her father.

“We also had a grocery truck, which came around once a month,” McNeal said. “We bought flour, sugar, coffee, vanilla, etc. This was during the Great Depression. We would trade potatoes, chickens, eggs or whatever we had instead of cash. We looked forward to his visits.”
As times got harder, the family started truck farming and sold corn, potatoes, melons, beans, tomatoes and eggs at a farmers market stand in Columbus.

McNeal learned to drive when she was age 12. She said her father took her down the lane in a car, showed her the location of the gears, got out and told her to drive. A year later, she was experienced enough to take trailer loads of corn and other produce twice a week to a Columbus grocery store.

Their farm also had a makeshift baseball field used by a Groveport adult baseball team. McNeal’s father carved the ball diamond out of a field across the street from the current McClay farm.

The team played opponents from Canal Winchester, Obetz and Lithopolis and the family served popcorn from their own fields.

“We put it into paper bags and sold it at the games,” said McNeal. “We also sold candy and pop. There were games every Saturday, weather permitting. The field where they built the diamond was a pasture for the horses. I remember one game when the horses got onto the field while the game was going on and caused some pandemonium by running around the bases.”

McNeal met her future husband, Frank Balsimo, when she was in high school. His father had a fruit and vegetable stand at the old Central Market in Columbus, but Frank spent most of his free time helping out McNeal’s dad on the family farm. The couple was married in 1940 and moved in with her parents, just in time for spring planting. Frank passed away in 1963, shortly after they broke ground on the home next door to the family homestead.

As a child, her sister, Maxine, loved to entertain other kids with ghost stories by lantern light and eventually became a children’s book author. “George and the Long Rifle” is based on the true story of the Cole family migration to Ohio.

Maxine, who joined the Women’s Air Corps after WWII broke out, eventually authored 13 books, many of which were translated into different languages. The library at Glendening Elementary School is dedicated to her.

Another sister, Marguerite, was a registered nurse who enlisted in the Army during the war.
In her youth, McNeal and her other sister, Doris, would make hollyhock dolls during the summer and pretend they were ballerinas on a makeshift cardboard box stage.

In looking back over her 94 years of life, McNeal said, “We have had good times and very hard, heart-breaking times, but we always made it and life was never dull.”

Today, cars speed past and through the former Cole farmstead along Hamilton Road, unaware of the long history and memories attached to the property. However, the tales of summer ballgames, cold winter nights and animal/people-powered machinery continue to live on through McNeal and her family.



  1. Found the article posted on my Facebook page. Lived the first 18 years of my life in Groveport, having attended Groveport Elementary and graduating in 1966 from Groveport Madison High School both on Main Street. Groveport Methodist Church was our family church. Many great memories of times in a small town with life long friends. Growing up in a small town is such a gift. Thank you for the article, which was before my time!


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