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From a farmhouse

Werlings preserve past, protect future

By LauraMarie Carmody
The farm’s original windmill still pumps water from a well that has never run dry. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
One of the farmhouse bedrooms is clean and crisp in white and lots of natural light. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
In the dining room, built-in cabinets and oak flooring glow in natural light. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
A dinner bell is just one of the details on the property, which includes a welcoming grape arbor reached by a brick path. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
a welcoming grape arbor reached by a brick path. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Benches invite reflection along the path. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Floral colors in pillows brighten a room. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Farm details, a photo, emphasize the home’s history. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Farm details, a hat, emphasize the home’s history. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
The parlor has a beautiful formal ceiling and a baby grand piano. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Family history is evoked with a welcome sign. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
An antique tractor delights visitors. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
An old plow displayed near one of the outbuildings delights visitors. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
The study is decorated in bolder colors of blue and maroon. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Lavender scents the garden. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Modest but stylish details enhance the beauty of a bedroom. (PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)
Donn and Diane Werling live on a unique 30-acre stretch of land in eastern Allen County. The property, most of which has been in Donn’s family since the 1850s, currently includes nine buildings and several additional structures.

Many of the buildings are from the late 1800s and have been restored. Some are part of an arboretum created by the Werlings. The arboretum provides open, undeveloped green space and is designed to meet visitors’ educational, spiritual and inspirational needs.

A gravel lane starts at Moeller Road and guides vehicles past trees, flower gardens, other vegetation and the couple’s Queen Anne-style house before reaching a common parking area. From that vantage point, visitors can see a red hog barn, orchard, smokehouse, milk house, chicken coop and even a windmill, all of which have been part of the property since the 19th century. All are close to the house and collectively create what was once a working farmyard.

The farmhouse itself was built in 1895. It was designed by Martin Stock, a Fort Wayne architect, as a wedding present to his sister, who was also Donn’s grandmother. The house has a Michigan stone foundation, tulip poplar siding and  diamond-shaped roofing. The trim is sage green and the siding off-white. It is accented with mauve.

The house has a traditional front gable, as well as a side extension that creates an “L.” The flat roof front porch fits snugly within the 90-degree angle of the “L” and faces the lane. It is supported by grooved posts with decorative millwork at the top. The railing and bannister boast a Chippendale design. A mauve porch swing adds to the inviting style.

Initially, guests could enter the parlor or the kitchen. Today, the primary entrance ushers visitors into the former kitchen, which is now a dining room. Another kitchen and a back porch were added next to the dining room around 1902. A pantry was converted into a bathroom after 1940.

The house still features most of the original light fixtures, woodwork, flooring and trim. The décor, which includes antiques, heirlooms, traditional furnishings and a variety of plants, perpetuates the ambiance created by the structure.

The spacious dining room boasts a wall of built-in cabinets, white oak flooring and wainscoting and plenty of natural light. Pine-paneled doors lead to the second-story stairs, the bathroom and the parlor. The study, which used to be the dining room, is accessible through yet another doorway.

The parlor walls are a warm shade of green that compliments the ivy and vines wallpaper found in the kitchen and on the dining room ceiling. The corner fireplace has a cherry surround, built with wood from the farm. A black baby grand piano is positioned near the room’s entrance. A small circle of flowers surrounds the light fixture plate in the center of the ceiling, while a large gold leaf circle travels around the outer edges.

The study, next to the parlor, is decorated in blues and maroons. It features pine flooring, as does the parlor. A bay window ushers in light and is one of the few changes the Werlings have made in the house.

The steps to the second story are hidden behind a door in the dining room. The enclosed stairway turns slightly before ascending to reveal the former front parlor at the top of the stairs. It once served as a dressing room and a gathering place for children, since it was the only heated room on the second floor.

Additional bedrooms, all of which have closets, are located on either side of the staircase. A closet was added to the upstairs parlor years ago when it became a bedroom. The Werlings converted another bedroom into a sitting room with a built-in bookcase and a full bathroom.

The kitchen is back downstairs and to the right. White furnishings with woodblock tops are coupled with warm brown cabinets and white appliances. There is a spacious built-in pantry and small alcove. A painting by Donn’s mother graces one of the walls.

Beyond the kitchen and back porch are buildings reflecting life on a farm. Years ago, the family harvested apples from the orchard and raised cows, pigs and chickens for sustenance and for sale.

The smokehouse, built around 1850, is the oldest building on the property. It has a pale yellow exterior and vertical wood siding. One section was the actual smokehouse, while the other housed a surrey. Inside, there is a restored hearth, a two-boiler furnace, large copper kettles, an apple butter stirrer and even split ash baskets used by Donn when he was a child to collect orchard apples.

A milk house, once used for bottling and cooling milk, is also positioned along the path near the house. This small building is undergoing restoration and serves as a storage facility.

The home’s original windmill is next to the milk house. Only the blades have been replaced. A 17-foot-deep well, lined with bricks, is located underneath. It has never gone dry.

At the end of the sidewalk is a restored brick chicken coop, built circa 1900. It is currently being used as an intern’s residence. A rock display along the side of the coop includes cornerstones salvaged from a barn’s remnants.

The coop’s interior features 17 varieties of wood from the property. Children participating in New Haven summer camps on the grounds are asked to identify the different types of woods, which range from osage orange to black locust to Kentucky coffee tree. A rendering of the Werling’s arboretum hangs on the wall. An immigrant trunk with an arrival date of 1850 sits on the floor.

While there is plenty to see behind the house, there is even more in front of it. A brick path leads to a grape arbor and flower gardens providing a first glimpse of the full vision of the arboretum.

To the right of the grape arbor is a children’s garden. Children walk through a natural branch structure, then crawl through another area on their way to a sensory garden. The plants provide a sensory experience and include root beer hyssop, a licorice bush and more. There is also a riddle garden with broom corn and other items. Last, but not least, there is a spot with items that don’t belong in a garden. This spot provides an opportunity to chat with kids about similar feelings and remind them that everything and everyone has a purpose.

The peaceful gardens hold a few more surprises for young and old alike. A teahouse made with 5x5 Kentucky coffee tree wood harvested from the property is positioned on one side of the gardens. It incorporates the Chippendale balustrade and decorative woodworking from the house’s front porch. Tables and chairs invite everyone to relax and appreciate the gardens.

White pine trees representing Michigan are planted at one end of the teahouse, while bottlebrush buckeyes representing Ohio are at the opposite end. The path from the pines is symbolic of the St. Joseph River, while the one from the buckeye is the St. Mary’s River. These paths “flow” into a rock display representing the Maumee River. As the three rivers meet, water flows down into a small pond.

The gardens and the remaining portions of the arboretum are not only educational, but are also designed to be spiritual and inspirational. Bible verses are positioned above the grape arbor and along the inside edge of the teahouse trim. A nearby pond, visible from the teahouse, is shaped like the Christian symbol of the fish.

“Christian faith is very important to us,” said Diane Werling. “It is at the center of everything, and we hope to share that in these subtle ways.”

“This is a spiritual place, as well as physical, recreational and inspirational,” added Donn Werling. “We need to address all of these to have a full life. We can’t leave anything to chance.”

Everything on the Werlings’ property speaks to preservation, restoration and adaptive reuse. The couple is preserving numerous historical buildings on the property. They have used resources from the farm for new building and restoration projects.

“If it speaks to you, do it,” said Donn Werling. “I’ve always wanted to give back to the community where I grew up. This is part of our dream. It nurtures us and hopefully others, too.”
Posted: Fri, 09/23/2011 - 9:38 am
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:12 pm