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November 27, 2020

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Once upon a time in Ada

Seven generations of Shanks in rural Ada

By Leland Crouse
Borrowed from Small Town Sampler
Betty Miller, August 30, 1989

Thomas Shanks
In 157 years most of the early farms in Liberty Township have changed owners. A few, however, have been passed down through the generations, and descendants of some of the early settlers still grow crops on the land their ancestors cleared. One of these farms is owned by Bob and Anna Mary Shanks on County Road 65. At some time in their lives, seven generations of the Shanks family have called this home.

Bob’s great-great-grandfather, Thomas Shanks, came to eastern Hardin County with his thirteen children in 1832, the year before it became a county. He had also bought land in Liberty Township several miles northwest of what one day become Ada. In 1837 when his son John was 16, Thomas sent him to clear the land. It would be difficult for the present generation to imagine what hard work went into clearing a large area of wilderness, felling huge trees and providing drainage with oxen, horses and crude homemade tools.

John married Jane Mustard in 1946 and they bought the land on County Road 65 across from the Mustard farm. The back part of the house there today was built in 1856. To accommodate a family, the front part of the house and the upper story were added soon after that. John and Jane’s children, four children who died young and the surviving boys, John H. and Royal Sheldon, were born before the Civil War.

Bob says it would take a crowbar to remove the original walnut wainscoting. Wide ash floorboards upstairs have burned spots to show where the coals jumped from the stove in the hired hand’s room. One of the additions was a portico at the front and open porches on both sides of the house. Bob says one of the family stories is that John’s family decided to remove them because the preacher was the only visitor who ever used the portico and the front entrance to the parlor. A prosperous farmer, John once owned and farmed 640 acres in the area.

John H., the bachelor son of John, was the next to live in the house and oversee the farming. Milo and Anna Shanks Cronbaugh moved in to help. Royal Sheldon, Bob’s grandfather, lived on the south farm. To their friends and neighbors they were known as J.H. and Shelly. J.H. at one time had over 2,000 sheep housed in a large sheep barn with 12-foot cupolas. In 1933, the wool J.H. had stored in the barn waiting for a better price was sacked and shipped to a buyer. It filled a railroad car.

Both Shelly and Bob’s grandmother, Mary Catherine Ream, attended H.S. Lehr’s “select school” in 1868 when Lehr was Ada’s schoolmaster in the small wooden school that now stands on Montford behind the Previte home. Bob’s father, William C. “Will” studied engineering at ONU but returned to the farm after Shelly died. Bob and Anna Mary moved to the house in 1940 from the south farm and their three children, Cathy, Tom and Dick grew up there and went to the Ada schools. Edie, Cathy’s daughter, their granddaughter, lived most of her life on the farm until she graduated from ONU in 1987 with a degree in pharmacy. She calls the farm her home too.

Two other reminders of the early days provide a family story. John was a member of the militia. One of the historical documents preserved by Agnew Welsh is a call for a parade assembly of the Goshen Rifle Rangers signed by the captain, John Shanks. According to Bob, the story is that in 1864 when John left on horseback to serve his 100 days in the Civil War with the 135th Regiment, he broke off a branch from the top of a small maple tree at the entrance to the lane to use as a riding crop. Today, the tree is taller than the house.

Bob and Anna Mary keep the Shanks history close at hand and try to add to it-the Scottish background and the roots in the United Kingdom. Bob says they have discovered “Anne Boleyn hangs on the family tree: and because a Shanks once guarded the body of an English king who was killed in a hunting accident, the family was awarded an estate and coat of arms. Thomas Shanks’ old account book, with entries when he was a storekeeper in Mansfield, Ohio lists “jills” purchased for 12 ½ cents-obviously a wee drop for medical purposes. The family Bible contains the record of births, marriages and deaths. Family portraits of Bob’s ancestors, and Anna Mart’s ancestors, the Tituses, Chauffields and McCampeys, line the center hall. In a place of honor by the stairs is John Shanks Civil War discharge signed by Abraham Lincoln.

The family still collects stories. Bob tells of a helper who got a drink from the well and announced the water tastes “ like it got hair on it.” Knowing that sulfur water was used in the barn but the drinking water came from a dug well. Bob investigated and discovered a groundhog in the well explained that Thomas, who lived with John after his wife died, had lived to 101, John had lived to 92 and J.H. had lived to 89, the helper decided that rather than having the well condemned perhaps the water should be bottled and sold.

The long lane leads back to the Shanks house on the small rise in the land, the maples still stand at the entrance to the lane (although Anna Mary says “their days are numbered” and the corn grows tall in the fields as it did in 1840. When Bob looks out over his fields he says “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Drive east on Lima Road, turn right on 65, look down the lane beyond the maples to the house and glimpse a part of community history.

Today, 2019, Ryan Shanks, Dick’s son, lives in the house keeping the tradition going.

Bob and Anna Mary Shanks 1989