Becky and Ted Place (above) relax on the porch of their centuries-old home, across from the barn that has been the hub of their farm life. They have been together there for 64 years as of this past June. The Place Farm (top) on Place Road, as seen from the east. The massive maple tree in front of the house was planted as a sapling by Ted’s uncle, Warren Tewksbury, more than 100 years ago, and many of the evergreens on the property were transplanted from Becky’s family farm.
Story and photos by Rick Hiduk
(originally published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
As one drives west from Township Road 3001 at the intersection in South Auburn, its obvious that the large red barn and beige house with dark shutters that flank Place Road have a story to tell. For 64 years, the property has been home to Ted and Becky Place. They and their family have become fixtures of the southwestern Susquehanna County community, the Places having laid down roots there in the mid-1800s adjacent to their Tewksbury ancestors, whose name has also become intrinsically connected to the area.
Ted’s great-grandparents, Warren and Emmeline Carter Tewksbury, constructed the core of the farmhouse in which Ted and Becky have resided since he was born and she married into the family. The house was enlarged several times since 1896 to simultaneously accommodate multiple generations.
As per family lore, Ted explained, Warren had remarked prior to expanding on a family legacy that would see the farmstead grow from 175 to 300 acres and survive them by more than a century, “I’m going to build a house that I can turn around in.”
Warren and Emmeline raised beef cattle and a variety of seasonable vegetables and fruit that they would take to markets in Wilkes-Barre by wagon, ringing a large hand bell that Ted still has to signal their arrival. They had two slaughter houses across the road from the house that later burned down.
The Places and Tewksburys had gained passage to America via England and hopscotched their way to Auburn Township via different paths. The Places settled first in New England, then Monroe County in Pennsylvania before moving to Wyoming County, where Becky’s family – the Sheldons – were making their mark in the Laceyville area.
As was typical of the times, a number of first names of both boys and girls were repeated from one generation to the next, which can make genealogy and the telling of the family story tricky. But Becky has done her best to pull together the lineage, sketch out a family tree, and transcribe diary entries and passages from old letters left behind by Emmaline and Ted’s grandmother, Hattie Tewksbury. In addition to the Carters, the litany of marriages in the closely-knit farming community reveals names that are still common there today, like McMicken, Trible, Overfield and Peet – if not among direct descendants, at least on the road signs.
Hattie Tewskbury married Theodore (Dory) Place in 1879, having four children: Sadie, Ethel, Warren and Theodore (Theo) – Ted’s father – who married Mamie Ace McMicken. Ted’s sister, June, married John Dunn, and they resettled to a farm near Port Allegheny in the western side of the state.
The Places owned a Studebaker that was known to make some distinct noises when it was fired up. When Ted’s mother went into labor for his arrival in 1936, his parents started the car and headed to Sayre. A long-time joke in South Auburn was that everybody could hear the car. “They said, ‘There goes Mamie and Theo to Sayre,’” Ted relates with a mischievous grin. “So they knew that I was coming.”
In addition to the love and support of an extended family, Ted’s early memories of the farm include getting electricity in 1942 and feeding the electricians cookies that Mamie made, as well as fetching ice from the ice house beside the barn one Fourth of July to make ice cream.
Becky was born in 1937 at Mills Hospital in Towanda to Ben and Bertha Beeman Sheldon. Her great-grandfather, Samuel Gregory, started Gregory Funeral Service, a mortuary business in Laceyville, which was eventually purchased by Burns Sheldon and his son, Ralph. As the business expanded, Ralph’s sons, Ralph Jr. (Brownie), Bryce, and Benjamin, were licensed and joined the company with parlors in Laceyville, Meshoppen and Tunkhannock. Their names have become synonymous with the business, which still operates as Sheldon Funeral Homes in Laceyville, Meshoppen and Wyalusing.
Becky was the oldest of four girls, including Rachel, Burnzella (BZ), and Benja. “My mother was anxious to have a boy, so she gave the last two girls boys’ names,” Becky explained. The last child born to Ben and Bertha was Becky’s brother, Burnie.
The Places, Tewsburys, McMickens and many of those who surrounded them were considered self-sustaining farmers in that they grew and raised most of what they needed to survive. They sold and traded extra produce to obtain the few things they needed and to reinvest in their farm, which grew steadily through the years. The multi-generational farmhouse provided the space needed to both raise children and look after their elders until they passed away.
Ted admits that he had hoped to become a veterinarian, but he was needed at home to keep the farm going. Grandma Hattie, who was remembered as well-organized and highly energetic, died in 1948 at the age of 86. At about the same time, Ted and his mother, Mamie, started a dairy herd, hand-milking six or so cows and sending a few cans each day to the Bradford County Dairy. They slowly added to the herd and continuously upgraded their equipment. Eventually, they had upwards of 80 cows, modern milking machines, and a piping system that took the milk directly to the milkhouse. Ted recalled that Bob Dibble of Wyalusing installed their first two bulk tanks.
The Sheldons were also farmers and sold Cranes silos, which paved the way for Becky and Ted to meet. “Ted came to buy a silo,” Becky related. “And I happened to answer the door.” Becky was in her sophomore year at Mansfield Teacher’s College. She and Ted had graduated in 1954 from Laceyville and Meshoppen high schools, respectively, but they’d never previously met.
Their parents developed an immediate fondness for their future son- and daughter-in-law, though Becky and Ted admit that they weren’t in a hurry to get serious. That despite Bertha Sheldon saying of Ted, “He has beautiful blue eyes and white teeth, so you better keep him.” The couple dated for four years, Becky helping on the Place farm when she was home from school.
“We went to a few movies,” Ted recalled. “We had no television, so I’d go down to her place sometimes. Both her dad and mother were great to me.”
“Ted’s parents were very kind people,” said Becky, who jokes that she didn’t think that Ted was really looking for a wife.
“We got along good,” Ted responded wryly. “The girl wrote me a letter every day and came up and helped me with the farming.”
“I liked to build fences,” Becky noted.
They eventually married at Skinners Eddy Methodist Church on June 12, 1959, and Becky moved in with the Places. “We had no money to buy new furniture,” she remarked. To this day, the house is full of well-preserved antique furnishings, including a pump organ that dates back to the 1800s.
At a time when almost everybody in South Auburn knew each other, the strength of community paralleled that of the large families that made it happen. Ted and Becky both credit the South Auburn Grange and the Methodist and Baptist churches as the glue that held South Auburn together. “They kept us busy and friendly,” Becky explained. “It was a village with a creamery, a hardware store, grocer, and a blacksmith shop near the Grange. It seemed that everybody was a relative.”
Their shared stories also include references to tragic accidents and incidents that could have been deadly. Ted, for example, lost several fingertips to a silo unloader accident. Becky nearly flipped a tractor backwards one time, pulling a hay wagon along a steep hill. “Farming is a very exciting experience and dangerous,” Becky said matter-of-factly. “Something new happens every day.”
Ted’s and Becky’s two children, Nick and Lynelle, worked on the farm as youths, receiving lots of help from cousins from both sides of the family. “My brother would be here too,” Becky noted. “It was a good group.” Nick married Debbie Taylor of Kingsley, and Lynelle married Barry Cleveland of Eatonville. They all currently live out of state but visit frequently. Nick pursued agronomical studies and now serves as head of the Ag Department at the University of Georgia.
The dairy herd was retired in 2004 – a sad day for any farmer. But the Place farm remains active with grandchildren Brandon Place and Emily Cleveland living next door and tending to the fields and animals with their children who range from 5 to 12 years old. Becky cited Brandon’s oldest daughter, Annalyn, as a “great animal tender,” who would have made her great-grandmother Mamie very proud.
The Places are confident that the farmstead will remain viable for generations to come, but the memories persist. “I do miss the cows,” Ted began, “But there comes a time….,” his voice trailing off but bouncing back. “I appreciate that crops are still growing here.”
Mostly importantly, perhaps, he still has Becky…and the silo.
Ted Place rings the hand bell used by his great grandparents 125 years ago to announce their arrival at produce markets in Wilkes-Barre to sell what they had raised and grown on their South Auburn farm.
A framed aerial photo of the farm adorns a wall of the livingroom.