History of the Molly Caren Ag Center

From the Private Farm to Educational Center:

A Brief History of the Molly Caren Agricultural Center


 Raimud E Goerler, Ph.D

University Archivist

The Ohio State University

October 1982

 In August of 1982 The Ohio State University purchased the Upper Gwynne South farm of Mrs. Marie (Molly) Brown Caren.   Its nearly 993 acres in Madison County will serve both as the site of the annual Farm Science Review and the experimental agricultural fields now near Don Scott Airport.  The purpose here is not to describe the property, the condition of the soil, the nature of the terrain, and the buildings thereon.   Such has already been done (1).  Instead, the focus will be on the history of the farm, its first settlers, the generations that followed and the reasons for the farm becoming part of the university.

            The ancestors of Marie Brown Caren were the Gwynne’s of Maryland.  There, Evan Gwynne (the great-great-great-grandfather of Mrs. Caren) had established himself as a merchant and an investor in frontier real estate.  It is said that Evan Gwynne made a name and a fortune for himself by engaging in maritime commerce with England from Baltimore.  Certain it is that Evan was a man of prominence, for in 1787 the General Assembly of Maryland appointed him a surveyor to lay out the town of Cumberland in northwestern Maryland, near Pennsylvania (2).  As a surveyor he was intimately aware of the best lands there and in fact established himself as one of the first residents of Cumberland.  In 1797 he served as Justice of the Orphan Court, evidence of his importance in that frontier community.  Investment both in real estate and in commerce was common in this era of lack of specialization in business.  Typically, enterprising businessmen bought undeveloped land, sold it to farmers, accepted produce in exchange for rent or currency, exported the foodstuffs for finished goods, which they in turn sold to settlers.  Family members tied the geographically separate parts of the business together (3).  Unfortunately, no details of the early business of the Gwynne’s have been found. 

            Evan Gwynne had twelve children, of whom Eli Washington was the great-great-grandfather of Molly Brown Caren.  This generation of Gwynne’s were the founders of the family in Madison County, Ohio.  Such historical events as the wars of the French Revolution in Europe and the dislocations of commerce with Europe caused by the Jeffersonian Embargo may have concentrated the interests of the family upon the purchasing of the land in Ohio.  The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the ending of the Indian wars of the Old Northwest in 1795 made settlement there attractive (4).  In approximately 1808, as the wars in Europe still raged, at least three of the six sons of Evan Gwynne- Thomas, John, and Eli Washington- moved to what became Madison County, some 300 miles from their home in Maryland (5).

            Madison County was part of the Virginia Military District in Ohio.  This area between the Little Miami and the Scioto rivers running north from the Ohio had originally been claimed by Virginia during the colonial period.  In 1784 the state ceded her claim to the national government of the Articles of Confederation but stipulated that the Virginia Military District was to be reserved to satisfy the land bounties which Virginia had issued as payment to their citizens for military duty in the American Revolution.  Many of its settlers, like the Gwynne’s, would come from states of the Upper South, having purchased the claims from Virginia’s veterans.  Certainly the Gwynne’s had the capital from their enterprises to buy many of the claims.

            Benjamin Springer from Kentucky was reported to be the first settler in the Madison County area in 1795. Many others followed, lured by the fertility of the deep, rich loam and by the coarse grasses that were ideal for raising livestock (6). The only detriment to the area was the fact that the soil was very wet and had much stagnant water, thought to be a source for many diseases. Finally in 1810 the population was sufficient to organize a county named in honor of President James Madison.

            Thomas Gwynne, one of the six sons of Evan Gwynne, became one of the founders of Madison County. It was his ambition to have the county seat of government established on his land in Deer Creek Township, thereby increasing the value of the property and “was much chagrined at the defeat of his pet project” when London was chosen (7). Nevertheless, Thomas became a figure of some political prominence in the county- Justice of Peace in 1810, Fence Viewer in 1812 and assessor in 1819 (8).

            Politics and governmental service aside, the principal interest of the Gwynne family in their lands was business. A county history noted that: “These Gwynne’s were very active, energetic business men and all died wealthy (9).” Thomas, the civic leader, was a businessman at heart. On his land was a stage route from Columbus to Springfield, “a horrible mud road, in which stage coaches and wagons often mired deep and had to be pried out with rails or some kind of levers, which often delayed them on their journey, and the good nature of the passengers was severely tried (10).” No matter how poor the road, each traveler was a potential customer. Therefore in 1810 Thomas applied and received the first license for operating a tavern and in 1811 also received a license to open a general store. So optimistic about his location was Thomas that in 1816 he began laying out a town called Lawrenceville, which the local population dubbed “Limerick (11).” Fate again prevailed, however, when in 1834 the National Road passed through Madison County and diverted traffic from the old Columbus and Springfield route and Limerick never developed as expected. In fact, brother Eli Gwynne eventually purchased the town lots and turned them back to pasture (12).
            Nevertheless, the Gwynne’s prospered even as the county increased in population. Between 1810 and 1820 the residents of Madison County increased from 1603 to 4799 and by 1840 their numbers had almost doubled (13). The new settlers not only increased the value of the land but also bought goods from the general stores that the brothers operated in London, Urbana, and Columbus (14).

            Eli Washington Gwynne (1794-1866), the brother of Thomas and the great-great-grandfather of Mrs. Marie Brown Caren, never dabbled in politics but concentrated his energies in business. It was said that Eli was a quiet, courteous man who always refused offers of office (15). When his career ended, Eli Gwynne was estimated to be worth over one million dollars, with extensive holdings of land in Missouri and in Madison County. His will revealed not only an estate of considerable value but also the accomplishments of an ambitious and far-sighted businessman who invested heavily in real estate, railroads, and banks. In  Madison County alone Eli owned more than 5000 acres of land and another 1600 in Pickaway County, along with $21,000 dollars of stock in the Columbus and Xenia railroad, and the Cleveland, Painesville, and Ashtabula railroads, $11,000 of stock in banks at Springfield, Zanesville, and Columbus and $8,000 in U.S. Bonds. So important was Eli Gwynne as a man of capital that he helped to found the first bank in London, Ohio (16).

            At the death of Eli Gwynne in 1866, his sons Edmund L. and Baldwin, the great grandfather of Marie Brown Caren, divided the estate. Baldwin in his youth traveled much and his letters to father Eli contained descriptions of social life and business conditions in a variety of places. In 1854 Baldwin set out from London, Ohio to California, arriving after a journey of six months (17). Life in San Fransisco had a special fascination for him:

I arrived here (San Francisco) just a week ago from  Sacramento and have passed the week very pleasantly in looking about the city and have come to the conclusion that it is to say the least a fine, fast, gay money spending sort of a place – a place where a young man or young woman must dress to death (sic), live in a French restaurant, take fast rides and drives, tend to his business on week days, and go to the theatre every night, on Sundays do double duty, go to church twice a day and finish off with the grand opera or theatre at night (18).

            As father Eli may have expected, a discussion of business opportunities in San Francisco followed.

            Baldwin had determined to see the world before settling down to business and in February of 1856 left California for Australia on the baroque Lane A. Falkinburg, arriving in Sydney forty-six days later. In June of 1856 he sailed for Liverpool, England and then to New York and London, Ohio.

            As a career, Baldwin managed the family properties in Scotland County, Missouri, beginning in 1857. His principal concerns were the raising of cattle and transporting them to eastern markets. There he remained and in 1859 thought he would always live away from Madison County, or at least not in Columbus:

I hope I shall not be foolish enough to go to Columbus. I never wish to see the place again. It is not necessary to go to that city, even to arrange matters with L.C.J. (his fiancée). That matter is settled forever and she so views it. I know I do. I am determined and I never will change my mind though all the gabbling old women in the world should talk themselves to death (19).

            In 1860 Baldwin toyed with the idea of moving further into the South but the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brought him back to Columbus, to the family house at Fourth and Broad streets. The remainder of Baldwin’s life appears to have been spent in London, Ohio and in Columbus, highlighted by excursions in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and to Saratoga Springs in New York, a fashionable resort of the time. At his death in 1878 the estate fell to daughter Marie Louise, who inherited the Lower Gwynne farm, and to son Edmiston, the grandfather of Marie Caren Brown, who received the Upper Gwynne farm.

            Edmiston Gwynne was born in London in 1862 and died in 1887, a victim of tuberculosis. Five years before his death, he married Maria Conrad and that brief marriage resulted in three children: Baldwin J, Louise, and Marie, the mother of Marie Gwynne Brown Caren. Edmiston took pains to care for his young wife and the dependent children. His will specified that all of the land possessed by him, the 3,000 acres in Deer Creek known as Upper Gwynne farm, should be held in a trust, the revenue of which was to sustain his family. Only when the children reached maturity could they sell their portions. Upper Gwynne remained undivided until 1910, when Baldwin J. Gwynne reached maturity and took his one-third.

            The section of the original Eli Gwynne farm that Edmiston passed on to his children had never been the principal residence of the Gwynne family .They were more likely to live in London, Ohio or in Columbus. This, too, was the lifestyle of the children of Edmiston. The farm served principally as income-producing property to sustain an urban lifestyle. Cynthia K. Burr, a granddaughter of Edmiston, remembered that she and her mother and brothers spent several summers on the family farm, a summer home made especially attractive by a grove of stately walnut trees. But when these trees were destroyed by a storm and as the children grew older, the farm held fewer attractions (20).

            Nevertheless, the Upper Gwynne farm of Edmiston continued to serve as a source of rental income and even as a place to live in hard times. Most of the time the land produced corn and grain crops and contained much livestock; in the early 1960’s, however, the management of the farm turned almost exclusively to soybeans and corn. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s mother Louise Gwynne Burr, the daughter of Edmiston, and her children Baldwin Gwynne Burr and Cynthia K. Burr actually lived on the farm.

            In 1964, at the death of Louise Gwynne Burr, the estate was divided for the last time. Half went to the children of Louise Gwynne Burr: Baldwin Gwynne Burr, Cynthia K. Burr, and Louis P. Miller and Karl Burr; the other half the part which was to be purchased by The Ohio State University, went to Marie Brown Caren, the daughter of Marie Gwynne Brown and the granddaughter of Edmiston.

            Agriculture played an important part in the life of Marie Brown Caren (22). She grew up on the fruit farm of Frame Brown near Worthington, attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C. during her freshman and sophomore years, and then returned to Columbus, graduated from The Ohio State University as a major in English in 1935. When her parents died in 1963, she assumed the management of the fruit farm and continued to do so for the next twenty-five years. Marie Brown married John Caren, a prominent attorney in Columbus, but they remained on the Worthington farm until 1962 when they built a house in Columbus.       

            The responsibilities of running the farm maintained and strengthened the ties between Mrs. Caren and OSU. Her father, Frame Brown, and the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service at OSU had developed a mutually beneficial relationship. The proximity of the Worthington farm to the Columbus campus made it an ideal place for professors in agriculture to take their classes and observe farming practices. From the visits of the professors and extension agents, Frame Brown learned the latest about discoveries and innovations in agriculture, especially pest control and soil improvement (23). This cooperation continued and intensified after 1936 when Mrs. Caren assumed the management of the farm.

            In 1979 Mrs. Caren decided to trade the Brown fruit farm near Worthington for Camden farm in Madison County, But the Camden farm raised livestock, a business with which Mrs. Caren had no experience. Therefore, she undertook the study of livestock management and enrolled in appropriate courses at OSU as part of Program 60, which encouraged senior citizens to return to the classroom.

            In 1981, while taking courses at OSU, Mrs. Caren was approached by Dean Roy Kottman of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics and asked to consider selling her share of the Gwynne farm to OSU (24). The university desired her land as a site for the Farm Science Review and as a new location for the agricultural stations near Don Scott Airport in northwestern Columbus. The expansion of housing units in that area and the volume of traffic at the airport rendered those lands less desirable as a place for experimentation in agriculture. Mrs. Caren’s farm, in contrast, not only held sufficient land but was also readily accessible from the university by means of Interstate 70, which cut through the property.

            Mrs. Caren, for her part, had become increasingly interested in the university as she met the faculty and students. She was also concerned that the Gwynne lands, which had always been committed to agriculture, continue to do so in the future (25). And in August of 1982 the Upper Gwynne South Farm sold to OSU at a fraction of its appraised value.

            Many generations of students and faculty will benefit from the lands of Mrs. Caren, part of the original estate pioneered by Eli Gwynne. Experimentation with crops, livestock and farm equipment should improve the lifestyle of millions of Ohioans. It is hoped that this report will forever serve to identify the origins of the Molly Caren Agricultural Center and the way it became part of The Ohio State University.


1 See “Appraisal of Upper Gwynne South Farm,” by Don Sigg Associates (Lebanon, Ohio), April 1982.

2 Will H. Lowdermilk, History of Cumberland (Maryland (Washington, D.C.: James Anglim, 1878), p. 260.

3 Alfred D. Chandler, The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), p. 18.

4 Beverly W. Bond, The Foundations of Ohio (Columbus, Ohio; The Ohio Historical Society, 1941), p. 348.

5 W.H. Beers, The History of Madison County, Ohio (Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1883, p. 649. However, page 377 implies that all six brother came to Deer Creek.

6 Ibid., p. 648.

7 Ibid., p. 377.

8 Ibid., p. 653.

9 Ibid., p. 377.

10 Ibid., p 661.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 662.

13 Ibid., p. 529.

14 Ibid., p. 377.

15 Ibid., p. 541.

16 Ibid., p. 561.

17 See Gwynne Family Bible owned by Mrs. Marie Brown Caren.

18 Baldwin Gwynne to Eli W. Gwynne, October 31, 1855, Owned by Mrs. Marie Brown Caren.

19 Baldwin Gwynne to Eli W. Gwynne, December 5, 1859, owned by Mrs. Marie Brown Caren.

20 Interview with Cynthia K. Burr, October 6, 1982.

21 Interview with Robert Dillingham, October 25, 1982. Mr. Dillingham had managed the farm ca. 1962-ca. 1976.

22 Interview with Mrs. Marie Brown Caren, October 12, 1982.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.