Hevener Acres in Arbovale is a farm that has seen it all – Civil War battles, cattle and sheep, crops, radio telescopes in the distance, and four generations of Heveners carrying on the family’s traditions.
Bill Hevener and his wife, Sue, now live on and maintain the farm that was originally bought by Hevener’s great-grandfather.
“My great-grandfather Uriah moved here in 1849, and he came from High Town, Virginia,” Hevener said. “His father had a farm there in High Town. It was the Jacob Hevener farm and it is still there. It is known as the Dividing Waters Farm.”
Uriah’s two brothers stayed in High Town while he decided to branch out into Pocahontas County where he established his 2,600 acre farm. In addition to being a farmer, Uriah soon found himself living the life of a soldier when he joined the Confederate army during the Civil War.
“He got captured, and he was put in Camp Chase, in a prison,” great-grandson Bill said. “He was able to escape from there and work his way back here. One thing that was pretty interesting, because he did not want to lose the stock that he had here – the cattle and so on – he would drive them back during the day, back in the woods, and keep them pinned up so the soldiers coming through wouldn’t see them and take them, and butcher them. Then at night, he would drive them back out in the front pastures so they could eat the grass and stay healthy.”
Uriah was married three times, and with his third wife he fathered Uriah, Jr., who took over the farm in the early 1900s.
Uriah, Jr., was married to Mary Caroline “Dolly” Skaggs and they had three children – Howard, Neil and Milly. The extended families lived together on the farm where Uriah Sr. and Jr. worked together.
“They both actually lived and worked here on the farm for quite awhile,” Hevener said. “Uriah [Jr.] stayed but he died of pneumonia. He was only about thirty. He died in 1920, so that left my dad, Howard, my Uncle Neil and my Aunt Millie. Three young children and my grandmother. She managed to hang on and run the farm with the help of some other family members that had come up from Lewisburg.”
Uriah, Jr., did not have a will so the three siblings split the farm equally amongst themselves. Milly [Mildred Lee Hevener] got the farm land on Back Mountain, and Howard and Neil [Richard Neil Hevener] split the land in Arbovale.
Neil’s land was later purchased by Layton Tharp and then by author Stephen Coonts.
The original farmhouse was leveled in 1930 and replaced by the current house.
In 1940, Howard married Nancy Virginia Wilson and the couple had Patricia (Patsy Matthews Hevener Cummings) and Bill. While Howard’s mother and his sister Milly lived on the family home, Howard bought a house near the farm where he raised his family.
Along with farming, Howard enjoyed dealing in land. One parcel of land he owned near Droop Mountain was purchased by the state of West Virginia and became Beartown State Park in 1970. In a newspaper article, Jim Comstock referred to Howard as “the mayor of Beartown.”
Howard’s mother passed away in 1984, leaving Milly at the family home alone until she passed away in 1993. Howard sold his home and moved back into the home of his youth.
After college, Bill returned to Pocahontas County and lived on the family farm, as well. He opened a Chrysler and Jeep dealership in Bartow which he operated for 10 years. Bill also served as a magistrate, off and on, in the span of 20 years.
In 2001, Howard passed away, leaving the farm to Bill and Patsy. Bill already lived on the farm, so he took over the operation although he has maintained the partnership with his sister. Patsy lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Although he never set out to be a farmer, Bill took over Hevener Acres to carry on the family legacy.
“I certainly love Pocahontas County and love living right here,” Hevener said. “I just kind of fell into it, more or less. I went to college and had planned to go on to law school, but then I became involved in a business here, and became the magistrate and just ended up staying.”
After 165 years, the farm is still thriving, albeit in a slightly different way.
“We still graze cattle, almost a couple hundred head during the summer,” Hevener said. “We lease the pastureland out. Dolan [Irvine] had been doing it for about twenty years and since he passed away, they are cutting back their operations. Charles Wilfong is going to lease it this year. We’ve been doing that now for about twenty-five years.”
The farm, which no longer grows crops, focuses on cattle and pastureland.
While it is a milestone for a farm to be in its fourth generation of operation, Hevener says there isn’t a secret to the success.
“I think we’ve just been pretty lucky to continue to have it this way,” he said. “Most farms are very hard to sustain, and it usually takes two or three people working to maintain it. We’ve kept it on a smaller scale, just running the cattle, and it’s fortunate here in Pocahontas County they’ve been able to keep the farmers’ taxes low so it has been affordable to keep it.”
The future is never crystal clear, but one thing is certain – 384-acres of Hevener Acres will forever be protected as farmland.
In December, Bill and Patsy, co-owners of the farm, signed a conservation easement with the West Virginia Land Trust.
According to a press release from the organization: “The West Virginia Land Trust works with property owners who voluntarily seek ways to protect their land from certain types of future development and who are interested in maintaining the natural beauty and ecology of their property. One way of achieving this protection is through the use of a deed of conservation easement which places protection on the land in perpetuity.”
With the conservation deed in place, Bill and Pasty are both hopeful the land will carry on the legacy of their family, even if it becomes part of someone else’s family.
“It’s been that way forever, since my great-grandfather got here,” Hevener said. “I think it’s a great benefit.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com