Farm Owners Cultivate a Sense of Heritage

Andrew and Shirley Beetz win the 2022 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation for stewardship of their Dearborn County farmstead.

For their stewardship of White Villa Acres Farm (above) near Sunman in Dearborn County, Shirley and Andrew Beetz won the 2022 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation from Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Farm Bureau. (All photos by Evan Hale)

Growing Appreciation

As a young man growing up on a dairy farm south of Morris, Indiana, Andrew Beetz would help his father fill the silo at a nearby farm in Sunman. He admired the property’s rolling hills and picturesque views, so when it came up for auction in 1976, Andrew and his wife Shirley didn’t hesitate to buy the farm and settled down to raise their three children in the historic homestead.

More than 45 years later, Andrew and Shirley Beetz’s dedication to the property, now called White Villa Acres Farm, merited the 2022 John Arnold Award for Rural Preservation, presented by Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Farm Bureau.

Located near the highest point in Dearborn County, the property offers expansive views of the surrounding landscape. “We have extremely beautiful sunsets, and the sunrises aren’t too bad either,” says Andrew. He should know; he farms the property in the early hours and evenings, splitting his time between the farm and his job as business manager at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Greensburg.

The Beetzes are just the third family to own the 102-acre farm, which was originally established in 1828. When they bought the property, the Beetzes inherited an extensive collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century farm buildings.

Believing the historic structures can continue to be functional and shouldn’t go to waste, the Beetzes incorporated them into modern operations. The c.1870 English-style barn initially supported the family’s beef cattle operation; today, the building houses horses, goats, and registered breeding stock cattle. When their daughter Rachel started raising and training registered American Paint Horses through 4-H, Andrew added three stalls for her award-winning horses. He also installed basketball hoops so his sons Nick and Aaron could host their high school teammates for impromptu ball games, a Hoosier tradition.

The chicken coop continues to house chickens, guineas, and peacocks. A 1940s brick garage with gambrel roof holds farm equipment and serves as a machine shop, while the historic granary stores the hay baler. “These historic buildings still serve an important function for us. By using them, we don’t have to spend a lot of money to build something new,” says Andrew. His appreciation for vintage things extends to his collection of five tractors dating from 1949 to 1996, all still used in farming operations.

The Beetz family’s conservation-minded approach includes stewardship of their land: they employ a no-till approach in planting crops, rotating corn, wheat, and soybeans across 72 acres to enrich the soil and help prevent erosion. They enrolled 17 acres of woods in Indiana’s Classified Forest program, responsibly harvesting mature trees through timber stand management to ensure a diverse forest. When Hurricane Ike downed poplar trees in the forest in 2008, the Beetzes used the wood for new siding on the historic corn crib.

The farm also includes an 1892 brick one-room schoolhouse that was converted to storage space by previous owners. The Beetz family stores hay wagons in the schoolhouse, using the school’s historic outhouse as a small oil shed. They plan to restore the schoolhouse, including its original hardwood floors and slate blackboards.

The family’s thoughtful management includes the farm’s homestead, built in the 1860s and enlarged and remodeled into a bungalow in the mid-1920s. When they decided to further expand the house, the Beetzes hired an architect to make sure the addition blended with the house’s historic architecture.

“Andrew and Shirley Beetz have been tremendous stewards of their historic farm,” says Tommy Kleckner, director of Indiana Landmarks’ Western Regional Office and Arnold Award coordinator. “Their deep appreciation and continued use of the historic landmarks built by past owners is impressive and deserving of Arnold Award recognition.”

Indiana Landmarks presented the Arnold Award to the Beetzes on August 4 at the Indiana State Fair. The award is named in memory of John Arnold, a Rush County farmer who combined progressive architectural practices with a deep respect for the natural and historic components of rural landscapes, including the farm owned by his family since 1820.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Indiana Preservation, Indiana Landmarks’ bi-monthly member magazine.

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