MIFFLINBURG, Pa. — As a young boy, Tony Noll of Mifflinburg, the youngest child of four, pondered life at his parents’ farm. He wondered what had occurred there hundreds of years before his birth. He would stare at the cornerstone at the top of the stone farmhouse dated 1802 and wonder about those early days.
In 2012, Tony Noll began researching the farm history with the intent to get the farm on the state historic farm registry. Four years later, he achieved that goal, and the farm was placed on the national registry.
The farm originally belonged to George Christian Spangler Jr. and his bride, Anna Catherine Gramley. Tony Noll’s research shows that Spangler’s father, George Christian Spangler Sr., was born in Prussia and arrived in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, 1749. He and his wife, Anna Marie (Kreider) Spangler, wed in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, and raised 10 children on a farm there.
George Christian Spangler Sr. also owned land in the original Northumberland County, which at that time included what is now part of Union and Snyder counties. George Christian Spangler Jr. received that acreage, located on the northern bank of Penns Creek, in 1791, and it eventually passed down to Tony Noll’s family. Today, the land is in Limestone Township, Union County.
In 1802, when he was 47, Spangler Jr. built the current farmhouse. He and Anna raised eight children and farmed the property. This farm remained in the Spangler family for 145 years.
Tony Noll discovered in his research some agricultural census records from 1850, 1880 and 1927 that revealed the Spangler farm “produced at a rate above the average compared to other farms in the same township.” Noll said he discovered the Spanglers had been actively raising chickens and crops, and had a butcher house for pigs and a smokehouse on the property that still stands today.
Records show that the next Spangler to inherit the farm was George Spangler Jr.’s son, Daniel, who then passed the property to his own son, John. The next generation consisted of Reno Spangler in 1908, the last male in the lineage to operate the farm. Reno’s daughter, Helen Spangler Musser, and her husband, George Musser, then assumed ownership from the 1930s onward, until 1947. This is the point where the farm was sold to someone outside of the Spangler family.
William Showers, a judge in the Mifflinburg area, along with his wife Nina bought the farm and rented it to tenant farmers until 1963.
Tony Noll’s father, Richard Noll, was 19 years old in 1962 when he approached William Showers about buying the farm. Richard recalled walking into Judge Showers’ office and asking him if he would consider selling it. Richard had grown up on a farm just a couple of miles away from the Spangler property and desired to start his own dairy.
“I just wanted to be a farmer,” Richard Noll said, “and my dad didn’t think he (Judge Showers) would sell it.”
The judge gave a laugh and then surprised the young man by saying he would sell it to him, but he needed to ask his tenants if they would be interested in purchasing the farm for themselves, before he sold it to someone else. The tenants did not wish to purchase the farm, and William Showers sold the property to Richard and his new bride, Grace (Kistler) Noll, for $16,000 in 1962. The farm had 110 acres that Richard kept intact without selling off in lots.
“I had chances to sell over the years, but I am glad I didn’t,” Richard Noll said.
Tony Noll said that if his parents had sold acreage, it could have impacted their qualifications for the historic registry.
After the newlywed Nolls bought the farm, they learned the farmhouse was in need of some maintenance. Their home had no indoor plumbing in the early 1960s. Richard Noll installed the first toilet in the history of the house in 1965. He said there were no cupboards in the kitchen until they installed them.
Richard Noll milked dairy cows until 1972, when the couple chose to sell the herd and farm grain crops exclusively. Today, Richard’s son, Michael Noll, operates the farm as M&J Farms.
Tony Noll is the history buff in the family. He said the cornerstone on the farmhouse inspired him to think how great it would be to have the farm recognized for its historical significance. For him, there were three reasons he made the effort.
“First, there is the heritage of the Spanglers of nearly 150 years. My parents continued to farm the land,” he said. “And then, there was the production factor of the farm,” he said about the history from the early years. “The production was higher than any other farm in the township for all of those years. The buildings that are still on the property are from the 1800s, including the butcher house/wash house, smoke house and summer kitchen.”
Richard Noll removed the summer kitchen from being attached to the farmhouse and allowed it to sit behind the other buildings.
The original pig pen still exists with a corn crib built within the structure. Richard Noll said it made it easier to feed the hogs that way, but the regulations over the years took away the option of having the pigs and the corn side by side. Today it is empty.
“We still use the butcher house,” Grace Noll said, “If we get a deer, that’s where it goes.”
Tony Noll, who works elsewhere as a groundskeeper during the warmer months of the year, decided to use the winter months to do his research. He was able to track down some Spangler descendants who still lived in the Mifflinburg area, one of whom passed away not long after Tony was able to interview him. Many of the remaining members of that family were aging, and Tony knew he had to talk to them sooner rather than later.
Once the farm was put on the state registry, the Union County Historical Society contacted Tony Noll and suggested having an event at the farm to show the historic aspect of the area to the community. So in 2017, the Nolls hosted their first outdoor event and invited Spangler family members. The event focused on activities and information from the late 1700s and early 1800s, when the farm had come into existence.
“It was a real community-building event,” Tony Noll said.
Afterward, they decided to make it an annual event.
Tony Noll said that because of the community events, the farm is now a nonprofit that supports local agriculture. The annual celebration is in July and includes traditional crafts, blacksmiths, wool spinners and more.
The farmhouse is not open to the public during these events, in an effort to remind people that this farm is still a home to the Nolls, who have been married nearly 67 years. All of the other buildings are open and on display.
“I just can’t believe the number of people who come out,” Richard Noll said.
Their first-ever Earth Day event will take place April 11 at the farm. They will host Cheri Heimbach of Baywings Falconry, who will give a presentation on raptors.
The next historical day event is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 25.