Since the previous evening the temperature has dropped. You can feel in it your bones, not to mention the goose pimples scattered throughout your arms and legs. As you heave yourself out of bed your feet hit the cold wooden floor, adding insult to your injury. Your breath creates a frozen vapor as you walk over to the furnace. You realize that you didn't put enough wood in the stove, as you open the furnace and only see the dying red embers. Slowly you put on your boots, jacket, mittens, and walk out into the eerily white darkness of a February West Virginia morning. It's been a long winter. The fruits and vegetables your family canned during autumn have sustained everyone to this point, but how much longer can they last? Deer meat was frequent in November and December, but it's been too cold lately to see any deer. Too much snow; the deer aren't able to forage like they usually do. The firewood pile keeps getting smaller too. At the beginning of the month, you'd figured you had enough to last at least until March. But alas, February is cruel, and a family has to stay warm. You'll fell a couple of locust trees today, and spend the day chopping wood. That is of course after you feed the animals and inspect for any signs of game.
Many visitors coming to New River Gorge National River have never experienced the harsh realities of subsidence farming. As the colonization of the United States lead to Western Expansion, most immigrants passed right by West Virginia. It's not a slight against the area, but simply a reality that a flat crop field in a place like Iowa or Ohio is more suitable for living than a harsh mountainous area such as the Appalachians. The people who stayed became mountaineers: tough durable people who lived off the land. They didn't thrive, and quite frankly some died. But their legacy is living through droughts, harsh winters, and practical starvations, to create farms, then towns, and eventually the State of West Virginia. Here at New River Gorge National River you have a chance to visit one of these special homesteads. The Trump-Lilly Farm is primarily preserved, and if you're ready, it's ready to take you back to the days of subsistence farming.
The property title of this building can be traced back to the early 18th century. The earliest land owners of this tract of property were probably Samuel L. Hopkins and Alexander Stuart Both of these men were recipients of huge land grants given out during the infancy of the United States. The roots of settlement of the Trump-Lilly farm can be tied directly to Peter Davis. Davis bought the parcels of land from Alexander Stuart and settled down on the New River between 1810 and 1815. In 1850, Davis sold 150 acres to man named William Richmond. William Richmond was the patriarch of the Richmond family. It was under his stewardship that the Richmond family built a grist mill and established a post office and general store around the area of Richmond Falls. (Sandstone Falls today). In 1888, Richmond gave the tract of land which is officially Trump-Lilly Farm to his daughter Mary E. (Richmond) Trump. The 1880 census reports that Mary Richmond (Trump) was a 28 year old unmarried female. It is believed the first homestead on Trump-Lilly farm was built at this time. From 1905 to 1912, the farm land was sold various times, until finally Aden J. Lilly purchased the property from the New River Land Company. The subsistence farming practices of the Lilly family are what are preserved today by the National Park Service.
Just a county over in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, there were scores of large farms at the time. They provided their owners with subsistence and a crash crop. Aden Lilly did not have the luxury of creating a cash crop. Everything grown was for subsistence, either for consumption or for trade. The family harvested timber to meet their building and heating needs, and to also create new crop fields. They planted apple orchards and had rows of vegetables. They raised sheep. The lambs that they would sell in the fall provided income to pay the farm's taxes and to buy school books for the children. Wool from the rest of the sheep provided clothes and additional money to buy supplies for the winter. They were not isolated. Theirs was one of many farms around the area. Farmers helped each other with their harvests. They shared cane mills to make molasses, and if they needed something they couldn't make themselves, they would make the trek to Hinton on horseback to trade their harvest items for sugar, salt, and farm equipment. Livestock were fed each morning before breakfast. Aden Lilly raised Poland China hogs, chickens, and three to four milk cows. The pork meat was always salted so it would be preserved.
Growing up on the farm would be a vastly different experience than growing in today's technologically advanced society. Instead of electric heat, the house was heated by wood stove. There was not refrigerator or electricity until the 1940's, and the family would store their food in root cellars. The Lilly children entertained themselves with spelling and arithmetic drills. There was a Croby battery radio and an organ case piano on the property. The Lilly's attended regular church devotions.
Today the Trump-Lilly farm is not entirely what it once was. Some of the fields have been taken back by nature. When Aden Lilly sold the farm to his son Oba in 1963, Oba did not live at the farm. He planted crops, but visited the farm irregularly. Oba sold the farm to David Rosenberger who used the property as a vacation rental. Rosenberger sold it to the National Park Service in 1989. The house and other structures have weathered over time, and the wide open fields of crops no longer remain. Today only a glimpse exists of what the Trump-Lilly was, but that glimpse is an eye opening experience into the strife and struggle of the Lilly's and other early Appalachian subsistence farmers; a collage of vegetables, fruits, and livestock flourishing in early 20th century Sewell Mountain.
To visit Trump-Lilly Farm:
To reach Trump Lilly farm use WV county road 26 (River Road just outside Hinton) north approximately fifty yards from its intersection with State Route 20, then follow a gravel road (the first left after crossing Madam's Creek Bridge - marked Freezeland Mountain) along its winding ascent through second growth forest to the site. The rugged unpaved road is characterized by a number of sharp turns, steep grades and panoramic views of Hinton and the New River below. There is a small parking lot at the farm. It can be a bit tricky to find both the gravel road and the farm (at this time there are no signs at the farm). It is recommended that visitors stop by the Sandstone Visitor Center to talk to a ranger and get directions and up to date road conditions.
Last updated: January 2, 2020