America’s Only Pig Monument – In Warren County, Ohio

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The 1922 Dedication of the Poland China Hog Monument in Blue Ball, Butler County, Ohio.

 

Summer is for road trips and stopping along the way at bizarre roadside attractions.   One of the weirdest of these –  and it’s food related – is on the border of Warren and Butler Counties – the Poland China Hog Monument.  It’s located near the  busy intersection  of State Route 122 and Dixie Highway, in Middletown, Ohio, across from the Towne Mall.   This modest monument has the distinction of being the only one venerating the pig in all of America.     It was moved in 1976 – across the street from its original location, the farm of William Cheeseman Hankinson, which had become the Towne Mall.    The Hankinson farm was less than a mile north of the now forgotten farm hamlet of Blue Ball, Ohio.  I know what you’re thinking.  There used to be a large wooden blue ball greeting visitors into the said town.   The monument is the most interesting relic to our area’s Porkopolis past.

 

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The Poland China Monument as it stands today, in Warren County, Ohio.

Tens of thousands of Poland China hogs were driven through Hamilton County on Colerain and Hamilton Avenues in the Fall to the Cincinnati slaughterhouses and to packers in Middletown.   The breed’s sturdy bones made it ideally suited for the journey to market.  Both turnpikes were dotted with Farmer’s Hotels, where weary farmers, and their swine could rest on their way.   The free range, naturally fed, Ohio bred Poland China hog made the sausages and goetta that early Cincinnati German immigrants devoured with their beer.    This was the pork of your great grandparents, before the industrial-grade hogs of today, raised in confinement facilities.

 

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An 1874 painting of L. A Parrett of Fayette County, Ohio, loading his Poland China pigs for market, by itinerant livestock painter, Henry Douse.   From the Cincinnati Art Museum’s 2017 Folk Art exhibit.
So, I had to visit and pay my respects to this pork monument following the ‘Poland China Hog Highway’, State Route 122, on my way home from work.  I call it that because between breeders in three villages off 122-  Union Shaker Village, Blue Ball, and Red Lion – was where the breed originated.   The monument now sits over a the north branch of Dick’s Creek in Warren County, on a high point off of Dixie Highway.  The monument inscription reads:   ‘The first pedigree of a Poland China Hog was written on this farm in August, 1876, by W.C. Hankinson, owner of farm and Carl Freigau, compiler of the original record. This strictly American breed of swine originated within a radius of a few miles of this place, and in the making occupied the period from 1816 to 1850. The first volume of pedigrees was printed in 1878. This monument was erected by the Ohio Poland China Breeders Associations. Unveiled, June 15, 1922.'”

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Over 600 people attended the monument’s dedication.   The crowd was made up of all the principal hog registration agencies, national hog dignitaries, farmers and breeders and their families from Butler and adjoining counties.   The Poland China hog was a big deal to Warren and Butler county farmers.   It was known as the ‘mortgage lifter’ and those who raised them called themselves ‘fancy breeders’.    Ed Rosencrancs, the Emcee of the porcine event, and the son-in-law of William Harkinson, said the Poland China Hog was the hog that won the Civil War and put the Kaiser to sawing wood.    Armies gotta eat.

The feeble 89 year old Hannah-Jane Hankinson, widow of William Hankinson pulled off the shroud, revealing the monument as “movie cameras clicked and the band played.”   There was one person alive at the time of the unveiling who had seen the Grand Dame of the Breed, the Old Harkrader Sow, and that was Mrs. Harkrader, who at 88, was not well enough to be at the event.

Carl Freigau,  the French artist who sketched and documented the pedigrees in 1876 was an interesting character.       He had traveled through Butler and Warren counties sketching cattle, hogs, and dogs for farmers, getting a meal or a slice of pie, sometimes even a night’s lodging for his work.    He was the one that came up with the idea of publishing a breed book on the Poland China hog.   And it was the pedigree recording of Lady Pugh at the Hankinson farm that the monument celebrated.

After the book was published, its sales were terrible, and so Freigau skipped town, leaving the debt to his publisher, M. J. Lawernce.    Lawrence quickly devised an ad campaign through his newspaper, the Ohio Farmer and drummed up enough interest in the book to make his money back, and to fund a second edition.    Five years later Carl Freigau came back and was made secretary of the Ohio Poland China Record Association, all abandonment forgiven.

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Carl Freigau, itinerant Ohio livestock artist and illustrator and writer of the first Poland China pedigree book.

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Pearl, one of William Hankinson’s pedigree pigs, sketched by Carl Freigau.

The real work in the breeding of the Poland China breed hog should be given credit to  the Shakers of Butler county, in Union Village.   It was their sires of this new breed of hog, that were bought by breeders in neighboring Blue Ball.   A Shaker named John Wallace was sent to Pennsylvania in 1816 to bring back swine for breeding, returning with two big China sows, which they bred with the local Russian hogs.

The Poland China family tree traces back to the Granddame hog of them all, the Old Harkrader Sow, owned by John Harkrader.     She was the mother of Lady Pugh 516, born in 1865, and her sire being Young Bob (who’s father was Bob Harkrader).   Lady Pugh was the first pedigreed Poland China Hog.   She was bred by J.B. Pugh of Franklin, Ohio, in 1864, and sold in 1868 to William C. Hankinson of Blue Ball, on whose farm the monument was erected, staying with him until she died in 1876, after 11 years of breeding.
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John Harkrader, owner of the Granddame sow of the Poland China Breed.
John Harkrader, owner of the Grand Dame, and known as “Little John” because of his shortness, was a great believer in pastures for his hogs, always doing so in small droves.    He exhibited the best of his hogs, known as the Pleasant Hill Herd at state and county fairs.    In 1852, he marketed four hundred head of hogs in Cincinnati that averaged about four hundred pounds each at an age of about 18 months.   Breeding stock was sold in the range of $80 to $100, then considered extremely high.

John Harkrader bought his foundation sow from a Springboro, Ohio farmer named John Bloss and his father John Sr., who had been raising hogs they bought from Monroe farmers since 1852.     John Sr. had come from Elkton Virginia in 1834, with his sister Sarah.   She married Phillip Olinger, the proprietor of the Red Lion Inn, in another hog breeding hamlet in Butler County (Red Lion) – less than a mile east of Blue Ball on State Route 122, at the “Five Points” intersection.  Bloss owned the dams of four generations prior to the Old Harkader sow.   Back then they weren’t known as Poland China Hogs, but as “Dick’s Creek Hog, “Clear Creek Hog”, “Warren County Hog”, “Butler County Hog”, or “Magie Hog,” after Oxford, Ohio, breeder David M. Magie, who contested that he was the first to breed the hog.    Bloss would only have white hogs, and since the other farmers bred black Poland China hogs, Bloss got out of the business and is somewhat lost to history, even though it was his hogs that were the basis of the breed.   Harkrader sold the Old Harkrader sow in 1862 to J. B. Pugh.

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The two Foundation Hogs or Granddaddy Hogs of the Poland China Breed are Zack and Irwin’s Sweepstakes.  All Poland China hogs trace their paternal lineage to one of these two sires.    Zack 310, bred in 1867 by William Gallaspie in Red Lion Ohio, and sired by a hog raised by Harvey Gallagher on his farm in Red Lion, Ohio, southeast of Monroe, weighed in at a whopping 940 pounds.  Irwin’s Sweepstakes, bred in 1867 by John Irwin, of  Darrtown, Ohio, was even bigger, at 1086 pounds, and was killed by a kick from a horse in 1876.

Originally the name proposed to this new breed was the Miami Valley hog, which would follow in the English tradition of naming the place of origin.     But by 1870s, when the name debate came up, the hog had already spread outside of the Miami Valley to the Cornbelt states and other parts of Ohio, so a more neutral name was agreed upon.

The Poland China hog established itself west by 1922 to the Cornbelt of Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota.    Most Butler and Warren County pig farmers had turned to Duroc Jerseys, and Hampshires by the 1930s, and no pedigreed  Poland China hogs even existed in Butler or Warren counties.    Today the most common local heritage breed being raised is the Hampshire.

 

 

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