Farm History

The History of Windy Hills Farm

Windy Hills Farm has a rich and deep history going back almost 200 years. Purchased in 1817 by William Donaldson I from lands owned by the Ohio Company and Ephraim Cutler and Thomas Hamilton, it has remained in just two families since then; the Donaldson/Beasley/Mathews family and the Howland/Hilferty family. One hundred and fifty acres remains intact from the original 500 acres.

The farm succeeded to William Donaldson Jr., who was an ardent abolitionist prior to the Civil war. A cave on the property sheltered many escaped slaves making their way across the Ohio and then northward to Canada. One son, William Wallace Donaldson died just after the Civil War battle of Shiloh; another Ed Donaldson married Johanna Starr from Athens. Their daughter, Jennie L. Donaldson married Fred R. Beasley, son of Frank Johnson Beasley, a prominent miller and wholesale grocer from nearby Amesville. Beasley Mills moved to Athens and its warehouse building is now an apartment building across from the old Athens Railroad Station.

Fred, with the help of his father started a new business, selling Model T Fords in 1913. His first Ford was delivered from Amesville on the back of a farm wagon pulled by a 4 horse hitch. Encouraged after selling several more from his wagon, he told his father that someday he might own all the Ford agencies in Athens County. He soon added Glouster, Athens, Nelsonville and Logan, then Columbus and on to several adjacent states and eventually as far away as Dallas/Ft.Worth. Before he retired he was the largest Ford dealer in the United States and his Beasley Industries, one of the nation’s largest car and truck engine re- manufacturing firms had spread to 17 states. Fred’s business ventures took him in many directions and he owned many properties including the Berry Hotel in Athens and the Deshler Hotel in Columbus. The Berry, founded by Ed Berry, a prominent black business leader, was bought by Ohio University and incidentally became the home of OU’s design department where Mr. Hilferty taught in the early 70’s.

When Jennie Donaldson Beasley’s father, Ed, died in 1941, she and Fred moved back to her beloved childhood farm, Windy Hills. They extensively remodeled the main house whose great room has hosted many visiting dignitaries reportedly including President Eisenhower and many leaders in the Ford Corporation.

In short order they built a beautiful Kentucky inspired horse barn to house their growing herd of American Saddlebred Horses. Jennie and her daughters, Marjorie, Virginia and Alice were accomplished horsewomen, competing in 4-H to regional shows and on to National Championships. Fred built himself a handsome glazed tile Class A Dairy Barn and when not running his far flung enterprises, tended a prize dairy herd. They also raised a large herd of sheep and added goats and fancy ponies along the way. Cornfields filled the bottom land along Bryson Branch and the corn was stored in perforated metal silos by the numerous farm hands. There were up to seventeen farmhands and house servants in Windy Hills prime. Many lived on the farm which at one time had 27 buildings. Several of these homes have been remodeled and restored and now house tenants who enjoy the peace and beauty of the farm.

Marjorie Beasley married Bob Mathews, a long time associate of Fred Beasley, and the Ford agencies became Beasley Mathews. The Athens Beasley Mathews Ford agency was housed in what is now the Carpenter Apartments on Carpenter St. in Athens. Jennie died in 1963 and Fred in 1976, both are buried at the McDougal cemetery. The Mathews family continued to live here until they moved to Arizona in 1978.

Mr. Hilferty’s late wife , Dr. Ann Howland, then purchased the property, accomplishing her dream to own a horse farm. She was well known in the Athens area and carried out a successful psychology practice in the old farm managers home until her death in 1991 after a long illness. She and Gerry raised Morgans, Tennessee Walking Horses and eventually Paso Finos. Her son, Josh was devoted to horses also and trained and showed many Paso Finos at the National level.

Gerry Hilferty who while as an Asst. Professor at O.U., maintained a small exhibit practice. It grew quickly following a commission to co-design the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky. That was soon followed with museums for the Kentucky Derby, the American Quarter Horse and the American Saddlebred.. For larger quarters the firm renovated Fred’s dairy barn in 1979 and started operations in 1980. At times employing as many as 36 planners, designers, architects, and research writers, it grew to be one of the nation’s top museum planning and exhibit design firms. The old dairy barn’s parlors and hay loft have been converted to grand studio space on four floors while several other farm buildings have been converted to shops for mock ups and architectural/interior models. The firm has inspired projects from coast to coast including the new Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, 14 state museums, many national museums and visitor centers as well as numerous regional museums and halls of fame.

Jackie Fokes married Gerry in 1998 and has brought her immense knowledge of horse behavior and the Paso Fino breed to Windy Hills. Currently she and Gerry raise and partner with 12 horses. They have hosted numerous workshops, clinics, open houses and even the Beasley/Donaldson Family Reunion in 2005. They have dedicated their love and energy to preserving this historic estate and continuing its traditions of providing the best care for its most important citizens, our friends the horses!

Historical Photos of our farm can be found here!