Legacy of the Land

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Family-owned Christmas tree farm and historic barn

Farm Focus: Merrywood Farm
By Angie Helvey, Contributing Writer | Photos courtesy of Merrywood Farm

On a dry day in Oregon City back in 1907, the community came together for a momentous event at the farm of Frederick and Martha Heilman. Friends and neighbors arrived in horse-drawn wagons from all directions, gathering for the barn raising. The farmer’s youngest daughter Dorothea was five years old at the time, and though her mother kept her at a safe distance, she eagerly helped carry the picnic lunch out to the men at mealtime. She watched with fascination as they used the timber they’d gathered from the surrounding land to build a magnificent post and beam structure.

Frederick passed away during the Great Depression, and when Martha couldn’t make the payments after his death, she walked away from the farm. It returned to the original lienholder, except for a small chunk of land sold to Dorothea and her husband. Over 50 years later, Dorothea’s grandson William Keyser and his wife Susan decided to buy the farm, unaware it was originally their family’s property. “No one ever really talked about it,” says Susan. “But when we told Dorothea we were putting in an offer, she brought out old photos of her parents sitting in the yard with the barn in the background and her as a teenager riding a mule.”

William and Susan purchased the property in 1986 to start a Christmas tree farm. They planted their first crop of trees that year and Merrywood Farm was born. Since then, it’s become a yearly destination for countless families who want to experience the holiday magic of taking a trip to the farm to pick out a Christmas tree. As for the Keysers, the whole family comes together to help run the operation. “William does most of the work year-round and doesn’t hire any help,” Susan explains, “but when it’s time to sell trees, our kids and grandkids chip in.”

Merrywood Farm grows several varieties of trees with all the standard offerings, including the traditional Douglas Fir, the Grand Fir and Nobles. The favored is the Nordmann Fir, which is very similar to the Noble in appearance but has an extended needle retention, making it the perfect tree to bring into the house. “They thrive in Oregon,” says Susan. “Nobles are more temperamental and don’t like our soil, so the Nordmann has been quickly replacing the Noble as our most popular tree.” Trees start at $30 and are priced by a grading system that factors in height, species and other traits.

During the season, which typically starts the Friday after Thanksgiving, visitors can borrow saws for U-Cut and wander the tree fields, finding their ideal tree that looks beautiful from all angles. Merrywood provides twine for securing the tree to a vehicle and has a mini-baler for smaller trees. Pre-cut trees are available as well. “William gathers a large selection of freshly cut trees and brings them up to our higher land,” Susan explains. “Not everyone wants to trek through the mud.” Guests are invited to grab a free cup of hot cider or purchase a handmade wreath as they head home to start decorating. On the weekends, customer’s kids
can take a short ride on Toby, a 30-year-old pony who lives on
the farm.

Merrywood Farm loves being a part of tradition. “It’s fun to see the returning customers who come with their kids, and they share memories of when they were little and rode the first ponies,” Susan says. “We love seeing the familiar faces, and many become just like old friends.”

In 2007 the Merrywood barn celebrated its 100th birthday, and the Keysers cleaned up the inside and created a barn museum with antique farm equipment and photographs of the property through the years. It was formerly used as a dairy barn and the old milking parlors are set up just like the old days. “It’s fun to share the history and lore of an old barn with the community,” Susan says. “It makes me hope people will take away an admiration for these old barns and put efforts into keeping them instead of tearing them down.”

The Keyser’s oldest daughter and her husband bought Grandma Dorothea’s house, and they’ve been raising their three boys on the land that’s been in the family for well over 100 years. “The kids have been playing here since they were little, catching crawdads in the creek and building forts,” says Susan. “It’s pretty wonderful to have kept it in the family.”

Merrywood Farm is located at 12328 S. Casto Rd. in Oregon City. Please give them a call at 503-266-9257 or visit their website at merrywoodfarm.com The farm opens for business the Friday after Thanksgiving and is open daily while supplies last. Regular hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, Mondays from 12:00 pm to 4:30 pm and other weekdays from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm