ILION – A centuries-long era is coming to end in the village as Jim Parker, owner/operator of Parker’s Cider Mill and Clapsaddle Farm, passes the baton to new owners and moves out of state.
Parker’s family has owned the property for 280 years. But he recently came to the difficult decision to sell the farm and business and move on.
“I have to look at it critically,” Parker said Friday, as new owners moved their belongings into the Clapsaddle Farm house. “I’m 83 now, and with my wife’s health, she can’t have stairs anymore. I’m getting older too and I’d rather turn it over to someone who can keep doing it properly.
“This (business) was good for me but I can’t impose it on my family,” he continued, adding that all his children have
careers and homes of their own scattered across the country. “I’ll miss this farm. This is my heritage. This is where my great-great-grandparents walked. When I make cider, I think of my dad. But, the decision had to be made. And we’ll be joining our children and grandchildren in Cape Cod.”
And many from the area will miss Parker as well.
“Jim Parker and his cider have been an institution around here for years,” said long-time Ilion resident Jamie Nichols. “Everybody knows him. Everybody recognizes his artwork. I’ll be sad to see him go.”
“Parker’s farm has been in my family’s life for generations,” said Ilion native Alysha Harris, who now lives in Asheville, NC. “My mother spent time working there as a teenager. We picked out our family Christmas tree there every year. My aunt has made crafts for the markets there. The cider is something I’ve looked forward to each and every fall. It has become part of the nostalgia for my very concept of home. Since I’ve moved away, I have made it a point to visit (Parker’s) each time I come home and I ask my dad to freeze some cider for me.
“I will miss Mr. Parker’s warmth, kind spirit and smile,” Harris continued. “I will miss the best cider I’ve ever had the honor of drinking. I’m almost in tears! I wish him well on his well-deserved retirement.”
The new owners of Clapsaddle Farm, the Richards family, intend to continue the business of cider and maple syrup making and running the year-round farmer’s market, Parker said. He has been and will continue to assist them with the transition, returning for a time in early spring during maple season.
“I think I’m turning it over to someone who can keep doing it properly and maybe bring in some new and fresh ideas,” Parker said.
Except for two short intervals, Clapsaddle Farm, on upper Otsego Street, has been in Parker’s family since 1737. Originally called Klepsettle Farm, a lumber business and sheep farm, history has seen a number of transformations on the property. It has been home to a booming and internationally renowned Holstein breeding business, an apple orchard, a cider mill and vinegar distillery, maple syrup production and a year-round, indoor farmer’s market.
And as the farm itself evolved from one endeavor to another, the family played a large part in local history. The farm house itself was built in 1783, by William Klepsettle, who fought in both the Battle of Oriskany during the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812.
During the farm’s Holstein breeding years, a world-famous bull was born on the farm who would go on to sire Holstein in Argentina and win an international award for producing cows with the highest milk fat content.
In 1892, ownership of the farm transferred to H.R. Whitney, after a death in the family. Whitney brought in his son, Frank Whitney, to run the farm. A short time later, Gertrude Klepsettle married Frank Whitney, bringing the farm back into her family.
Another prominent name in Parker’s family and ownership of the farm is Stahl, after whom Steele Creek is named. Rudolph Stahl was the first European settler in what is now Ilion. He ran a saw mill, fought in the French and Indian War and at one time, owned much of what is now the town of Columbia. The Stahl family also won a bid to build a section of the Erie Canal, until they hit bedrock and went bankrupt.
Clapsaddle Farm again left the Klepsettle/Stahl family for a short time in the 1980s, until Parker purchased it in 1983. As his father carried on his family’s tradition of producing cider and vinegar, Parker planted an apple orchard of 700 trees on the property. Eventually the cider mill was moved to a barn on the farm as well. Today there are only about 400 apple trees left.
Now Parker will trade apple trees and his farmer’s market for a paintbrush as he intends to focus on art fulltime in Cape Cod. He has already produced 40 historical paintings of the Cape Cod area to be sold, and will be teaching art on a part-time basis.