Cultural History

Samson Woods, from Arc of Appalachia Newsletter, 2005.

Thinking in Terms of Forever
New Nature Preserve in Pike County – Samson Woods

Land has a way of wrapping around your heart and not letting go, especially when it includes a magnificent old forest. The 78-acre Samson Woods property in Pike County, near the county’s eastern border, is such a place.  John Samson, the last generation of the Samson lineage to own the property, has a protective love for the family farm, especially for the third of it covered with ancient black and chestnut oaks — a remnant of Appalachia’s original oak forest.

When John enters this stately woodlands he walks not only through trees but through a life time of memories. The first Samson to own land was his great grandfather, William J. Samson. Today, John can still point out the foundation of the original homestead — now covered over with by a forest of sugar maples and a thick carpet of spring beauties. The house was a modest one and, like all homes of its era, without the comfort of electricity. Remains of the old outdoor pump can be seen where water was hand-pumped for home use and for livestock.

John’s grandparents were the last to live fulltime on the farm. Though John’s father, Clifton, left the home place when he graduated from school, he continued to return and visit the farm throughout his entire life, sharing his devotion to the land with his son.  John has fond memories of spending summers at the homestead with his Dad, planting pine trees in the old farm fields and pastures to prevent soil erosion. In the 1960’s he planted 2000-3000 trees a year. Remembering how the seedlings were once fragile whips in an open meadow, he is filled with wonder as he now treads upon a thick carpet of pines needles beneath a tall pine forest – with native tulip poplars and sugar maples already peeking through.

But it’s the big old oaks in the family woodlot that John loves the most.  Both he and his Dad left the woods untouched, so fond were they of the trees. As the years passed and John experienced more poignantly the fragile transience of life, he became more and more concerned about the farm’s future. Above all, he wanted to see the woods preserved.

John examined many options, and finally settled on donating his land to the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, a local land trust working in the five-county region of Highland, Adams, Ross, Pike and Scioto Counties — a region known as the Arc of Appalachia.

The preserve was officially established in June of 2005 as the William J. Samson Woods Nature Preserve, and is dedicated only to John’s great grandfather, William, but to the memory of John’s parents, Clifton and Dorothy as well. Because John was so passionate about wanting to make certain that the woods would remain protected into the far-flung future, the Sanctuary sought a partnering land trust to offer additional protection. The Appalachian Ohio Alliance agreed to help out by holding a conservation easement on the land, thereby ensuring that its status as a nature preserve can never be reversed.

In the donation process a valuation was made on the timber value in order to appraise the value of the land. Despite the size of the trees, because so many of them had imperfections and hollow boles, their value was relatively modest. Apparently these trees were more suited for wildlife habitat and beauty than for high quality lumber.

Sanctuary staff and volunteers have uncovered remarkable botanical treasures beneath the old trees while exploring the site. The most thrilling discoveries came this spring with the finding of large colonies of pink lady slipper orchids growing in the old pine plantations, and hundreds of rare Adder’s Tongue ferns — unusual one-leafed ferns with spore-producing projections that look like giant snake tongues.

The property has the distinction of boasting the Ohio‘s most perfect tree, a strikingly symmetrical sugar maple that is admired daily by roadside travelers. According to John, even back in the twenties when his father was a teenager, the tree was renowned for its beauty. It was even pictured in his father’s high school year book! It’s still a handsome tree today, its photographs gracing the front of the county phone book and local travel & tourism brochures.

Thanks to John and Emily Samson, now this “most beautiful tree” will remain a protected local landmark for generations to come.

Samson Woods original homestead.
William J Samson, John Samson's great grandfather.
John Samson with his now deceased wife, Emily.