Blackacre Farm is the former home of Tress and Peggy Pittenger who raised Morgan and Thoroughbred horses. Many of the Thoroughbreds were successful race horses. Their colt, Burglary, was the Ohio Horse of the year for 1974. Peggy wrote many successful horse care books including, The Back Yard Horse, The Back Yard Foal, Reschooling the Thoroughbred, and Morgan horses.
professors, when discussing legal concepts related to real‐estate, may often
call a fictional property Blackacre. While an illusion in the minds and
hypothetical cases of lawyers, Blackacre Farm was a reality in the Cuyahoga
Valley from 1958 to 1985. What began as a summer home for the Pittenger family quickly
turned into a permanent residence and a farm that was known for breeding high
quality Morgan and thoroughbred horses.
Jett, born April 1923, earned the nickname Peggy from her father after hearing
the show tune, Peg o’ My Heart. Growing up in Akron, Peggy owned a horse and
spent much time riding during her youth. Tress Pittenger was born October 1920
in Akron, but moved frequently. A chemist for Firestone, his father was
assigned to plants in Canada, California, and, finally, Akron. Tress attended
Silver Lake High School and took courses in animal husbandry and land
attended Randolph Macon College for Women and Tress attended Duke University.
They met on a blind date during the summer of 1941 when Peggy’s roommate
refused to go on a date with her boyfriend until Peggy had a date as well. It
was love at first sight; Peggy and Tress began a courtship. The following
December, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. As Tress was a senior in college,
he decided to complete his degree and then enlist in the Army as an officer.
They were married in 1943 after he had completed his basic and officer
training. Tress was assigned to the infantry and was stationed in Paris,
Tennessee. Toward the end of the war, he was stationed in the Philippines in preparation
for the invasion of Japan. After a brief assignment to the occupation forces in
Japan, Tress received an honorable discharge and he, Peggy, and their first
daughter, Margaret, moved to Cleveland Ohio, where he enrolled in law school at
Case Western University.
Tress completed his degree, the family moved to Akron where he began a practice
in law, first as an attorney for a private firm and then for General Tire and
Rubber. During that time they had a second daughter, Nancy, and a son, David.
In 1957 Peggy and Tress began plans to buy a summer home in the country and
eventually found the farm at 4904 Quick Road. They moved into the house during
the summer of 1958. Upon returning to the city that fall, the family found that
they much preferred life on the farm and thus sold their house on Rosalyn
Avenue and move permanently to Quick Road. The farm had not been worked for
many years. There was little arable land and few open fields. Neighbors
nicknamed the farm “Tumbledown” because of its condition. Indeed, Tress was
concerned that the barn should be demolished. Fortunately, a friend of theirs
who knew a lot about construction prevailed on Peggy and Tress to preserve the
building and invest in its restoration.
time, the barn had a slate roof and its distinctive two‐story copula. As a part
of the restoration, Tress hired a roofer to install a corrugated steel roof and
repair the copula. The main structure of the building, including the hand‐hewn
beams and sandstone foundation, were in good condition and needed only to be
protected from water. Curiously, many of the larger beams have open slots with
no apparent use. The speculation is that these beams were taken from another
barn. The upper portion of the barn was used to store hay and grain, and to
park farm equipment. The lower level was dedicated to horse stalls. Over time,
the stable area was rebuilt. The most extensive renovation occurred in the
early 1970s when all the walls for the stalls were replaced and the new barn and
connecting corridor were added. The smaller barn had a large court that was use
for breeding. In the main barn was a large stall used for foaling and included
a closed circuit television that allowed remote viewing of the mare.
moving to the farm, Peggy and Tress began an aggressive plan to improve the
property. Tress bought a small tractor and various equipment including a brush
hog, posthole digger, plow, and discs. With this, he began to clear the area
immediately around the house to create small paddocks for the horses they were
buying for Peggy, Margaret, Nancy, and David to ride. For the paddocks, Tress
used split rails to create serpentine fences and also made fences from posts
and rails. This was a laborintensive process as he drilled holes into the posts
and used an adze to taper the ends of the rails. During the next 25 years, he
experimented with different fencing configurations that afforded greater security
and safety for the horses and were more durable. He first experimented with
woven wire fence. While relatively inexpensive and easy to install, it was a
threat to the horses. If caught within the fencing, they were more likely to
thrash about and cut themselves. The next generation of fences consisted of
posts and three rails. The final generation consisted of a fine woven metal
fence where the weave of the metal prevented horses from putting hooves and
head through the material. The first horses they acquired were general
nondescript horses and ponies that Peggy and the children rode. Unfortunately,
the farm soon became a dumping ground for unwanted cats and dogs. All strays were
welcomed to the farm and the menagerie began to grow. Added to this were goats
that Tress brought. In addition to enjoying having goats as pets, he found that
penned goats could quickly clear an area of overgrown vegetation.
Tress continued his work as a lawyer for General Tire, Peggy began to develop
the farm into a horse breeding business. At first, she focused on Morgan
horses, a breed unique to America. During the same time, she wrote popular
books on raising horses. Her first book, The Backyard Horse, was a general primmer
on how to buy, raise, and care for a horse. This book was followed with The
Backyard Foal, Reschooling the Thoroughbred, Morgan Horses, and The Wonderful
World of Ponies. Each book was lavishly illustrated with many pictures of the
farm, the horses, and the Pittenger children. Raising Morgan horses for sale
was a niche market. There was a small group of admirers who wished to preserve
the breed. As Peggy acquired more horses, she began to purchase thoroughbreds.
At first, she bought these horses to be trained for pleasure riding. Her
favorite was Nichols W, a race horse with a notably undistinguished record at
the track. Peggy bought the gelding from its owner at the Ascot Race Track, a
lower quality establishment on State Road in Summit County. In time, Peggy
acquired many Morgan and thoroughbred dams, and began an active breeding
program. Most of the foals were raised, trained to saddle, and then sold to
people who rode for pleasure. Peggy also gave riding lessons. Naming the horses
was an interesting exercise. Peggy and Tress decided to name the horses after various
legal terms and concepts. The horses had names such as Covenant, Night Season,
Replevin, Mandamus, Champerty, and Assumpset. Tress specifically named one of
the dams Debt, saying that he wanted something on the farm to come out of debt.
Another horse was named Erisa after the Employment Retirement Income Security
continued his improvements of the farm as he cleared larger tracks of land.
Soon, he had cleared most of the relatively flat land to be used for large
fields or smaller paddocks. He was careful to ensure that the land was well
fertilized and seeded with grasses that could sustain grazing. In addition to
the field grasses, the horses’ diet was supplemented with locally purchased
hay, oats, and various cereal products.
in the development of the farm, Tress had an earthen dam placed at the wide
part of a ravine, approximately a quarter of a mile behind the house. The dam
afforded easier access to the property and created a large lake that the family
used for swimming and fishing. He also created small basins in the large fields
that would collect rain water and provide the horses with continuous access to
water. Around 1965, Tress purchased a small sawmill that could be operated by
two men. Working with Philip and Fred Urbank, Tress installed the sawmill in a
central, but heavily wooded, part of the farm. Phil and Fred supplied a V‐8
engine and the mechanical expertise to install and maintain the mill. Soon, the
farm tractor was joined by a small Caterpillar tractor that was used to pull
logs to the mill.
mindful of the environmental integrity of the land, Tress arranged for the
planting of many white pine, oak, and maple trees on open area that was too
hilly for pasture and was overgrown with brambles and other scrub vegetation.
He was selective in his harvesting of hardwoods. Specifically, no area was
cleared of trees unless the plan was to prepare a new field. He harvested the
trees to increase the light cast on the forest floor to support vigorous growth
of the smaller trees. At the same time, he planted many evergreen and locust
trees that were fast growing and afforded erosion control on hillsides. The
Pittengers did not hunt or permit hunting on the property due to concerns about
the safety of the horses and the preservation of wild fauna.
sawmill, Tress was able to build more substantial fences. The new design
included locust posts, as they are extremely resistant to rot, and oak rails.
The fences were approximately five feet high with three four‐inch oak rails.
Building the fences was a labor‐intensive project, even with a post‐hole digger
attached to the tractor.
farm operations grew, the Pittengers needed more space. In 1968, they purchased
a second farm on Wetmore Road. That property had a small two‐bedroom house, a
modest hay barn, and a corn crib/workshop. This farm had been fallow for many
years and become overgrown. In 1969, they began a comprehensive building and
development program which included clearing more fields, and building a large
covered storage area for farm equipment, a modern stable, and an indoor riding
arena. In time, the sawmill was moved to the lower portion of the Wetmore
property which had once been a gravel pit. They cleared many trails throughout
the two properties. Some trails were wide enough to allow the tractors to carry
supplies to the various fields and between the two properties. Other trails
were horse paths for pleasure riding.
the farm was a full‐time job for Peggy and several employees. The house on
Wetmore Road was renovated and made available to a farm manager, who tended to
the farm and horses. The corn crib/workshop was converted to a blacksmith shop
and apartment. The apartment was given to a laborer who helped with day‐to‐day
given time, there were various part‐time employees who assisted with cleaning
the stables and other sundry tasks. Margaret, Nancy, and David also did farm
chores until each decided to attend college and pursue their careers. During
the summer, the Pittengers would hire temporary laborers, mostly high school or
college students on summer vacation who would help with building fences, making
hay, and training the horses to saddle. In addition to selling horses,
Blackacre provided livery service for people who wanted to pen their horses at
the farm and then ride throughout the property.
farm’s fortune greatly changed when the Pittengers decided to train two of
their horses for racing. Ironically, the horse with the least distinguished
pedigree had the greatest success. The dam was For Nothing and the sire was
Night Season, both Blackacre stock. Peggy and Tress named the colt Burglary (breaking
and entering in the night season).
1970, when Burglary was four, the horse was given to a trainer working at
Thistledown Race Track in Cleveland. The effort produced quick success as
Burglary was an eager runner who quickly proved able in large stakes races.
During its career, Burglary ran 67 races with 36 wins, 7 seconds, and 2 thirds.
His overall earnings was $267,000. In 1972, Burglary was named Ohio Horse of
the Year. Delighted sports writers thought themselves clever with headlines
such as “Burglary Runs Away with Purse.” The success of Burglary caused Peggy
and Tress to shift the breeding emphasis of the farm. Over time, they sold the
Morgan horse stock and concentrated on raising race horses. Each year, Peggy
would attend the horse sales at Keenland and would occasionally purchase a new
dam to expand the farm’s breeding stock. By the late 1970s, the farm was
extremely active in selling and racing horses. The farm was now a
Blackacre was successful owes to the confluence of hard work and dogged
persistence, willingness to take risks, a supportive community, and the luck of
good fortune. Farming, especially animal husbandry, is an all consuming
activity. Horses require extensive care including daily feedings, attention to
their overall health, cleaning of the stables, and maintenance of pastures and
paddocks. Horses are also prone to various ailments that require constant
vigilance. The typical day on the farm began with Peggy rising around 5:30 a.m.
to feed the horses closest to the farm house and ensure that all were well.
After breakfast, she and her employees would move horses from the barns to the
paddocks. Next, she would ride to various distant fields to inspect and feed
the horses. There were also stalls to be cleaned and various other daily
chores. The afternoon was spent handling correspondence and attending to
long‐term planning. When Tress returned from work, he did various maintenance
tasks. On weekends, he restocked outpost fields with grain and hay, built or repaired
fences, and attended to financial matters.
essence, each brought complimentary skills and talents to the operation of the
farm. Tress contributed his business acumen, overseeing the financial
management of the farm. He was a skillful carpenter and able with the chainsaw,
bulldozer, and lumber mill. Working at General Tire, he had ready access to
engineers who would advise him when he decided to build bridges over large
streams or build retaining walls. Similarly, he consulted the county extension
agent regarding the care of open fields. This advice was not always sound as
the agent recommended planting multiflora rose as a “living fence.” While the
use of the plant was recommended from the 1930s to 1960s, it is now considered
a nuisance and invasive plant. Peggy had a deep knowledge of horse care owing
to her continuous reading of books and journals and her conversations with
veterinarians and other horse breeders.
exist in communities and there was an attitude of collaboration among local
residents. During the summer, neighbors would help each other bale and store
hay. Neighbors who helped maintain the sawmill could then use it to mill logs
for their own use. Whenever someone was ill, there was a neighbor who would
help with chores.
breeding horses for races is a risky business. A friend once asked how much
Tress would bet on a race in which his horse was running and was surprised to
learn that the wager was typically a modest $20. He noted that he had already
gambled thousands of dollars in the care and training of the horse and only
hoped that the stakes of the race would offset the expenses. Indeed, few in the
horse‐raising business become rich. Fortunately, Blackacre was successful at
producing a number of stakes winners and attracting horse people interested in
buying for racing or pleasure riding.
1985, Tress retired from General Tire, which had been renamed GenCorp after the
tire production portion of the corporation was sold. It was then that the
National Park Service purchased the farm during the establishment of Cuyahoga
Valley National Park. Peggy and Tress moved Blackacre Farm to Palmyra,
Virginia. Virginia had recently legalized pari‐mutuel racing and they hoped
horse racing would become popular in the state. After 10 years they sold the
farm and returned to Akron. Peggy died in 2003 and Tress died in 2005. They are
buried in Rosehill Cemetery.