Durbins keeps up family’s bicentennial heritage
DUNKIRK, Md. — Tiffany Durbin said there’s something sacred about White Hall, a place that’s been in her family continuously since the early 1800s.
This year, she and her husband, Todd received a designation for White Hall Farm as a Maryland bicentennial farm — the first bicentennial farm to be recognized in Calvert County.
“I feel so drawn to this place, it’s hard to describe,” Tiffany said. “I’m stepping on the same ground that my family walked on 200 years ago.”
White Hall was established in 1801 by Thomas W.B. Smith who was also the founder of Smithville, Maryland, now known as Dunkirk.
In addition to being recognized as a bicentennial farm, the farmhouse at White Hall also received a Century Farm Historic Structures Award (see sidebar).
Collecting records for the application process was a challenge, Durbin said, because most of the county records were destroyed in the 1882 Calvert County Courthouse fire. Though, the home itself is a treasure trove of archives, she said, littered with historical artifacts and documents.
“A lot of the records are here in the house. I’m painstakingly going through them all,” Tiffany said. “The biggest challenge is reading the hand writing.”
Durbin was motivated to apply for the bicentennial farm designation after reading an article about the Maryland Century Farm Program. She said it took about two years for her to gather the necessary documents, a process that was made somewhat easier by the fact that the farmhouse (Thomas W.B. Smith House) was listed in the Maryland Historical Trust.
The Calvert County Historical Society was a great resource during the process, Tiffany said, helping her collect and record the necessary documents.
The farm’s original size was about 200 acres, Tiffany estimated, and is now 75 acres. It has been farmed continuously by the family, who grew tobacco and raised cattle, horses, chicken and goats throughout the farm’s history.
Notably, White Hall hosted the first Calvert County Fair in 1886, as well as subsequent fairs, when the farm was owned by Dr. David Russell Talbott.
The Calvert County Fair Board said the county’s early fairs were social events for men to display cattle and tobacco.
Now, the Durbins grow corn and soybeans and operate White Hall Farm Market, which consists of a large market garden and poultry for eggs. Tiffany also makes sourdough bread which is baked in a cast iron that has been in her family for over a century.
Todd is an active member of the United States Army, having served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland.
White Hall Farm Market is a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the farm is Homegrown by Heroes Certified.
Tiffany said she always knew she wanted to be on the family farm and she only left to go to college at Towson University and then to Kentucky, when her husband was stationed at Fort Campbell.
“I absolutely knew I wanted to be here and be a farmer. There’s something about pulling an old book from the shelf and reading the hand written notes on the pages. It’s inspiring that my family has been here for so long and I’ve always been drawn to it,” she said.
The Durbins moved into the farmhouse about a year ago, she said, with their four children, ranging in age from 8 to 2 years old. The collective family also lives on the farm, including Durbin’s parents and brother.
In addition to the farmhouse, there are three historic tobacco barns on the property, one that dates to the early 1800s and two that were built in the 1900s.
She said the barns are in good condition overall, but she has future plans to move one of the barns and repair it for use as a farm market.
Like the farmhouse, Tiffany said the barns are also filled with artifacts including an antique tobacco press. Another of the farm’s original hogshead presses is located at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
“I have many places to explore still,” she said.
She said her connection to the place and its history is deep.
“Farming is difficult because of the economy and the weather — it’s so unpredictable. But after more than 200 years, the farm is still here and I just have to continue that legacy,” Tiffany said.
“I’m trying to instill a love for farming in my kids — it’s not hard to do, they already love it. I want to set things up for them so that they can continue and keep the farm going for another 200 years,” she said.