Caretakers of Lewisboro History: Carol and Bruce Cernak

Carol and Bruce Cernak

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – “What is a lighthouse doing in the middle of South Salem?” is a question often asked when passing by Farvue Farm, which stands atop of South Spring Street and Route 35. It turns out it’s one of the most beautiful water towers you’ll likely ever see.

The 120-acre farm is home to perhaps the most prestigious family our town has ever known, the Wallace-Douglas Family. Henry Wallace moved there with his family in 1946 after serving as the 33rd vice president of the United States during World War II and President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941-45 administration.

At the 1944 Democratic National Convention, conservative party leaders rallied to defeat his bid for renomination, instead placing Harry S. Truman on the Democratic ticket. There has been much written prognosticating how the course of history may have been different had Wallace been vice president when Roosevelt died and became president rather than Truman.

Mr. Wallace started out as a Republican, then became a Democrat, and in 1948 became the Progressive Party nominee as a third-party candidate for United States President. It was big news when he came out to vote with his wife, Ilo, at the South Salem Library.

Part of the platform he espoused was a conciliatory policy towards the Soviet Union (now Russia). He took criticism for this and in 1952 published “Where I Was Wrong,” in which he declared the Soviet Union evil. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.

Farvue was the name of one of his relative’s farms in Iowa, so he used it as well, which aptly describes the property, when at the top one does have a far view of the center of Lewisboro. About half of the property is in production for its agriculture exemption. They have a hay, composting, topsoil operation, and they also sell firewood and a bit of milled lumber.

“It’s nice to have a light shed on the farm. They are fighting to keep it agricultural and in the family,” says Carol Cernak, who with her husband, Bruce, have been caretakers of the farm since 1990, when they moved into the original building that was built in 1750.

Mrs. Cernak oversees the contractors, buildings, and bookkeeping, while Bruce handles sales of items, and the farming, equipment, and property maintenance.

“We’re a blip in the stewardship and caretakers over the whole history, and it’s an honor,” she said when she recently gave me a tour of the private grounds.

There is an atomic bomb shelter on the property where Wallace would start seeds under grow lights in the winter. He was one of the original people who did hydroponic gardening and machinery and other tools from the time are still stored down there.

The house is not on the historic registry as the family would like to keep it private.

“It’s a big responsibility to keep it agricultural and costs the family quite a bit of money to do so,” says Mr. Cernak, who grew up in South Salem and has been here since 1959.

They routinely turn down offers from movie productions and companies looking to make commercials on the property.

Henry Wallace was also the author of 13 books, the editor of the New Republic, as well as the Wallace’s Farmer, a family agricultural newspaper.

He founded Pioneer Hi-Bred and developed hybrid corn, which helped feed the world. He also produced hybrid chickens under another company and at one point was supplying them to Campbells for their soup.

“He was a man before his time and an idealist really. Maybe some of his wisdom would serve us well today,” espoused Mrs. Cernak.

During the dustbowl of the 1940s, he came up with contour planting with trees to block the wind from blowing the topsoil away.

“He thought every man should wake up and put their hands in the soil and get their hands dirty, realizing the importance of the land,” said Mrs. Cernak.

Henry Wallace was a fascinating man who served his country and was a part of our national and Lewisboro history. If you’d like to learn more about his life, check out the 2000 biography, “American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace,” by John Culver and John Hyde.

It’s also worth a trip up to the Franklin Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, where you will be greeted at the Wallace Visitor Center opened in 2003. All have been supported through the generous support of the Wallace-Douglas Family.

Henry Wallace passed away in 1965 and his wife in 1980, but the family still lives at Farvue Farm and hosts several generations of Wallace-Douglas children. Hopefully, the Wallace-Douglas family will be our neighbors and living history of our town for generations to come.

Published March 23, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times.