Newberry Road Dairy Sold To Metro

Adapted from “Thomas Dairy: A Key Link to Forest Park” ( /index.cfm/go/by.web/id=28991)

“I remember the morel mushrooms that grew under the pear trees,” recalls Ella Thomas, 95, hiking to the edge of the woods. In 1915 when she was two, her parents Reinhold and Rosalie Bieberdorf bought property on Newberry Road and established a dairy. In 2008, she scans the landscape, with its meadows, woods and buildings. “Lots of memories,” she says.

With funds from a 2006 natural areas bond measure, Metro bought the 58-acre Thomas Dairy on Newberry Road as an important link between Forest Park and 280 acres to the north that Metro earlier purchased along Ennis Creek. Now mainly a mixed coniferous and deciduous forest, the land provides a corridor for wildlife and a potential extension of the Wildwood Trail. Two streams cross the landscape, habitat for bald eagles, coyotes and myriad bird species. A herd of 40 to 50 elk frequent the site, their trails visible in two remnant meadows.

As a child, Ella Thomas worried that her schoolmates would discover she lived without running water or electricity. Back then, her parents’ tended about 40 cows as well as pear, walnut, plum, cherry, filbert and apple trees. Goats helped clear the land. She remembers, “Horses did all the work. There was Jack the mule and Buster the oneeyed horse. Before the Saint Johns Bridge, Pa took the horse and buggy and crossed the river on the ferry.” A ledger lists 14 boxes of Bartlett pears sold to Joe’s in Linnton for a dollar each.

The family collected rainwater in a cistern and hauled drinking water from the springs. A 1952 newspaper article shows a photograph of Ella’s father tapping maple trees and making maple syrup. She remarks, “It was not the place to do it if you want to make money out of it.” Ella walked 6.3 miles to school; coming up Newberry Road alone, she recalls thinking, “There’d be bears. I was scared.” Her dad bought leather and re-soled her shoes. She and her four older siblings picked raspberries and wild strawberries to sell. During the Depression they peeled bark and sold it for a few pennies.

At 17, Ella married Delbert Thomas, moved to Idaho, had three children, and over the years, added thirteen foster children. Around 1950, Ella and Delbert moved back to the farm and it became the Thomas Dairy. Delbert bought a tractor and had a well drilled, reaching water at 300 feet. Their children built hideouts and rode horse trails through Forest Park. In the 70s they sold the property to the Margolis family who planted more fir trees and raised cattle organically. The Margolises put the land up for sale in 2006. The Trust for Public Land (TPL) optioned the property in anticipation of the measure’s passage. After it did, in 2007 Metro purchased the land from the TPL. Buildings that remain tell stories: a modern house is an expanded, remodeled version of the 1923 one-room farmhouse that was rolled downhill to be closer to the electric hookup. “My brother rolled the house down. It wasn’t supposed to get so close to the road,” Ella recalls.

Ella is pleased the property will be preserved as a natural area. “I’m glad someone will take care of this. It joins Forest Park. It’s a good thing to do. People should be enjoying it. I think it’s wonderful.”