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Ties that Bind

The Hahn Brothers of Hardy County

By Catherine Moore

Hahn brothers at sawmill
John (right) and Wilbur Hahn of Dutch Hollow, Hardy County, working at their sawmill. The pair have worked together since 1939. Photograph by Doug Chadwick.

It’s a cool, sunny, late-summer day in Dutch Hollow, Hardy County. The Hahn family has congregated at their old farmhouse, as they do most Sundays, for remembrance, home cooking, and laughter.

The rarely traveled one-lane road leading into the hollow is known as Sauerkraut Road, a nod to the area’s early German settlers. The Hahns trace their ancestry back to the Rhine Valley of Germany and immigrants from there who arrived in the United States sometime in the mid- to late 1800's. The Hahns came over on a boat with members of the Michael family, and branches of both families settled in Dutch Hollow. They farmed and, when the demand arose, cut timber in the woods around their homesteads.

Two of the eldest members of the Hahn clan, John and Wilbur, carry on that tradition to this day. Both in their 80's, the brothers own and operate a small gasoline-powered sawmill on their farm, with some help from John’s son Mickey. They can remember their father Loranza spending winters cutting timber by hand in the Allegheny Mountains when there was no work to be done in the fields or orchards. Loranza and other area farmers would walk many miles into the Allegheny front and set up camp for the season, working from dawn to dusk to harvest trees and help support their families.

Mind you, this is no automatic, push-button sawmill that the brothers operate – the men work hard at their trade. In the past, cutting timber and operating the mill were the brothers’ main means of putting bread on the table. Today, neither must work to survive financially, but they keep coming over to the old farm from their homes in Wardensville every clear-skied morning nevertheless. They both believe, with good reason, that the activity keeps them healthy.

“We just like to be doing something,” says John, a stocky man in suspenders with kind eyes and a small, eternal smile on his face. “I mean, you can’t just sit around. We’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing.”

“Oh yeah,” says Wilbur (“Web,” as his brother calls him), the youngest of eight children who is described to me by other family members as “the ornery one.” He wears a ballcap and dresses boyishly in baggy blue jeans and a white t-shirt. “If you quit work, you die. So I want to stay around here and worry people. I don’t want to take off right now, I want to worry people a little longer!” he jokes.

The brothers started out together in 1939 peeling pulpwood.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.