The Bishop Story
by Susan Whalton, LTEP
“The joy of our lives is to know that it will stay this way after we’re gone.”
The story of Wally and Carolyn Bishop is a tale of great romance, and an abiding love affair with the country.
Carolyn accepted Wally’s hand in 1959, but not without Wally having to press his suit. He was a civil engineer in Martinsburg, and she was native of Romney. It was difficult for Carolyn to wrench herself away from her home town. “It was a hell of a struggle. Everyone who lives in Romney loves Romney.” Wally promised her that they would live in the country. But, Carolyn said, “we never dreamed we’d be lucky enough to find a whole farm.”
They searched for two years before purchasing the 139-acre Saber farm with its beautiful barns and historic 1841 house on Tuscarora Pike. Graced with mature trees and sitting on a sparkling year-round run, the Bishop farm nestles into a picturesque region of Berkeley County that still retains a number of its old farms alongside housing developments. The Bishops named it “Finale Farm” – a tribute to Carolyn’s first beloved Golden Retriever.
The preservation of Finale Farm for perpetuity protects more than its metes and bounds. The property holds a huge portion of the story of our region in its bricks and mortar. It tells the story of generations of Cushwas and chronicles the marriages of three generations of daughters. The history of farming is told in the design and placement of the barns and the footprints of outbuildings – each created to house the self-sufficient lifestyle of people who plowed with strong horses, kept a forge, planted and harvested crops, butchered, salted and put up meat for the winter.
Skills that have been all but lost are revealed in the construction of the house and barns. An itinerant worker spent a winter painting the plaster walls of the house’s entrance and staircase to look exactly like quarried stone tiles.
It was to this rich legacy that Carolyn and Wally added their own story. Their story introduced a new way to keep the farm a farm, and wove into its fabric a concept that was needed in the county – the concept of animal rescue. “I married an animal lover” said Wally, “and I learned to love dogs. We showed Golden Retrievers, then Bull Mastiffs. then Norfolk Terriers.” Said Wally without a trace of displeasure, “Don’t expect to make money off farming or showing dogs.”
In 1985 the Bishops created and incorporated the first dog rescue in Berkeley County, and built spacious runs and kennels next to their home. A gifted artist in her own right, Carolyn continued the tradition of the itinerant farmer who painted their walls, painting beautiful portraits of dogs in her studio.
Wally, who came from a background of construction and contracting, worked hard to get up to speed with farming. His entire farming resume consisted of a single course he took at Cornell on “How to Be a Farmer.” He shared some things he learned from experience. “People who talk about buying a farm need to know this. You need to search to find a farmer.” Over the years, farming on the Bishop land has been entrusted to a number of different farmers. Some worked out better than others, but Wally learned from each of them, and today, the place is farmed by Mike Reder. The farm itself has never been profitable, and it has been a struggle for the Bishops even to break even.
“It is worth it because we want to live here like this.” The Bishops are adamantly, passionately clear on the decision they made to purchase and protect their farm. They have never regretted an instant of it. They have accepted that there is always something that needs to be fixed – a fence, a barn roof – and they have adjusted to the disruption of turn-over in farmers.
Their greatest worry and fear was what would happen to the farm when they were gone. “That worried us. We love it too much to have it developed.” In 2005, after much study and consideration, the Bishops placed their farm under protective conservation easement with the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board and the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle. “It took a while to get used to the idea. We didn’t fully understand it, and had not given much thought early on to farming OR conservation.”
Once they had mulled over the concept of a conservation easement, the Bishops realized it was “just what we were looking for. The joy of our lives is to know that it (the farm) will stay this way after we are gone.”
If the Bishops have one concern, it is centered on the future of the other remaining farms in the region. Said Carolyn, “I’m most concerned about it, in fact, I dwell on it. I stay up at night and worry about too many people selling to subdivisions.”
But for the most part, the Bishops rejoice in having done the best they could with their own piece of the beautiful landscape that has been their home for 58 years, and will live on to write another chapter of life for a future farmer or placeholder.