“I would live by my wits while my brothers live by the sweat of their brows.”– Winter Zellar (Zero) Swartsel, Grandfather of Pop Art
Tired of the hard-working routine of Farmersville, Zero and a friend decided to bike first to New York City, head west, then travel the world, collecting items along the way. Later, his home in Farmersville and also his yard would be decorated extensively with these items. His twenty-two acre farm soon became a canvas for his art, using glass he collected from “wasteful” people.
Source: Remarkable Ohio
Zero had an idea to recycle trash into art. Using discarded wood, glass, bed frames, bells, and other items he found, Zero created what became known as Farmersville Bottle Farm. Some of the better known works from this site include bottles titled “Kindly Light” and “Full Measure.”
Admission to the farm was a simple donation to the wishing well near the entrance.
The Bottle Farm was not only a sight to see, but sounds to hear. Bells and twinkling glass carried through the wind. Bells jingled on grazing sheep, and every Sunday the song “The Old Rugged Cross” could be heard playing on loud speakers. Visitors came from every state (except Delaware) to see the farm. Despite the fascination with the farm, it had a bad reputation due to questionable activities taking place there after dark.
After Zero died in 1953, his farm was bequeathed to the community. Some of his remaining items were auctioned off, including carriages and bells. On that day, the first floor of the house was opened to the public. Witness accounts of the inside described bottles hanging on string from the ceilings, a large collection of toy drinking birds, tall stacks of newspapers and magazines, and many collections of miscellaneous items. Unusual modifications to the staircase made it unsafe, and visitors could not go upstairs.
A barn on the property also was stuffed with items. The ridgepole had been cut, and the roof was sagging onto items crammed into the upper level of the barn. There was not a safe way to remove the items, as they were supporting the roof, so the barn was simply burned to the ground with the items inside.
After years of cleanup, Farmersville Bottle Farm eventually became the Farmersville-Jackson Township Joint Recreation Park, located at 14440 Farmersville Gratis Road, in Farmersville.
In 2008, Eagle Scout candidate Andrew Bowser began a quest to learn more about Zero, and honor his legacy. Bowser decided that Zero should have his own Ohio Historical Society marker. Through research with OHS and the Remarkable Ohio program, Bowser applied for the marker. To help pay for the marker, Farmersville Historical Society donated $2000 toward the project.
Bowser remarked that the bottles are there…you’d just have to dig for them.