#HomeGrownStories – Marla Fair
Marla Fair is a true Jane of All Trades or modern Renaissance woman. She and her husband, David, own David Fair on the Square in downtown Troy. She works as a historical interpreter at the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency in Piqua. She is an artist, author and doll restoration artist. She teaches art classes at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center. She has published many books, including two inspired by John and Rachel Johnston. Marla’s family has lived in Miami County for the past 170 years.
How she started working at the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency:
I became interested in history when I was a little kid. I grew up in the era when all the TV shows were about the Wild West and the American Revolution. My dad had a sister that lived in Massachusetts. When we would go up to visit her and we’d always visit the Revolutionary War battlegrounds. I dragged my dad to every one of them. So I knew when I was eight years old I was interested in history. I’m not exactly sure where it came from unless it was from TV [laughs].
How I ended up working at the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency is the funniest thing. I wanted to work at Colonial Williamsburg. I thought that would be the coolest thing ever. When I was forty-five my mother said: “My friend said you need to go up to the Johnson Farm in Piqua.” I was like “the what?” I had never heard of the Johnston Farm. I was forty-five years old, lived in Troy, it’s 10 miles away and I had never heard of it. I went to the Heritage Festival with my mother that year. I walked around the corner and fell in love with it. A job happened to open up within the next six months. So that’s how I got up there. I’m Interpreter One. I take people through the house. I also do research and program planning.
On her artwork and writing:
I mostly do portraiture and illustration. I also teach colored pencil on my own and as an instructor at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center. I write historical fiction and fantasy. They kind of go hand-in-hand [laughs].
I split my time between writing, art, working at the historical society, being a doll restoration artist… what else do I do [laughs]… I always jokingly say that I do “everything but make money.” I try to maintain balance. I’m off from the farm for four months in the winter so that gives me time to work on other stuff. It works out pretty well.
About her two books about John and Rachel Johnston:
I found most of my information through collections at colleges and historical societies. I’ve done work at the Cincinnati Historical Society, the Paul Laurence Dunbar special collections at Wright State and the Ohio History Connection. I’ve also researched online. A lot of places have their archives online now so we can download letters and other documents. I have transcribed over 200 of Mr. Johnson’s letters to get the information that I have.
The response has been interesting. The first book, In the Midst of Danger, takes place in Fort Wayne. I would say it’s more fiction than historical. It focuses on their romance and getting married. The second book, A Measure Taken: John Johnston in the War of 1812, is historically based. I wrote these books to get the Johnson story out. If you put a story into fiction, it’s more accessible to the average person. Most people would rather read a novel than a scholarly, nonfiction book. That’s why I wanted to do it. I’ll start working on the third book pretty soon.
About the business she and her husband own, David Fair on the Square in Troy:
Our daughter was very little when we started our business. It was either in 1988 or 1989. We’ve been here ever since. We’ve had various incarnations of the business. We’ve been David Fair and Company to start with and then became David Fair on the Square. David added interior design to what had been a gift shop. We are the whole block in this quadrant except for The Caroline and William & Boss Jewelers. Everything else is us.
What she loves about Miami County:
My roots here go back so far and I’m a person who is interested in history and my home. It’s all part and parcel of being involved in history. Miami County still has that. We’re still small. We’re still home grown. People still know each other on the street. There’s this common collective community. In a much bigger city that’s often lost. That’s one of the strong points of this area.
Her favorite things to do in Miami County (other than being at the Johnston Farm):
All we have to do is open our front window and we’re in the middle of the concert. We listen to all the concerts and enjoy those events. David is more involved in the committees and things for the community.
I genuinely love it here. I love the landscape. I love the architecture. One of my novels, Morning through the Shadows, is based on my McCurdy ancestors. The book is set in Miami County in 1848. When I was I doing my research I learned that two-thirds of the buildings in downtown Troy date back to the 1840s.
This town’s roots are as deep as my own roots. My people came in 1848. My great-great-grandmother, Nancy Cain Boyd, was born in Ireland. She immigrated to Miami County. On the ship to America, she met Robert McCurdy. She had been married before and had a daughter named Mary. So Nancy and Robert got married and then he found out that she was still married to a guy in Ireland [laughs]. It’s an interesting story. She thought that she could escape. Who was going to find her in the middle of rural Ohio? Reportedly the man she was married to in Ireland had mistreated her so she took her daughter and ran. He found her anyway. So that’s what the story is about.
Her Miami County recommendations for out-of-town visitors:
I would take them to a local eatery. Whether it would be The Caroline or Basil’s, so long as it’s not chain food [laughs]. I’d show them the Johnson Farm because it’s so unique. I’d take them to Overfield Tavern. That place is as unique and amazing as the farm. I’d drive them around, show them the countryside where I grew up. I grew up in Concord Township about ten miles outside of town. I’d take them out there and go to Brukner Nature Center or Charleston Falls Preserve.
There’s so much cool stuff here. I had some friends in not too long ago and we did a lot of that. They loved it. They want to move here. I’m not kidding [laughs] — they want to move here now. They live in Kentucky right now and they’re looking for a good solid town with a good school system. I said, “You know, guys this would be perfect for you.” I’m hoping they move here. I sort of adopted her five children under the age of ten as grandkids. We’d like to be closer to them.
Marla Fair is having an Artist Reception at Turntable Cafe in Piqua on Wednesday, August 23 at 4 PM – 7 PM.
Turntable Cafe 122 W High Street, Piqua, Ohio 45356
Follow our storyteller and interviewer, Courtney Denning, at ThisOhioLife.com.