The History of the Property currently known as 3772 West Lake Rd
Farmer Tom Hall resided on the property currently occupied by Deer Run Winery from 1899 – 1920. Tom purchased a 60-acre parcel of farmland from a wealthy businessman who originally obtained the land by burning all vegetation to force the Indigenous people living here to seek land elsewhere. Those who fought to preserve their homeland for the land paid with their lives.
Throughout the years that the Hall family lived here they were plagued with tragedy. Tom and his wife Sarah were a happily married couple expecting their first child due to arrive in the Spring of 1901. Sarah had a troublesome pregnancy and was bedridden for almost the whole of her last trimester. She labored heavily for over 13 hours and birthed a beautiful baby girl, which Tom and Sarah chose to name Millie, short for Mildred. Over the next three days Sarah battled a high fever and remained delirious and confined to her bed. Three days after the birth of her beautiful baby girl, Sarah succumbed to an infection which her weakened body was unable to fight off.
Tom was overwhelmed with the loss of Sarah and with the new responsibility of raising a baby girl without a mother to care for her. Farmer Tom fed Millie cow and goat milk, which she fussed over at first, but when her ravenous hunger got the best of her, she sucked on the corner of a homemade leather satchel. As she grew, Tom noticed Millie carried her Mother’s confidence and had benefited from her Mother’s beauty as well. Millie grew tall and lanky with long wavy blonde hair and large hazel eyes and pencil thin lips that curved upwards at the corner of her mouth.
Meanwhile in Dansville, in 1914, the Jackson Sanatorium fell on hard times and the owner was forced to file bankruptcy. The building was then used as a psychiatric facility to house WWI veterans struggling to return to society after enduring the atrocities of the war. One of the soldiers staying at the facility was known for his queerness. Referred to among the staff as “Funny Francis”, Private Francis Jankowski, teetered precariously between fits of immense anger and bouts of mania. When feeling elated, Francis painted his face and performed for the patients and staff, juggling and blowing up a red balloon and allowing it to soar across the room as it deflated. Francis had a strange affinity with clowns, he had fallen in love with the colorful performers when he first experienced the P.T. Barnum & Bailey Circus which traveled through his native home of Warsaw, NY, when he was just 8 years old. His love grew into an obsession; constantly vying for the attention of friends and family. Francis’ father would strike him when Francis asked him to watch him perform. He would yell at Francis, calling him a pansy and queer. “Straighten up and be a man” he would say; which Francis was forced to do as soon as the draft went into effect. Though Francis was happy to be leaving his Father’s farm and iron fist, he had not a clue of the horrors of war that he would soon face. Young men around him moaning and crying for their mothers as they took their last breath. Francis turned to his safe haven: his imagination. Francis dreamed he was performing under the big top in front of cheering, smiling crowds and happy families. Most of the soldiers mocked him, but a few appreciated the small chance at entertainment among such despair.
Francis found that he was a good soldier, a natural high swelled within him when fear might take over most men. However, one day a bomb hit his barracks killing half of the men instantly, body parts spewed in every direction. Francis was one of the more fortunate men suffering from a broken jaw from debris which slammed Francis in the face. A large piece of shrapnel also caught Francis in his left eye, chipping his eye socket and causing him to lose his sight in the eye. He was shipped back to the U.S. after his recovery and found himself living at the Jackson Sanatorium in Dansville riddled with flashbacks and bitterness. Patients in the Sanatorium quickly learned to appease Francis and pay him their attention when he began his performances because it was easier than facing his rage. The Jackson Sanatorium was forced to close completely just three weeks after Frances was admitted and he was left homeless. Francis traveled North along Old West Lake Rd and happened to meet a smiley 16-year old blonde girl who was eager to see the red balloon which Francis carried with him as he walked. Millie cheered for Francis as he placed a red rubber ball on his nose and began to juggle three stones he picked up from off the ground. Farmer Tom noticed the man in the distance talking to his daughter and approached them both. Francis saluted the Farmer and introduced himself as Private Francis Jankowski, pulling the rubber nose from off his face. Farmer Tom shook the young man’s hand and thanked him for his service. The two quickly fell into conversation about the war and Francis’ upbringing on a farm. Soon after Farmer Tom offered Francis room and board in exchange for his help as a farmhand.
Frances assisted with the milking of the cow herd and immensely enjoyed the company of Millie throughout his days on the Hall Farm. After a few weeks of working beside young Millie, who doted on the attention of Frances, feelings of lust overcame Francis. He grabbed Millie in the barn and kissed her roughly. Frightened, Millie ran to her Father crying telling him that Francis had pushed himself on her. The Farmer confronted Francis who admitted to his love for the young girl. Farmer Tom made the decision that Francis had to pack his belongings and leave the farm immediately.
Angry with the Farmer’s hasty words, Francis went into the home upstairs to his 2nd floor room which was directly across the hall from young Millie’s. Her door was ajar and he could see her sitting on her bed surrounded by her favorite dolls. She was talking to them and having the dollies act out parts in a play that spun from Millie’s imagination. His anger overwhelmed him, he walked back downstairs to the kitchen and in his blind rage, grabbed a knife from off the wooden slab. He marched up the stairs, breathing heavily, and entered Millie’s room. As soon as he entered, he closed the door behind him and Millie began to scream. But as soon as her screams rang out for help, they were immediately silenced by the knife plunging into her chest and across her arms, as she defended herself in vain. Farmer Tom’s heart dropped at the cry from his daughter unlike any he had ever heard before and he grabbed a corn husk which hung on a wall in the barn. He ran from the field to the house up the stairs and into his daughter’s room where Francis was hunched over his daughter’s bed, shiny, scarlet red droplets glistened in the setting sunlight streaming through Millie’s windows and Tom noticed blood streaming down the face of one of Millie’s favorite dolls.
A fight response took over in Farmer Tom and he lunged forward at Frances with his weapon and made contact with his right shoulder. Francis spun around and attacked the Farmer with a strength that was a close match to his own, but many years of farming made Tom a hard man and his adrenaline propelled him with an inhuman power. In the struggle Farmer Tom’s face was sliced deep with the knife, but the blow to Francis’ back with the long, curved metal farm tool proved to be fatal. Francis fell to the floor gasping for breath, taking heavy deep breaths before giving way to slower softer breathing and he died on the floor of Millie’s room next to the beautiful blonde girl that both men cherished so much.
Farmer Tom dragged Francis’ lifeless body down the stairs and placed him to the right of the front steps. He then carefully tended to his daughter’s body. He held her in his arms and wept loudly over her body, holding her in his arms and rocking back and forth, he cursed God for taking his wife and now his only child from him. In the meantime, the milk man making his rounds, stopped at the home and upon seeing the grizzly scene quickly left to get the town sheriff. Shortly, neighbors and town people were making their way to the home of Farmer Tom. The Sheriff went into the quiet home only to be greeted by the trail of blood leading to the upstairs bedroom of Mildred Hall. Once they opened the doors the found Farmer Tom lying in bed with what seems to be a small blonde female, but so badly mangled, her face could not be made out.
Farmer Tom Hall was arrested and once he gave his account of the story and the records of Francis Jankowski were checked and verified, Farmer Tom was found not guilty and released. The man returned to his home which had been cleaned by a few of the local neighboring women who took pity on Tom and the misfortune that had befallen his family. Tom noted how very alone he was in the world as he looked in the crackled mirror above the fireplace and focused on his hideous scars, scars that reminded him of the night he lost his beloved daughter. He replayed the events over and over in his head, questioning his actions and how he could have handled the situation differently. He hated himself for allowing Jankowski to go back in to the home to collect his belongings. His misery and guilt overwhelmed him. He fashioned himself a mask made from a potato sack to prevent him from having to face his scars. Farmer Tom became somewhat of a town hermit and it was clear he did not want visitors as he chased off neighbors who brought him dinner and tried to offer condolences. He growled at children who came to his house to verify the rumors of the Farmer gone mad in their town, terrifying them with the sight of the masked man who hid away in his home, desolate and overgrown with weeds. Some neighbors murmured of seeing the young Millie in the 2nd story bedroom window which caused greater intrigue among the youth. Local children threw rocks at the home in an attempt to lure the mad hermit from his sanctuary. At times it worked and a masked Farmer Tom would chase the children with the very corn husk that he used to land a fatal blow to Jankowski’s back.
On the third anniversary of Millie’s Death in 1920, a desperate, broken Farmer Tom, walked into his field and looked over his land. The land that once held so much promise and hope for him, now held nothing but inevitable haunting memories. He climbed a tree on the south end of his property and tied a rope, securing it well to the thick branch and fastening a noose at the opposite end. Farmer Tom slipped the noose from his neck and sat on the tree branch in silence as the sun set over his farm. He took in the beauty of the land, its unharvested wheat and thought how the grain gleamed so golden in the sun, just like the hair of his former wife and daughter who were both taken away. He pushed himself from the branch.
Within a few days, local boys found the mad Farmer and alerted their parents, the land fell in to the possession of the town bank and was parceled off and sold into smaller 20 acre lots. Our lot contains the remains of the Hall family and 2017 marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of Mildred Hall and Frances Jankowski. Those who attend the WinEerie Nights will have the chance to visit the Hall family cemetery located in the back of our property and pay your respects to the family whose time here on this property was cut far too short.
I am the winemaker's wife. Scott and I married in 2014 and I transitioned from a hospitality manager to a grape farmer's wife, event coordinator and blog author.