Auction of Charlestown family farm tops $1 million

Interested buyers from five states visited the 207-acre Spriestersbach farm near Charlestown to see a rare piece of real estate that stayed with one family for nearly two centuries.

When an online auction ended Tuesday night, the gem had sold for more than $1 million. Clark County businessman Dan Cristiani got the largest chunk after bidding $775,000 on the property between High Jackson Road and Ind. 62.

An elated Cristiani said he was familiar with the property, having owned farmland nearby. "I never knew it would come up for sale. … It's beautiful," he told The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

The auction of one of the oldest remaining family farms in southern Indiana was watched closely by farm and preservation advocates. Late owner Louis Spriestersbach had left the land to a nonprofit, charitable family corporation that will donate the proceeds of the sale to youth agricultural scholarships and educational programs.

A former teacher and lifelong farmer who died in 2008 at 90, Spriestersbach also arranged for the Indiana and Clark County Farm Bureaus to administer the funds. He also asked that an agricultural conservation easement be placed on 193 acres that include pasture, cropland and an array of sturdy buildings, most notably a Federal-style farmhouse and stone spring house.

The George Rogers Clark Land Trust, a nonprofit, land-protection group, helped draft the conservation easement for the largest parcel and will enforce the terms. Future owners can't subdivide the property for homes or commercial development, and the land must be used for agricultural purposes.

No restrictions were placed on two adjoining tracts along Ind. 62, which went for a combined $237,000.

Preservationists have worried that, while the easement signed last month protects the farmland in perpetuity, nothing was set up to ensure the house, a rare piece of Clark County's agrarian heritage, survives. It was so rundown, Spriestersbach had moved out to a modular home he placed on the property several years before he died.

Cristiani said in a brief interview Wednesday that he has not examined the house and isn't sure what restoration would entail. But he hasn't ruled it out.

"I'm hoping someday we can fix it up … (but) I haven't really looked at it that closely. It depends on the structure of it, and money. It takes a lot of money to do all the things you want to do," he said.

The first priority will be to restore two large barns, some sheds and replace fencing to bring cattle onto the property. He intends to grow hay and also run livestock, Cristiani said.

Although he hadn't visited the property before it went on the auction block, Cristiani said he attended a soil-conservation meeting where a presentation about the property ignited his interest. He owns 65 acres nearby, he said, where he grows soybeans.

Cristiani owns Earth First, a business that sells topsoil, mulch and sand in several locations. He also owns additional farms, and excavation and property development businesses, which a company website said generate more than $20 million in annual sales.

Cristiani placed a $775,000 bid before the auction closed at 7 p.m. That was an increase of about $300,000 over the highest bid listed earlier in the day. It was not disclosed who had placed the winning bids on an adjoining 8.7-acre parcel for $160,000 and a 3.6-acre tract for $77,000.

Getting more than $1 million for the property is a huge success, said Robert Schickel, a state Farm Bureau district director, who worked on the sale. "It's a win-win," Schickel said. "It went to a local farmer who's also a businessman. He will preserve that farm in a very good way."

Louis Spriestersbach's second-cousin Rodney Spriestersbach of Charlestown attended a gathering to watch the auction end and said he was glad to know the farm is going to someone who can care for it.

Cristiani "may be a big asset to the farm," said Spriestersbach, 77, president of the family corporation and its lone survivor. "He's got the equipment to do what been to be done."


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