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Holtzmann’s Farm Produce
By Richard Holtzmann, Sr., and Richard Holtzmann, Jr.
Ridgeway/Norlina, Warren County, NC
The small farming community of Ridgeway has, for more than a century, had a wide reputation for the excellence of its Ridgeway cantaloupes. Smaller and vastly sweeter than the cantaloupes one might find in a store, the melons used to be shipped north by the trainload for sale to such exclusive eateries as the dining room of the Waldorf-Astoria. In recent years, true Ridgeway cantaloupes have become increasingly rare. Of the farmers who have brought the crop into the 21st century, among the very last are Richard Holtzmann of Ridgeway and his son, Richard Holtzmann, Jr.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, German immigrants settled in the Ridgeway-Drewry section of Warren County. One of those immigrants was Diebold Holtzmann, ancestor of what would become the largest of Ridgeway’s German families. Historian Barbara Sinn Bumbalough writes that all 264 acres of Diebold Holtzmann’s land holdings are still owned by his descendants. Richard Holtzmann's family traces its roots back to Diebold, and they still farm their family’s ancestral land.
Richard Sr., born in the late-1920s, remembers elderly family members who still primarily spoke German: “They’d speak German when they didn’t want anyone to understand what they were saying.” He remembers the older generation’s stories about the difficulties they faced when first settling in Ridgeway. “Well, it was hard times,” he recalls. “They had to build up the soil. They worked to improve the soil.”
It was this soil that would produce the famous Ridgeway cantaloupes. Holtzmann, Sr., remembers many other unique aspects of his upbringing, and the family has retained valuable traditional skills passed down from their ancestors. For example, both men know how to witch, or dowse, for natural water sources. Unlike their forebears, though, they now use coat-hangers rather than carved sticks.
The Holtzmanns are bearers of important Warren County traditions of both the intangible and the edible varieties. The latter––their startlingly sweet Ridgeway cantaloupes––can be purchased in season from the Holtzmanns’ produce stand on Route 1.