Bottle Tree of Winter Sellar Swartsel to the tune of "The Old Rugged Cross"

Bottle Farms are traditionally understood as an African-American phenom imbued with spiritual baggage from Africa. Could be...however, they are also a documented Caucasian practice. This is also my nomination for the oddest official historical marker in the country. See if you agree. Text of Roadside Marker follows:

A direct descendant of original settlers in Jackson Township, Winter Zellar (Zero) Swartsel was born in 1876. Throughout his life he was a natural born showman, teacher, eccentric, anarchist, and “possibly the grandfather of American Pop Culture.” At a young age and tired of the routines of Farmersville, he declared that, “He would live by his wits while his brothers lived by the sweat of their brows.” He and a friend bicycled first to New York City and then turned around to head west and eventually the world. Later his home would overflow with items collected while traveling the world. Outside was a similar story. While chiding the American people for their wastefulness and abusing their environment, his 22 acres of farmland became his artist's canvas filled with the thousands of items he collected from the “wasteful.” Winter Zellar (Zero) Swartsel's farm property became a field of glass as he adorned it with sculptures and “art” using glassware of all kinds, bells, bed frames, wood, and other discarded items. His finest works, fashioned from bottles titled “Kindly Light” and “Full Measure” created the popular Farmersville Bottle Farm. The farm also provided interesting listening experiences. In addition to the bells and twinkling glass that rang out in the wind, residents in town could count on hearing “The Old Rugged Cross” played on loud speakers on Sundays. Bells on grazing sheep added to the “noises” he described as restful. The farm attracted visitors from every state in the nation except Delaware. Dying in 1953, Swartsel bequeathed his land to the community to become the Farmersville-Jackson Township Joint Recreation Park to be used for the pleasure of children.

Snapshot of Swartsel bottle farm, c. 1955? Collection Jim Linderman


  1. I saw a bottle tree somewhere in my travels in Manhattan. I think it was in the projects around 8th Avenue and 18th Street, it registered but I didn't have my camera and forgot about until I saw this posting.

  2. An amazing story, and a site I had never heard of. Thanks for this story.

  3. Mr Swartzel's property was donated to become a park, was there last night for the 1st time. Beautiful place, picnic space, walking trail, pool, new playground equipment, very clean!