A look at centennial farms – keeping 100 year-old farmsteads, history alive

Keeping 100 year-old farmsteads, history alive

1 of 10

“A farm is more than land and crops – it is a family’s heritage and future.”

Decades ago, this anonymous quote defined most working farms aged 100 years or older. Although such farms are still being passed on to younger family members, increasingly more are being sold to land developers or evolving into historical attractions.

Forty-seven centennial farms exist in Kane County, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Centennial Farms program. To qualify, a property must have been owned by the same family of lineal or collateral descendants for at least 100 years.

Each century or older farmstead has a unique history. Mike Kenyon, secretary/treasurer of the Kane County Farm Bureau, farms 1,600 acres of land on several plots, and operates a 180-cow dairy farm. Farming for 45-plus years, he and his wife, Carol, live on a 139-acre farm in South Elgin that his great-grandfather, John C. Kenyon, bought in 1873. Today, the farmstead contains a farmhouse, a large barn that once housed horses and more.

“We grow corn, oats and hay,” Kenyon said. He also sells milk to a processor in Huntley.

Four hired hands work his fields and dairy. Milestones include his family’s exit from the horse trade after tractors emerged around the 1930s. They also stopped selling replacement heifers a decade ago.

Historic Corron Farm, a centennial farm located at 7N716 Corron Road in St. Charles, was settled in 1835 by 19-year-old Robert Corron of Virginia. By 1850, he began building the farm home that exists today, said Thomas Corron, Robert Corron’s great-grandson and president/board chairman of the Corron Farm Preservation Society.

Until 2002, the farmstead’s 220 acres farmed hay, corn and oats, and it operated a Holstein dairy farm. Campton Township bought the farm as open-space property, and the Kane County Forest Preserve bought 110 acres on the west side of Corron Road. In 2011, Corron family members and others formed the Corron Farm Preservation Society.

Built by four generations of Corrons, the main house, workers housing, dairy barn, horse barn, a silo, two corn cribs, a milk house, a chicken coop, a chicken feed house and a hog house are among significant structures.

“My cousin, Dave Corron, is the caretaker, an employee of Campton Township and lives on premises,” Tom said.

The farm offers special events and programs, antique displays, natural prairie tours and more. Visit www.campton-parks-and-open-space.com/corron-farm for more details.

Garfield Farm and Inn Museum, another centennial farm that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a 366-acre farmstead and former 1840s teamster inn located on Garfield Road north of Route 38 in Campton Hills. Its claim was made by Sam Culbertson and family on July 8, 1835. Timothy Garfield bought Culbertson’s log house and 440-acre claim in July 1841.

In 1846, Garfield built the brick inn that became a center for community activity and an inn for wheat farmers and travelers. By the early 1850s, the nearby railroad killed the innkeeping business. Tenant-farm families lived on Garfield Farm from 1901 until 1970; the farm was then rented by the Jay Johnsen family, and the museum began in 1977.

Crops are still grown there by Daneire Farms and include corn, soy beans, alfalfa, wheat and oats. Garfield Farm Museum manages more than 27 structures and displays unusual farm animals, among other attractions.

"A number of Garfield family descendants donate or volunteer to the farm's nonprofit efforts," said Jerome Johnson, executive director of the museum. Visit www.garfieldfarm.org for details on upcoming lectures, workshops, antique displays and more.

Looking ahead, upkeep costs and keeping younger family members on the farm remain major challenges. Farm work is long and hard; financial rewards may be less than other vocations.

“But farming is like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it,” Kenyon mused. “You can leave farming, but you can always come back.”

Kane County centennial farms

Town and number of centennial farms:

Maple Park - 13

Hampshire - 7

Sugar Grove - 6

Elburn - 4

Huntley - 3

Burlington - 2

Elgin- 2

Aurora - 1

Batavia - 1

Big Rock - 1

Hinckley - 1

Kaneville - 1

La Fox - 1

Plato Center - 1

St. Charles - 1

Sycamore - 1

Wasco - 1

Total = 47

More than 9,500 Illinois farms have been named centennial farms since the Centennial Farm program was created in 1972. At least one centennial farm exists in every state county. Containing more than 200 centennial farms, Champaign County totals the most.

Source: Illinois Department of Agriculture