Spence Farm Ė A Brief History


In 1830, our fourth great-grandfather Valentine Darnall came to Illinois from Kentucky. He bought 160 acres from the government for $1.25 an acre. By the late 1800ís, his grandson Malachi Martin (MM) Spence was in charge of the farm business and the land comprised nearly 1,000 acres. There were 36 buildings on the property including barns, sheds, milk houses, chicken houses, and tenant houses. Horses were sold to England and cattle shipped to Chicago and the east coast. At one time in the farmís history, four generations lived in the ďBig HouseĒ, which was built in 1902 by MM. It was a bustling place to be.

†††††††††††††††† In the 1950ís maple syrup was one of the important crops for the farm. WD Spence (seen in the picture above with his family), MMís son, tapped nearly 600 maple trees and sold syrup from the farm.

†††††††††††††††† However, by 1981 the farm was down to the original 160 acres again and our Grandma Hazel (married to Martin, WDís son), being 74, realized it was too much for her to take care of alone. She sold the house and buildings, but retained the farm ground and the 40 acre woodlot. When the house came up for sale in 1999 she was able to purchase it back and leave it as a legacy for her daughter Willa and grandson Marty.

†††††††††††††††† Today Marty and his wife Kris, stewards of the farm, are restoring the buildings along with help from Martyís mom, Willa. Their son Will, who lives on MMís fatherís farm, has recently become a partner at the farm and has resurrected the maple syrup business.

†††††††††††††††† There are now only a dozen original buildings left on the property. The oldest building dates back to the 1840ís and is a small dome topped root cellar. Eventually all the buildings will be restored and usable again. In the meantime, other traditional styled buildings have been built or moved to the farm including a chicken house, maple syrup house (built by Will), a little one-room house, a round crib, and a mill house.

Martyís grandpa

Martin Spence

Circa 1910

© Spence Farm 2012

†††††††††††††††† In 2005, Spence Farm Foundation was created as a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization to oversee educational programs on the farm.† It is the Foundationís mission to preserve the rich heritage and history of our area for many generations to come and to teach about the precious agricultural resources of our small family farms. The 1860 Phelps Schoolhouse, moved to the farm in the spring of 2005, serves as their educational facility. The farm itself lends an exciting backdrop for educational programs of all kinds that show agricultural history from 1830 to today. For more information on Spence Farm Foundation, visit their website at www.spencefarmfoundation.org.

Once again, Spence Farm is a bustling center of activity with a wide array of heirloom and native crops, heritage animals, and a huge diversity of agricultural opportunities on the 160 acres. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy learning about small scale family farming of the Midwest. We invite you to come for a visit, encourage you to support local small farmers in your area, and hope you will have a chance to taste some of our delicious products!

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