Mary Graham’s 92nd birthday also marked another milestone for her: She’s lived all but one year of her life in the house on her family’s Century Farm.
Graham is one of at least four Century Farm owners in Warren County, a designation given to farms that have remained in the same family for 100 or more years.
“It’s meant a lot to me, and it really means a lot to the kids,” says Graham of the farm, where she and her husband, Leonard, raised 11 children.
The farm began with James Davitt, Graham’s grandfather, who bought it in 1899. The farm changed hands in 1906 and was given to an aunt and uncle until Graham’s father, Richard Davitt, took it over in 1918. Graham and her husband received the farm in 1961.
Richard Davitt grew corn and beans and raised hogs and cattle, she says. Graham grew up on the farm and can remember bringing food and drinks out to the farmers when they were working in the field.
The only year Graham left the farm was 1939 after she and Leonard were married. The couple then moved back to the farm into another house, which had been a rental, while her father stayed in the original farmhouse. They lived there for 16 years while Leonard helped Richard farm.
The rental house had no electricity, running water or bathrooms. Oil lamps were burned for light. They had an outhouse, and the couple had to haul water from a well. The washing machine was in a shed and would be moved to the porch during the winter months.
The Grahams moved into the original farmhouse in 1961, where Mary still resides today.
The Davitt Family Farm is 230 acres, and Mary current cash rents a little more than 100 acres to a neighbor to farm. Her son Dennis “Den” Graham lives in a neighboring house on the farm and helps, too, she says. He put up a fence around the pasture this summer so the family could once again have cattle.
“Everybody is so excited about this,” Mary says. “We had fun taking care of them this summer because we hadn’t had cattle for several years.”
Each year, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation recognize farms that have remained in the same family for 100 or more years as Century Farms. Those owning the same farm for 150 years are given Heritage Farm status.
“This program is a great way to highlight the deep history and strong heritage of agriculture in our state,” says Bill Northey, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture.
Recipients are recognized each year at the Iowa State Fair.
The Century Farm program began in 1976 as part of the bicentennial celebration in the United States. Since then, more than 17,486 farms nationwide have received the designation. The Heritage Farm program began in 2006, and more than 583 farms has received the designation nationwide.
In 2012, 345 Century Farms and 69 Heritage Farms were recognized, according to the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
Applications are due June 1 of every year and are available at www.IowaAgriculture.gov by clicking on the Century Farm or Heritage Farm link under “Hot Topics.”
Warren County family farm marks more than 150 years of ownership
Paul and Myrna Barkley’s family farm was recognized for being in the family for more than 150 years at the Iowa State Fair in 2007.
“It gives us a feeling of security,” Myrna Barkley says. “Maybe we appreciate the hard work of our ancestors to maintain the land and are trying to do the same for the next generations.”
The farm began with Robert and Priscilla Barkley, who were Paul’s great-great grandparents. Robert bought 400 acres from the U.S. Government in 1854. The family has a certificate of ownership signed by Franklin Pierce, who was president of the United States at the time. Robert was born in Ireland in 1808 and settled with three of his brothers in Ohio in 1836 at age 18.
Robert came to Iowa in 1856 — he had already purchased the Warren County land — and settled in Linn Grove before he moved onto the farm that he had purchased in Linn Township near Orilla. He was the first supervisor of the township under the original government organization. He built a home on the farm and lived there until he died in 1881.
A great-uncle, Walter Barkley, then owned the farm before Paul’s great-grandfather, Thomas Barkley, inherited it. The farm was passed on to Thomas’ son, Alvin Barkley (Paul’s grandfather), and then John Thomas Barkley and his wife, Josie, who were Paul’s parents. Paul moved to the farm when he was 7 months old in 1933. Paul and Myrna lived on the farm until 1993 when they moved to Norwalk. Their daughter, Marlene, and her husband, Mike Cox, live on the farm.
“This has always been home,” Paul Barkley says.
Through the years, the generations of Barkleys have grown corn, oats, wheat, and after the 1980s, soybeans. They’ve had vegetable gardens and cherry and apple fruit trees. In the 1940s, the orchard froze in April and the fruit was lost. They’ve raised beef and dairy cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and sheep.
The Barkleys have sold off portions of the farm through the years, but they still own 120 acres. The land is rented to a local farmer who grows corn and beans. They also rent pasture to an area horse breeder.
Kern family comes from Iowa, settles in Warren County
John Kern was one of dozens who settled into Warren County from Ohio in the 1850s after Iowa opened up to homesteading.
Kern hailed from Fairfield County, Ohio, and moved to Warren County with several others from the area, says his great-great grandson Ben Kern of rural Norwalk. Ben Kern says he once surveyed his classmates in school and discovered he must be distantly related to most of them because many had settled in Norwalk from Ohio.
“Land was available and cheap, so they came out here and settled,” Ben Kern says.
John Kern also served in the Civil War. He had one son, Charles Benoni Kern, who was called Ben and is today’s Ben Kern’s namesake.
Charles Kern’s son, Herman Kern (Ben’s grandfather), inherited the farm, which was then passed on to his son John Kern and then Ben, who farms the land today.
The farm was originally 160 acres, but the Kerns have added another 160 through the years. The family raised chickens in the 1930s so they had something to eat during the Great Depression. In the 1950s, the Kerns raised dairy cattle. Ben’s dad, John, raised pigs in the 1960s, and the family fed cattle up until the 1970s.
Today, Ben and his brother Byron own 240 acres of the original farm.
“It’s kind of cool. I’m the fifth generation farming, and you think about every time you go to the field, you go over places where generations have been doing this,” Ben Kern says. “There’s a sense that you have to take care of it because it’s been passed down and passed down through generations. It’s really kind of special.”