News from Garfield Farm
On Friday, May 9th at 6 pm, Garfield Farm Museum will hold its 20th annual Awards Dinner at the Dunham Woods Riding Club, in Wayne, IL, recognizing individuals and/or groups who share similar interests in history, farming or the environment.
Garfield Farm Museum was established by third generation owner, Elva Ruth Garfield when she donated 163 acres of her 240 acre farm and its buildings and artifacts in 1977. The late Eve S. Johnson was the driving force behind the initial development of the now 370 acre museum. Yet founding a nonprofit organization is only effective if efforts are made to establish a long term source of support. In 1993, a bequest by the late Jane Dunham, made it possible for the farm to retire a 15 year old mortgage setting the stage for saving the first funds to go towards endowing the project. Recognizing that an endowment of $10 million would be needed to allow the museum to concentrate on its educational mission, the first steps to save toward such an ambitious but necessary goal were made. A generous bequest by Marguerite H. Ball of Geneva, IL, has doubled the project’s Garfield Farm Forever endowment fund now reaching 20% of its long term goal.
Just as Garfield, Dunham and Johnson were recognized for their support, the annual dinner is dedicated to Mrs. Ball who with her late husband Robert, had quietly supported the museum for over 25 years. With these combined funds, investments will be made that will provide an ongoing source of operational funds for the farm ensuring that the beliefs of the supporters of the farm will be sustained for many years into the future.
It is in that light that the Wayne Historical Preservation Society is being awarded an Historic Preservation Award as the initial steps taken in any project can portend an even greater future. The WHPS has saved, moved and is restoring the historic railroad depot from the era when Mark Dunham and Wayne, IL were respectively the Henry Ford and Detroit of Percheron draft horse breeding. Every community has to identify its unique features and work to preserve those to establish a sense of place. The preservation of the depot will provide important center of attention for the history of this neighborhood.
Just as the WHPS depends on the cooperation of community volunteers and donors, one of the most complex and improbable efforts to preserve open space was achieved in Campton Township in 2007. What is becoming known as the Harley Woods Open Space, took the cooperation of private land owners, non-profit agencies, and a public body with an unpredictable timetable, uncertain funding, and different preservation tools, over a 10 year period to achieve.
In 1997, the children of the late Garfield Harley, a great grandson of Timothy Garfield, were faced with having to sell the last acreage of their farm. Almost 37 years before, a then young college student, the late David Bielenberg, so admired the beauty of the wooded hills that he persuaded his father to buy 16 acres of the Harley Woods. To the north were 12 acres of woods owned by the late Frank and Martha Soutar who lived in town but would come to walk and pick berries. To the northeast Martin and the late Eve Johnson had built their home on 5 wooded acres that was part of Martin?s boyhood home, Echo Valley Farm. East of the Johnsons, executive Joe Burm had a hobby farm that included the woods and an open field. Here the Johnson, Harley, and Burm children grew up playing around the most exciting feature, Harley’s Pond. This wooded, vernal pool that dried up in late summer, made the best habitat for frogs and salamanders to the delight of these young explorers.
All that was coming to an end with the passing of a generation. First the Harleys had to make their difficult decision when Garfield Farm Museum’s land trust, Campton Historic Agricultural Lands, was unable to secure funding to preserve their woods. Nearby neighbor Kevin Fitzpatrick came forward and purchased the Harley property though one son, Russell, retained and has preserved his great-grandfather Jefferson Garfield’s house. Fitzpatrick initially had hoped to build in the woods but as plans changed he created several lots out of the 23 acres of fields and woods.
With the passing of Martha Soutar, her daughter Kathryn Soutar Swick now had a beautiful woods but a tax bill to go with it. To hold on to the woods her husband Grant turned to the state forestry program for a management plan that would also lower the taxes. It meant some trees would be cut in a woods that had not been disturbed in over 78 years. With the Burm family children no longer living in the area, an uncertain future lay ahead for that property as well.
At the same time, momentum was building in Campton Township to establish an open space program. Garfield Farm Museum’s Campton Historic Agricultural Lands had the opportunity to purchase the adjacent 95 acre Edward Garfield/Mongerson Brothers Farm. Bielenberg had expressed to Fitzpatrick his desire to preserve his 16 acres. With this in mind, Fitzpatrick approached Campton Historic Agricultural Lands regarding the 9 acre woods containing Harley Pond that he owned. Already platted as a home site, Fitzpatrick was willing to sell at a bargain sale price (below market value) Harley Pond to CHAL. Taking a deep breath, CHAL successfully raised the money to buy both the Mongerson Farm and Harley Pond in 2002, in part thanks to two separate grants from the Kane County Riverboat Fund. A glimmer of hope now existed.
Campton Township’s second successful open space referendum of 2005 offered opportunity but only if the state mandated 50 acre minimum could be assembled and purchased in a two year or less time period. Spearheading the effort, CHAL began talking to all these and other adjacent property owners to seek their permission to put their property up for consideration by Campton Township. In land preservation, it often takes a near miracle to acquire just one particular parcel from a landowner. Here there were at least 13 parcels of land that totaled over 70 acres with 8 different owners! To make the minimum of 50 acres, all the qualifying parcels would have to be next to each other.
Yet, one by one, the property owners - all with different agendas, needs, and concerns independently came together. First, David Bielenberg was facing serious health issues and costs. He would have to consider developing his beloved woods. Campton Township was not in a position to buy but the Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit land trust along with CHAL met Bielenberg at his bedside. He was thrilled that his woods could be saved. The Conservation Foundation bought his property meeting his health costs to hold for Campton Township. This was a most fateful step because just two months later Bielenberg died. In an estate situation, it would be more difficult to have saved Dave’s woods.
Chancing fate, the township applied for state of Illinois Open Space grant to help pay for Bielenberg’s woods but the grant included the neighboring 12 acre Kathryn Soutar Swick woods. At this point negotiations had not yet begun for this property. Bob and his sister Dolores Burm expressed strong interest in the open space plan. Bob had been planting prairie in their field and had been cutting invasive brush out of the woods for over 15 years. Retired, he loved getting out for the fresh air and back to his boyhood haunts. But he knew here was a chance for future children to explore and hike like he had and yet be fair for his and his sister’s needs in retirement.
The Burms were on board.
Now numbers were looking bright. Using the tool of a conservation easement, the township approached CHAL. By buying an easement from CHAL on Harley Pond it would gain a critical 9 acres and make sure that two parties would always be working to protect and restore the rare wooded wetlands.
Martin Johnson, who had witnessed the sale of his grandfather’s farm in the 1930s, and his father?s sale of the wooded hills of Echo Valley Farm in 1960, wanted to go a different direction. He would put an easement on his property. Ann Brack would add to the mix with an easement on her acreage but all this still only made up for 47 acres ? three short of the minimum. It was down to one of two possibilities. Neighbor Glenn Torchie had his home with an 11 acre field next to the woods and Burms’. Either he or the Swick family could make it happen. What was believed to be a long shot came in and the woods that had lost some of its trees to the taxman -- it would be saved. In almost the same breath, Torchie agreed to participate and sell 10 acres protecting the east flank of Harley Woods. In less than 13 months, the land that faced inevitable development as shown on every Kane County Plan -- of the Decade-- for the last 30 years would now be open space because people prefer when they can, to do something good for their community, for their country.
Bielenberg and Fitzpatrick were honored in previous years as Cooperators for Campton’s Conservation, so this year the Burms, Brack, CHAL, Johnson, Torchie and Swicks will be added to a growing list of friends of open space.
The independent spirit of cooperation amongst property owners is a challenge but sometimes it is hard to get a family to work in harmony. In the case of the children of the late Lawrence and Helen Motz, all five of their children agreed to sell 55 acres of the family farm the Campton Township to add to the Headwaters Open Space area. This makes the Headwaters a significant sized preserve protecting its southwestern flank and uplands that drain to the preserve's wetlands. Bud Motz, Judy M. Forth, Barbara M. Forth, Claudia M. Kaiser and Jean M.Dow will be honored with a Cooperators award.
The evening will also officially recognize the first recipient of the Garfield Farm Museum Historic Administration Scholarship established by Mr. Ron Yenerich and administered by the Fox Valley Community Foundation of Aurora, IL. Successful scholarship winner, Benjamin Peterson of North Aurora, IL plans to attend the dinner.
The awards dinner is $50 per person and reservations are required. Call 630 584-8485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Garfield Farm Museum is a former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead being restored as an 1840s working farm museum.