Eigenbergs find land of opportunity on the prairie
By Julie Buntjer and Alex Purdy
HERON LAKE — Cousins who grew up side by side in Section 30, Springfield Township, Cottonwood County — one in the southwest quarter and one in the northwest quarter — are celebrating this year after both farms earned recognition for being in the Eigenberg family for 100 years.
In the southwest quarter of the section, brothers Alfred and Leonard Eigenberg have farmed together since 1961. In the northwest quarter, their cousin Herman and his wife, Lylas Eigenberg, have called the family farm home since they married in 1953.
While the farms are completely separate today, their 100-year-old history shares a common beginning.
In a written history compiled by Lylas Eigenberg, the family details how Alfred, Leonard and Herman’s grandmother, Henriette Speckmier Eigenberg, came to southwest Minnesota.
Born in November 1849, she came to America in 1880 with her brother, William Speckmier Sr., and his family from Germany. Initially, they settled at Hoagland, Ind., where Henriette fell in love with Heinrich Eigenberg. They married in November 1881 and settled on a farm outside Hoagland, where they raised five children — three girls and two boys.
When Heinrich died in 1910 at age 65, Henriette and her sons, William and Henry, were left to tend the fields to support the family. All five of the kids attended a Lutheran church school, where they were taught in both the German and English language.
Shortly after Heinrich’s death, the Eigenbergs learned of an opportunity to expand on the prosperous soils of southwest Minnesota. Henriette’s brother, living near Westbrook by then, had encouraged them to move north and westward.
William and Henry made the trek to Minnesota to see the land of opportunity and, upon returning to Indiana, convinced their mother to sell their 35-acre farm and move to the North Star State.
They arrived in Minnesota by train in 1912 with a few of their belongings, renting a farm near Oaks Lake until Feb. 28, 1914, when they had the opportunity to buy a half-section of land from Charles and Mary Morely. Charles, who had served under General Sherman in the Civil War, had been granted a 160-acre parcel in the northwest quarter of Section 30 from the U.S. Government in appreciation of his military service. He and his wife later purchased the adjoining southwest quarter.
Henriette purchased both quarters and they began farming their newly acquired land in the spring of 1914.
The first year of farming in Minnesota wasn’t a good one, however. The spring of 1914 was very rainy, and without any tiling done to the land, the crop yields at harvest weren’t too good. As it was able, the family installed drainage tile by hand in those early years, with more tile added by machine later on.
In 1924, Henriette deeded the land to her sons Henry and William, and that’s where the story splits. William took the northwest quarter, which included the homestead, and Henry took the southwest, which was a bare quarter. The family continued to live together until Henry’s home was completed on his farm in 1928. Henriette remained with William and his wife, Augusta, on the homestead until her death in November 1935.
At home in the northwest 160
William and Augusta Eigenberg married in January 1928 at the St. John’s Lutheran Parsonage in Okabena and began their married life together with Henriette sharing their home. That spring, Henry began construction on his homestead, building a house, barn, granary and other outbuildings as time went on.
Meanwhile, at William and Augusta’s, the home was raised shortly after they acquired the property and a basement constructed underneath. A porch was also added at that time for Henriette to be able to relax and enjoy the view of the farm.
Between 1931 and 1937, William and Augusta welcomed four children to their family — Herman, Herbert, William A. and Gisela. The boys were all born on the farm, while Gisela was born at the Heron Lake Hospital.
In 1939, the family moved from their farm in the northwest quarter to a farm in the northeast quarter of Section 30. William and Augusta had purchased the land from Silas Knutson in 1935 and, after remodeling the home on the parcel, the family moved to that site in 1939. William’s sister, Sophia, and her husband Henry, moved onto the Eigenberg farm in the northwest quarter.
“It was an opportunity to buy more land and be closer for us kids to get to school,” recalled Herman Eigenberg of the land purchase. The country school was just “a walk across the lawn,” in the southeast quarter of Section 30, and he and his siblings attended there until it closed. (William and Augusta went on to purchase the southeast quarter in 1955.) All four of the children graduated from Heron Lake High School.
As the oldest son, Herman spent a lot of time working on the farm.
“I had to help milk the cows by age 10 … (and I) started out at age 13 driving tractor on a grain binder; at age 16 or 17, I took over the team of horses and the bundle rack,” said Herman, now 83. “I was always interested in farming.”
Yet, Herman didn’t spend his entire life on the farm.
In 1948, while still in high school, Herman joined the National Guard in a field artillery unit from Windom. Shortly after graduating, at the outbreak of the Korean War, Herman’s unit was called to active duty in December 1950. He was stationed at Camp Rucker in Alabama until 1952.
After his honorable discharge, Herman returned home to the family farm. He married Lylas Comnick in 1953 and began farming the northwest quarter of Section 30. That same year, indoor plumbing was added to the house.
As Herman and Lylas added five children to their family — Russell, Deborah, Doreen, Bryan and Lori — they also added onto the house. In 1966, an upper story with two bedrooms and a bathroom, as well as a garage, entryway and utility room, were added.
Herman continued to farm on shares with his dad until 1965, when he and brothers William A. and Herbert developed a partnership.
“We bought an additional 200 acres that we farmed together,” said Herman, adding that the three of them farmed together until Herbert’s death in 1987. Herman and William then continued in partnership until 1998.
While the brothers did their crop farming together, Herman had his own livestock, including Holstein milk cows and farrow-to-finish hogs.
In 1999, Herman and his youngest son, Bryan, began farming together, and Bryan still farms the land today with his son, Dustin. When Herman and Lylas moved into Windom in October 2010, Dustin moved into the farmhouse in the northwest quarter of Section 30.
Herman said his son hopes to own the farm someday, “but with skyrocketing prices, it’s going to make it difficult,” he said.
As the saying goes, “Once a farmer, always a farmer,” Herman makes a near daily trek to the farm to check on things, helping out with fieldwork, tending to a garden and doing other chores. Bryan and Dustin have a cattle herd on the farm site, so the cattle shed, machine shed and silos are put to good use.
Seeing the farm reach a century of continuous family ownership is quite an accomplishment — one Herman said deserved to be honored “out of respect to my grandmother and my parents.” The farm still boasts four original buildings — two granaries, a portion of the house and a small, two-room house that was converted to a garage.
In July, more than 100 descendants and friends of the Eigenberg family will gather on the farm in celebration and reunion.
History of the southwest quarter
When Henriette’s son Henry was deeded the southwest quarter of Section 30, it was still a bare piece of ground in 1924. It wasn’t until four years later that he began to construct the farm site. The first building to be completed was a garage, followed by house, barn, chicken house, hog house, granary and corn crib.
The farm was home to Henry, his wife Lilly (neighbors, they married in 1930) and their sons — Ed, Alfred, Leonard and Dale. Ed went on to become a minister, and Dale, who suffers from cerebral palsy, resides today at Sogge Memorial Home in Windom.
Alfred and Leonard Eigenberg, and Leonard’s wife, Norma, are the current owners of the 163-acre parcel. Leonard and Norma, married in 1961, raised their three children there — Sherilyn, now of Eagle Lake, and Bruce and James, both of rural Heron Lake.
While Alfred retired from farming in 1999, at age 65, he still helps out on the farm. During harvest, he keeps an eye on the corn dryers, and also did some of the mowing around the yard. Leonard, at 78, continues to farm the land today with his two sons, Bruce and James. Together, they grow corn and soybeans.
“They’re going to take over because I’m going to be stepping down here pretty quick,” said Leonard. James does all of the planting, while Bruce handles the agronomy work.
In addition to farming the home place, Leonard and his sons have purchased additional land and also rent some parcels.
“The farm is set up as a trust — Eigenberg Limited Partnership,” Leonard explained, adding that it consists of him, Alfred, Bruce and James. Alfred never married.
“James has three boys now, so (the farm) could pass way on down to them,” Leonard said.
Leonard and Alfred began farming together in 1961 on rented land, and took over the home farm following Henry’s death in 1963. The land remained in their mother’s name until 28 years ago.
In the years they have called the Eigenberg farm home, the brothers have seen many changes, both from the crops grown on the land to the implements used to plant and harvest them.
The brothers said getting tractors on the farm was one of the greatest highlights.
“I always wanted to drive tractor,” Alfred said.
However, as the older and bigger of the two, Alfred tended to get the job of pitching bundles during threshing, and Leonard got to drive the tractor and bundle rack.
The brothers also had livestock chores — milking cows and raising farrow to finish hogs. They also had a 400-hen laying flock of chickens, which their mother tended to, along with a large garden.
Leonard said their first tractor on the farm was a C Allis Chalmers, but that “didn’t stick around very long.
“Then Dad got an H and M Farmall in the same year,” he shared. “In 1954, he bought a Super C International — that was the year I graduated.”
Today, the Eigenberg farm has Challenger tractors and a John Deere combine, and everything has auto-steer technology and air-conditioned cabs.
“It’s pretty nice, but if it quits operating, you get very discouraged,” Leonard said. “I had to go 300 acres without auto-steer, and I wasn’t a happy camper.”
Like their cousin Herman, Leonard and Alfred are proud to see their piece of the Eigenberg farm continue on for generations.
“We’re quite blessed to have gotten this far and kept it in one possession — the Eigenberg family,” Leonard said.