LAKEFIELD — From fires to flooding, the Pohlman family farm in Heron Lake Township, Jackson County, has created its share of memories over the past 100 years.
Newly recognized as a Minnesota Century Farm, the once 160-acre parcel was purchased by Herman Pohlman on Feb. 24, 1920 for a mere $217.50 per acre. Today, 120 acres remain in the Pohlman family, with ownership split between three generations.
“My great-grandpa was 7 years old when he came across on the ship … from Germany,” shared Doug Pohlman, who now farms the land. “I think they were just like everybody else; they were looking for a better life here in America.”
Herman worked for a large cattle farm near Mankato until he had enough money to purchase a farm of his own, and that’s what brought him to the Heron Lake area, Doug shared. In the years that followed, he made the down payment on parcels for each of his five sons — August, Herman, Wilhelm, Walter and Arthur — to begin farming in Jackson County, including the land in Section 25 of Heron Lake Township that’s being recognized as a Century Farm this year.
Each farm averaged about 120 acres. Walter ended up with his parents’ home farm on Heron Lake, while Herman settled south of Okabena, August’s farm was in Delafield Township, and Wilhelm and Arthur had parcels side by side in Heron Lake Township, a few miles northeast of Lakefield.
Wilhelm, who was the oldest of Herman’s children, moved onto the farm in Heron Lake Township after he and wife, Marie Brill, were married. At the time, it was a 240-acre parcel, and he farmed the entire piece until his brother, Arthur, became old enough to farm.
“Arthur had the east half and Wilhelm had the west half,” said Doug, adding that Wilhelm raised hogs, cows and chickens on his homestead.
Not long after Wilhelm and Marie welcomed the birth of their second child, Marie became ill and died of pneumonia. Wilhelm would later marry Frieda Robby, and they had one child together. The three — Norman, Dorothy and Leroy — became shared owners of the land upon their parents’ deaths.
Today, Doug (son of Norman) farms the land that had belonged to Wilhelm, while his cousins, Kenny (son of Leroy) and Patricia Pohlman, reside on the acreage. Doug and his wife, Susan, own 40 acres, Kenny owns 13 acres, Kenny’s mother, Elaine Pohlman, owns 27 acres, and Doug’s daughter and son-in-law, Kimberley and Brett Johnson, own 40 acres.
The original two-story farmhouse was destroyed by fire during the era of Wilhelm and Frieda’s ownership of the farm, and they built a new home on the site. That then became home to their youngest, Leroy, and his wife, Elaine, who raised their family — the third generation of Pohlmans — on the farm. Years later, when Leroy and Elaine’s son, Kenny, was living on the farm, a second house fire claimed his place. He built a new home on the acreage within the last decade, noted Doug.
Other buildings on the farm include a hip-roof style barn, built by Wilhelm, that could be one of the oldest remaining structures on the property. There’s also a chicken house and a corn crib, which has since been renovated into a machine shop.
“There’s an old hog barn that was built way out in the grove and that’s kind of deteriorating,” Doug said.
While Doug never lived on the Pohlman farm — he grew up on a farm eight miles down the road — he has many memories of family gatherings at “Grandma and Grandpa Pohlmans” when he was a kid.
“It seemed like every Sunday we were over there if not for dinner, a late afternoon lunch,” he said. “It would be the whole group — the Ihrkes, the Leroy Pohlmans and our group (the Norman Pohlmans).”
For Kenny, the best family gatherings were those when the power went out and the kerosene lanterns would be brought out of storage. To him, it was like going camping.
The farmyard was a great place to play Kick-the-Can or start a game of baseball, while the surrounding grove offered many hours of exploration for the Pohlman grandkids. Making homemade ice cream is also a fond memory.
Due to the lay of the land — the acreage is on a hill — Kenny and Elaine shared memories of their driveway being flooded and having to cross it by boat many times, including to reach the school bus when Kenny was a kid. The spring rains and snowmelt in the spring of 2019 put the driveway under water once again.
For Doug, the Pohlman farm has special memories tied to farming.
“As I grew up, that’s where I drove tractor,” he said. “To work with Grandpa, that was kind of special.
“What amazes me now is that growing up I can remember that 120 acres had a pasture, hayfield, a little oats, corn and soybeans,” he said. Today, the pasture is gone and the land is planted to corn and soybeans.
Doug said the plan is to keep the Pohlman farm in the family, and with his daughter and son-in-law owning 40 acres of it, it’s already poised to continue on for another generation.
“Hopefully they can hold it together for another generation,” he added.
Having the land in the family for 100 years is quite a feat, and one that isn’t lost on Doug.
“When you get out there and think about the Pohlman generations that have gone across this land — you’re going over the same ground Grandpa did, and when you pull a post out, you think Grandpa probably put that in,” Doug said. “When you’re a farmer, this probably means more to you than non-farmers. We get kind of tied into this land.”