Smiths are third-generation owners of century farm in Lorain Township
BREWSTER -- Tucked behind the modern-day rambler on the Wayne and JoAnne Smith family farm near Brewster is a small yet stately building known by the Smith's grandchildren as the playhouse.
BREWSTER - Tucked behind the modern-day rambler on the Wayne and JoAnne Smith family farm near Brewster is a small yet stately building known by the Smith’s grandchildren as the playhouse.
The wooden structure features a colorful stained glass window in the front, a relic saved when the farm’s original two-story house was taken down in the mid-1980s, while the inside is completely remodeled. For the Smith grandchildren, it’s a place where they can read a book, have a pretend cup of tea or play house. Their ancestors, on the other hand, used the shed to store corn cobs in one half and wash their clothes in the other. As the oldest remaining building on the farm, Wayne and JoAnne remodeled it into a child-sized playroom, complete with a ladder leading to a loft.
When Wayne, now the third-generation owner of the family farm, was growing up, he had his own playground along the banks of the Okabena Creek that meanders through this nearly 150-acre parcel in Section 12, Lorain Township, Nobles County.
The land is adjacent to two 80-acre parcels - one owned by Wayne’s sister, and the other owned jointly by his sons, James and Brian. Together, they comprise the half-section of land settled by Wayne’s grandparents, Frank and Anna Smith, in February 1915.
Riding the rails, pounding the nails
Frank Smith was born in Putnam County, Illinois, in October 1881, the son of German immigrants. He remained there with his family until 1900, when he moved to Greene County, Iowa, with his older brother. The two worked as farm laborers and each ultimately met and married women while there.
Frank married Anna Holm on Jan. 14, 1903, in Rockwell City, Iowa, and they farmed in Iowa for several years. In February 1915, the couple purchased a half section of land with a building site in Lorain Township. They moved their family, which by then included six children, and their belongings to Minnesota by train.
When the Smiths arrived in Nobles County, their newly purchased homestead consisted of a large, two-story farmhouse, complete with an open, wrap-around porch and a barn. The house was constructed in 1892, while the barn was completed a year later. The barn was torn down in 1961.
“They built two hog houses - in 1918 and 1927,” said Wayne of his grandparents. A steel machine shed was also constructed in 1937, the cob and wash house was built in the 1930s and a two-stall garage was added to the farm site in 1937.
The Smiths saved the notice of shipment from Brewster Lumber for the sheets of galvanized roofing, related materials and 25 pounds of lead-headed nails - everything needed to build the garage, minus the wooden 2x4’s - for $49.88.
Each of the buildings served a purpose, but none was more grand than the family’s home.
“We were always told how nice the house used to be, before we had bees in the attic and salamanders in the basement,” said Wayne with a laugh. “In 1915, before they went off to World War I, they had a big going-away celebration here - county commissioners and state representatives spoke and it was quite a big party. That’s a memory of the farm.”
Frank and Anna raised oats, corn, barley and soybeans, in addition to beef cattle, hogs, chickens and turkeys.
“They would herd turkeys into Brewster,” shared Wayne. “They (also) had an orchard which consisted of various apple varieties, cherries and mulberries.
“In the early years, groceries and supplies were gotten by boarding a train and riding it to Mountain Lake,” he added.
Anna served on the board of the local country school; and the family attended the First Presbyterian Church in Brewster.
Water and lights
Frank and Anna Smith used a Delco plant generator to power their home in 1924, and finally hooked into the Rural Electrification Association when they reached the farm in 1938. The new power from the REA required a complete rewiring of the house.
More changes were in store during World War II, when the open porch was partially enclosed; and then in 1946, when the first bathroom was added. In 1954, the first TV was purchased.
Wayne’s father, Earl, along with his uncles dug the farm’s water wells by hand in the 1920s. They were re-dug in the 1950s, and an augured well was added later. Today, the farm is hooked into the rural water system.
As improvements were made to the home and buildings added to the farm site, Wayne said his grandfather also tiled out the farmland in those early years.
“It was a well tiled and well improved farm,” he said. “But now the clay tile are all egg-shaped, they’re all cracked and flat, but they continue to work. It’s been a very productive farm.”
Passing it on
As Frank and Anna watched their children grow up and set out for lives on their own, they, too, were ready for a change. They designed and built their own home in Brewster - one of the first homes to have an attached garage, said Wayne.
The couple’s move to town in 1949, opened the door for their youngest son, Earl, and his bride, Ingeleiv, to move onto the Smith family farm.
By then, Earl had completed a tour of duty in the Army during World War II.
“Ed (Earl’s older brother) and Earl had farmed together,” explained Wayne. “When the draft came along, Ed said he couldn’t go because he had to take care of the farm.”
When Uncle Sam came calling for Earl, he had to go. He was drafted and served in England and the European Theater as a navigator and airplane mechanic until 1944.
“When he returned from the war, Earl purchased this farm,” Wayne said of his dad.
In September 1946, Earl married Ingeleiv Berhow, a native of Norway who emigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 10 years old. Her family settled in Cambridge, Iowa.
Together, Earl and Ingeleiv raised crops, chickens, hogs, beef cattle and three children - Elaine, Wayne and Carla.
Earl was an active member of the Brewster American Legion, and Ingeleiv made the best Crinkle “wrinkle” cookies any kid could ask for.
“Of course, you put enough sugar in anything and it becomes good,” Wayne said with a smile.
Growing up on the farm, Wayne and his sisters each had their chores to do.
“My sister, Elaine, took care of the chickens,” he said, sharing a story about how her sister would get busy with a book and forget about the water hydrant she left running. “She would flood the chicken house - water soaked in the ground cobs and Dad would have to clean it out.”
“I got to water the cattle and the sheep - that was my big projects,” Wayne said.
They all worked to pick rocks from the field, but they found their time for fun as well.
“One of the things I remember, as a kid in the fall, is this was a flyway for the ducks,” he shared. “We had ducks landing on the creek all the time. Now, we see herons on the creek year-round out here, but we really saw that the flyway has changed.”
The Okabena Creek is now surrounded by 26 acres of riparian buffer, which has created habitat for wildlife and enjoyment for the Smiths.
“We’ve got deer and pheasants and coyotes and all kinds of good things running around out here,” he said.
The current caretakers
Wayne married JoAnne Brinkman in February 1972. She grew up a farm girl near Fulda. Wayne proudly mentioned she was crowned the 1969 Nobles County Dairy Princess.
Together, the Smiths raised four children on the farm - Jennifer (Cory) Vold, now living in Kenyon with their two children, Kaitlyn, 14, and Alex, 12; James (Carissa) of Owatonna and their two children, Lainey, 10, and Lee, 7; Brian (Trisha) of Sioux Falls, S.D., and their son, Carson, 1; and Casie (Riley) Pohlman, of Spirit Lake.
“I graduated from Brewster in 1969 and my classmates always tease me that I never went far in life,” Wayne said with a grin. He did move at least once, though.
Wayne and JoAnne replaced the original farmhouse in the 1980s with a rambler-style home - the last one built by construction students attending Prairie Lakes Vocational School.
“I can’t really ever see myself living in town,” added JoAnne.
Today, the Smith farm seems rather quiet. Gone is the farrow-to-finish hog operation Wayne once had, gone are the sheep from the pasture and gone are the cattle their oldest son had briefly raised on the farm. Chores now consist of caring for Lucky, the 8-year-old golden Lab. She doubles as the family pet and hunting dog.
The sheep herd was sold in 1990, the pigs were sold in 1995, and James stopped raising cattle on the farm last year after one too many episodes of them breaking through the fence.
Wayne, who farmed for 25 years with his dad and sons, works full-time as Nobles County’s Environmental Services Director in Worthington, while JoAnne retired from the U.S. Postal Service three years ago. They are both quite proud to have kept the land, farmed by Wayne’s parents and grandparents, in the family.
“We’re very proud of it,” said Wayne. “I think the good thing about it is it gives people a good opportunity to think about their heritage and ancestors.”
They plan to celebrate their farm’s century status in August. All of Wayne’s cousins are invited to the bash.
“We’re going to have a family reunion,” he said, noting that Smith cousins will be coming from as far as Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
As for the future of the Smith family farm, both Wayne and JoAnne say it will remain in the family.
“I think my sons will end up buying it,” Wayne said. “They’ve bought 80 acres from my sister already and plan on purchasing the other 220 acres.”
That, they both agree, will be a ways off, however, as they continue to enjoy farm life.
“We enjoy seeing the city grandkids out here on the farm - just enjoying the outdoors, doing the things they don’t get to do in town,” added JoAnne.