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Farm History

We've already discussed the federal land sales in a previous topic. There were ready buyers and most of the properties were sold quickly. A few low and swampy properties were the last to sell.

We've already presented biographies of our early settlers in a previous topic. Word of Millburn was sent back to friends and family to move here. Quite a few of these early settlers came directly to Millburn from Scotland.

Early settler life was harsh. Often, an exhausted family would arrive, having spent the bulk of their worth for travel and property purchase. We know that many first dwelling buildings were made of sod. Their next house would be of logs. Our first house of worship and school building, built in 1840, was made of logs. About 1845, board siding started to appear on houses.

Our farmers used teams of oxen and horses to clear and till the soil. We have one of the oxen yokes on display in our museum. We know little about the early farm life, since no journals or records have been found. We can gather a glimpse of a farmer's posessions, by reviewing public auction sales bills that we've found. Here are some of the oldest: November, 1890, January, 1896, February, 1900, and October, 1900. There are many more, use our search with "auction" as a keyword.

We have several plats of the farms around the village, from various years, on our map exhibits page. Some family farms got larger. Some families sold out and moved further west.

Though work was hard, our farm families did know how to enjoy themselves. There were often elaborate affairs, such as this one, held in 1856.

In 1859, the Millburn Agricultural Association was organized and held the first fair in Millburn. Diploma style premiums were distributed among the winners. newspaper coverage about this event.

When farmers began to develop herds of registered stock, about the turn of the century, they needed a means of identifying animals.

Our Millburn farmers incorporated the award winning Millburn Creamery Company in 1899.

Our farmers thirsted for knowledge...how to raise better crops, how to improve their herds, how to use the newest farm implements. A Farmer's Institute came into being, in association with the University of Illinois. Several of these institutes were held in Millburn. Read newspaper coverage from 1901.

In the late 1950s, Esther and Tempel Smith, Sr. began buying up local farms. Many farmhouses and outbuildings were torn down for the open space. The Smiths continued farming with an all grain operation on several thousand acres. The remaining local family farming and dairying operations continued for only a few more decades. 

Tempel Farms, a subsidiary of Tempel Steel Company, is a prominent feature in the village. The main farm is located on the former John F. Jelke estate, Good Luck Farm. The late Esther and Tempel Smith, Sr. imported 20 lipizzans from Austria, Hungary, and Yugoslavia in 1958. Tempel Farms Lipizzans have performed in the Chicago area as well as at several presidential inaugurals and Madison Square Garden. "Tempel Farms is the only place in the United States where they breed, train, and perform these rare white horses." (www.tempelfarms.com/History.html)  At one time, Tempel Farms had the largest herd of Lipizzans in the United States. Today, people come from all over to watch the famed Tempel Lipizzans perform.Esther and Tempel Smith's children and grandchildren continue the family tradition. The tradition begun at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna continues right here in the Village of Old Mill Creek today! 

In our present day, most of the farm land to the west and south of Millburn has been developed as suburban housing. The Village of Old Mill Creek—which includes Millburn at its western borders—has thousands of acres of gently rolling hills and farmland. The owners of the remaining pristine, undeveloped acreage have not yet succumbed to the pressures of commercial and residential developers. But, by and large, farming has ceased to be as important as it was as a way of life in years gone by.