Anoka County Historical Society: Century Farms

Audra Hilse's picture

Anoka County is fortunate to have many Century Farms – farms that have been in the same family for more than 100 years. The Anoka County Historical Society, in addition to having the history and background of these farms, also has wonderful oral interviews from many of these families (available here on our website). Sometimes, we are also fortunate enough to be given donations of papers and artifacts which further document the stories of these long-time Anoka County residents.

Some of the Century Farms are actually well past the 100 year mark, as is the case for the Peterson Farm in St. Francis, which has been owned by the Peterson family for 130 years in 2017. Originally purchased by Louis (or Lewis) Peterson on May 31, 1887, he and his wife Christina lived there until their deaths in 1932 and 1941. Louis did logging and blacksmithing, as well as running the farm. Both were Swedish immigrants, and they had four children: Edward, Esther, Arthur, and William.

The farm stayed with William, who married Mary Mattson in 1931. Known as “Big Bill” for his height (6’ 3”), William primarily did dairy farming with Mary’s help. She was a cheerful woman, and he was well-respected and loved throughout the St. Francis community. They had one son, Graydon, and lived most of their lives on the farm. William passed away in 1979, Mary in 1984.

Graydon, after joining the Marines and then working at IBM for 30 years, returned to the Peterson farm with his wife Helen (Dawson) and their three children after his father’s death in 1979. The original farm house still stands on the property (with many additions and remodels over the years), as do the original chicken coop, pig shed and parts of the original barn.

Along with these long-standing buildings, many of the family’s possessions from over the years have also been preserved, and Graydon and Helen recently brought some of these to ACHS as a donation. Graydon was born at home in 1936, and some of the clothes that he wore when he was young were put away and saved. In addition to several small outfits, a (synthetic) fur overcoat and hat, there were also four pairs of small children’s shoes that were part of this donation. Unusually, all four pairs are still in their original shoe boxes, although all of them were obviously worn at some point. The nicer pair is blue, and was likely worn only when Graydon dressed up, possibly for church on Sundays or for family events. The other pair, well-worn and scuffed, is a little set of brown work boots; one can easily picture a young boy tromping around the farm in them, at work or at play. Graydon remembers being told by his father that he wanted to be an auctioneer when he was little, and would often auction off the calves to an imaginary audience. He learned to hand-milk the cattle from his father, and helped around the farm until he graduated from St. Francis High School and joined the Marines in 1954.

Children’s clothing and shoes (especially in their original shoe boxes), are scarce in the ACHS collections, as these types of things were often used until they were completely worn out and not worth keeping anymore. It is possible that the unique combination of Graydon being an only child, and the late-Depression era mentality which encouraged families to save everything, preserved these particular garments and shoes. It is these quirks of history, and the generosity of donors like Graydon and Helen, that allow us such concrete glimpses into Anoka County’s past.