Garfield Farm: A Living History Farm

Visit Garfield Farm in Illinois for a farming-before-power living farm experience


| November 2000



Garfield Farm and the stage-coach inn.

Garfield Farm and the stage-coach inn.

Garfield Farm: Farming Before Power

Many living history farms focus on an era just after the first World War. Visitors learn of the impact of mechanization on agriculture. But Garfield Farm, just outside Chicago, looks further back than that: the era it re-creates is the 1840s. Predating tractors and technology, Garfield Farm was built when the preferred power – the only power – was generated by animals.

Garfield Farm's roots go back to 1841, when Timothy Garfield settled there, moving from Vermont with his wife and eight children. He farmed and operated a stagecoach stop, later expanding to include a taproom and ballroom. After the railroad displaced the stagecoach, the family concentrated on its farm operation, converting to a dairy in 1859.

The 281-acre farmstead, located in Chicago's suburbs, is nearly totally surrounded by residential and commercial developments. But Jerome Johnson, executive director of the facility, says it's important to preserve that island of rural tradition.

"We use this to get people onto a farmstead," he says. "This is the last generation where everyone's Uncle Joe had a farm. For many children (visiting Garfield Farm), this is their first time to be on a farm."

A unique feature at the farm is a native prairie preserve, making Garfield Farm one of the most intact historic farms in the country. Visitors also will be charmed by a stagecoach inn (currently under restoration) dating to 1846. Relics original to the home are displayed, and historic documents tell the story of farm life in the 1840s.

Other features at Garfield Farm: an 1849 horse barn, 1906 dairy barn, 1842 hay barn and an 1890s granary. Livestock and plantings on the farm are typical of those of the 1840s. The "Heirloom Garden" is packed with vegetables and flowers popular more than 100 years ago. Many are rare today; most of those at Garfield Farm were obtained from the restored gardens at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia. Elva Garfield, the granddaughter of the farm's original owner, donated the land and buildings in 1977. Since then, several of the buildings have been restored, and 40 acres set aside for farming. FC