Some of Oregon’s oldest farms to be honored by Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program
By LACEY JARRELL
An aged oak canopy shades Melvin Van Domelen as he flips through pages of in a gray loose-leaf binder.
The neatly written cursive penned by Van Domelen tells the story of family members buried in a private cemetery just outside North Plains, Ore. More than 30 of his ancestors are buried there, Van Domelen said, including John Dobbins, his great-great grandfather and the first of his family to come West.
Van Domelen, 81, his wife, Mary Ellen, and their two daughters, own 13 acres of the original 320-acre ranch founded by John Dobbins’s son, Flemmon Dobbins, in 1851. Five generations have lived on the property, which is now divided among Dobbins decendents.
This year, the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program is recognizing the Van Domelen property as a 150-year-old Sesquicentennial Farm. Ten farms and ranches from eight Oregon counties will also be recognized as Century Farms for remaining in the same family for 100 years.
The farm’s two-story Craftsman bungalow, built by the Dobbins in 1910, still stands today. In the 1930s, the home was known as the “Halfway House,” a mid-point rest place for those traveling by horse and wagon between stump farms in the foothills and Hillsboro, Van Domelen said. Over the years the property has been home to a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a community center.
The land has since been divided among family members. Van Domelen’s sister now owns the bungalow, but he still cherishes memories of spending summer nights with his siblings on the sleeping porch and his mother’s extraordinary holiday meals made from farm products.
“She didn’t think it was a good year unless she canned up 300 jars of fruit,” he said.
During World War II, Van Domelen’s father grew peas, victory oats, and flax. In 1961, Van Domelen and his wife completed the home they live in, which sits in a small oak grove on the site of the area’s first grade school. He worked in the nursery industry until he retired in 2000.
“I bought one and one third acre from my parents for $500 and eight cord of wood. They really knew how to drive a hard bargain,” Van Domelen said.
Today, 12 acres of the farm is leased. On the remainder of the property, Van Domelen grows nursery stock and his oldest daughter, Vanessa, grows produce to sell at the North Plains farmers’ market. She said she hopes to see the farm to its bicentennial anniversary.
“No matter what, my sister and I want to keep the property in agricultural production,” Vanessa said.
Here is a list of properties receiving 100-year recognition from Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program:
Adelman Farms was established in 1904 when John Adelman, a Hungarian blacksmith, purchased this 21-acre plot about two miles south Gervais. Adelman and his family initially grew walnuts, filberts, prunes, hops, and grain. In the 1950s, John’s grandsons were known for their large-scale gooseberry production, which spanned the farm’s 21 acres, plus an additional 19. The original 21 acres plus another 81 is owned by John’s six great-grandsons. A portion of the property is leased to 4B Farms and the rest is managed by the Adelman family. Nearly 10 acres are devoted to growing wholesale Christmas trees and the remainder are used for grass seed, wheat, alder pulp, sugar beet seed, and produce.
Cersovski Family Farm
This 86-acre farm was founded by Joseph and Theresa Cersovski in 1913. Originally 161-acres, the Cersovski’s Harrisburg farm began as a dairy and cattle operation. Now, three grandsons oversee production of grass seed, clover, vegetable seeds, and meadowfoam. The home is on the Linn County Historical Registry.
Edward Mehlhorn Farm
Louis and Catherine Mehlhorn founded this 80-acre Pine Valley farm in 1894. Four years later, the couple’s son, Edward, purchased the property. The farm became incorporated into Baker County in 1903, and soon after, Edward and his brothers founded the Mehlhorn Sawmill in the hills surrounding the property. The mill processed Ponderosa pine and in a woodshop on the farm, the brothers handcrafted ornate furniture and fruit boxes that were sent to farmers throughout the area.
Nine original structures still stand on the farm, including the Mehlhorn home, which was built in 1917. Edward’s step daughter, Mardelle Ebell, now manages the property.
J.T. Walton Ranch
In 1901, Katherine Gaffney Johnson and Felix Johnson founded 360 acres near the Middle Fork of the John Day River in the Blue Mountains. Four original structures still stand on the property, including a two-story home built in 1903. The home now has five-bedrooms thanks to additions made by the family; the last was in 1941.
The ranch originally produced Hereford cows, grain, and hay. The farm is now 10,000 acres and in addition to cattle and hay, timber is a ranch product. Joseph Walton, the couple’s great-grandson, has lived at the J.T. Walton Ranch his entire life.
The Johnson Ranch was founded 1913 by Charles A. and Matty D. Johnson near Fossil in Wheeler County. The property has grown from 212 acres in 1913 to more than 2,900 acres in three locations. Stone Cabin Creek borders one edge of the main property, and Butte Creek runs through the ranch. Ranch efforts focus on cattle, timber, and habitat restoration and conservation.
The Johnson’s daughter-in-law and her son manage the ranch. In recent years, the two have planted native trees on the property and have overseen stream restoration by removing man-made obstructions.
Albert H. Powers founded the Powers Ranch in Coos County in 1913. Powers established the ranch as a three-parcel property. He raised beef cattle to feed the nearby timber workers living in nearby logging camps. In addition to logging, the ranch has been used to raise Hereford cattle and champion Percheron draft horses and has operated as a Grade A Dairy.
The ranch is now spans 14,000 acres in four separate locations throughout Coos County.
The application for the Century Farm certification was applied for by a fourth-generation Powers, who now manage the Powers Ranch Co.
Smith Family Homestead
Alex Smith, founder of the Smith homestead in Baker County in 1913 by, was born in Sweden and arrived in America in 1881. He changed his given name, Gustophuseon, after arriving in New York.
The 161-acre homestead was originally used to grow grain and hay and to raise cattle. It also served as a stopover for people traveling west on the Oregon Trail. Travelers would often stop overnight to collect water from a spring near Smith’s two-story farmhouse, which is still partially standing today.
Today, descendants of Smith run about 600 cattle on the homestead. The accumulated acreage of the ranch total 8,238 acres, and family is anticipating another Century Ranch honor when a 160-acre property founded by the family of Alex Smith’s daughter-in-law reaches its 100-year anniversary in 2015.
T.A. Lieuallen Farm
Thomas Asbury Lieuallen founded his 80-acre farm in Umatilla County in 1913 near the city of Adams. Thomas was the first mayor of the town, and his 80-acre farm supported a number of crops and livestock, including soft white wheat, alfalfa, hay, mules, cattle, and pigs.
In 1998, the farm was selected as Umatilla County Conservation Farm of the Year for the family’s efforts to preserve topsoil and prevent erosion. Today it encompasses almost 2,500 acres, where white winter wheat, green peas and alfalfa hay are grown and black Angus cattle are raised.
Three Oaks Farm
Three families -- the Rosses, Finlaysons, and the Cruickshanks -- founded Three Oaks
Farm in 1913. On the 126-acre Yamhill County farm, the families produced peas, oats, alfalfa hay, and wheat. They also raised sheep dogs, hogs, chickens, and dairy cows.
In 1940, when irrigation was incorporated into the farm operation, livestock was replaced with grass, clover, and beet seed. In the 100 years the farm has been in existence, it has only been reduced by six acres. Remaining Cruickshank family members farm wheat, oats, and alfalfa.
W.H. Reeder’s WestFork Farm
This 320-acre farm was founded near Pendleton in 1877 by William H. and Alice Reeder. Today, the couple’s great-grandson, Clinton Reeder, and Clinton’s wife own 240 acres of the original 320 acres. They work with Oregon State University’s Agricultural Research Center to produce experimental garbanzo beans, canola, lentils, dry peas, and mustard.
Other Reeder descendants own portions of the 1,280-acre farm. An ice house insulated with saw dust and a milk house converted into an office space still stand on the property. When researching WestFork’s history, Clinton learned 1877 was a busy year for his family: While William was homesteading WestFork, Clintons great-great grandfather homesteaded a property just three miles away.