Step onto a working 1860s farm. Pick heirloom vegetables from the garden, visit the farmhands and animals at the barn, or churn butter and see what’s cooking in the farmhouse. Oliver H. Kelley and his family began farming the land on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1850. Kelley was the founder of the first successful national farming organization, the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange. The Kelley Farm is recognized as “The birthplace of organized agriculture in America” and remains an active working farm providing demonstrations of historic farming and homestead techniques and traditions.
The Oliver H. Kelley Farm is part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s network of 26 historic sites and museums. It is a National Historic Landmark. The Oliver H. Kelley Farm is a great choice for holding rental events including meetings, luncheons, birthday parties, weddings, picnics, and more.
A Little History
In 1849, Minnesota Territory was established with a population of fewer than 6,000 settlers. With few towns and a widely scattered population, farmers raised the food and most of the supplies for their own families, providing little for trade to stores or markets. As the territory grew, improved transportation routes and better farming techniques allowed farmers to supply food for new settlers and growing cities.
Although he knew little about farming in 1850, Oliver H. Kelley staked a claim at the new town of Itasca on the Mississippi River near present-day Elk River. He became a “book farmer,” learning the latest farming techniques from agricultural journals and by corresponding with other “scientific-oriented” farmers. In a short time, he became an expert on farming in Minnesota. He learned firsthand the impact that debt, weather, insects and crop failures can have on a farmer, and his farm life was one of struggle and hardship.
In his later years, Kelley was known as co-founder of the National Grange, a fraternal organization of farm families. The Kelleys owned the farm until 1901.
The National Grange purchased the farm in 1935 and donated it to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1961. At this National Historic Landmark, visitors become involved in living history demonstrations of the work and play of daily life for Oliver H. Kelley’s family and other farmers in mid-19th-century Minnesota. Join us at the farm and explore the following pages to learn more about Kelley, farm life and our tour programs.