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Farm includes original land grant acres

By Staff | Oct 16, 2016

DR. EARL MAXWELL is seen at the family’s Moville-area Legacy Farm, once site of a sizable livestock operation. Its acres are now committed to row crop production.

MOVILLE – Dr. Earl Maxwell, 92, and his wife, Helen, 86, owns something special and unique to Iowa’s history – a portion of their farm acres were originally part of the land grant legacy that led to the creation of Iowa State University.

The Maxwells, along with a dozen other Iowa farm families who have original land grant acres, were honored in September at a ceremony at the Clay County Fair in Spencer.

The Maxwells said they’ve been enjoying visits from other of Iowa farm families who have been “discovered” to holding land grant acres.

ISU started a program for finding and identifying all 210,000 acres that were originally designated land grant acres during Iowa’s early settlement years.

Maxwell a retired veterinarian, continues to assist his son, Stee, at their Moville Veterinary Clinic.

DR. EARL MAXWELL and his wife, Helen, own a Woodbury County farm that includes legacy acres that originally helped support the start of what is now Iowa State University. A stained glass window from the former T. J. Stone home in Sioux City is visible in the background. Helen with an interest in antiques purchased the window when the home on Sioux City’s north side was among those demolished for previous expansion of Unity Point’s facilities in the area.

He said September’s award resulted from research by Iowa State University Extension.

Cathan Kress, vice president of ISU Extension and Outreach, initiated the search for the acres designated in 1852 for the land grant as part of the Morrill Act approved that year.

The act allowed public lands to be granted to designated states for establishing agriculture and mechanic arts colleges, allowed leasing and or sale of the lands to individual farms with proceeds flowing into establishing the respective state institutions, including what eventually was called ISU.

Maxwell, and three sons, Stee, Reed and Tad, continue to oversee operation of the family’s 488-acre farm north of Moville.

In the past, the Maxwell farm was a sizable feeder and cow-calf operation with Earl Maxwell said was one of the largest bunk-feeding operations of its time.

At present the land is primarily used for corn and soybean production.

“We made the transition as we did as the larger operation just became too much to handle,” Earl Maxwell said, “and we were finding it was getting too difficult to find the help we needed to operate efficiently.

“As grain prices were falling then as now, our main goal was to keep the farm in our family.”

Two farm homes on the site are currently rented out.

The legacy acres

The first quarter section of the Legacy acres had originally, as verified by Englesen Abstract Co., of Sioux City, was purchased in 1897 by W. H. and Dana Rawson, husband and wife. The property would eventually transition by purchase into the ownership of the Maxwells from a C. J. Logan who had in 1919 started a bank in Moville.

Earl and Helen Maxwell said another significant bit of history within the family’s memories, is that of their home in Moville, a short distance from Maxwell’s Remembrance Park near the community’s downtown area.

Their 104-year-old house had once served as home for Helen Maxwell’s uncle on her mother’s side of the family, T. J. Stone, of Sioux City, for whom Sioux City’s Stone Park was named.

The Maxwell’s recalled how they purchased the home after both had graduated from Iowa State University – Earl in veterinary medicine and Helen in child development – and following Earl’s time with a veterinary practice in Elmwood, Illinois.

Helen Maxwell said that following the couple’s post-graduation move to Illinois, her uncle thought Iowa’s Woodbury County terrain was a good place to raise livestock suggest they move back to Sioux City.

Helen said thy met in 1947 at ISU following her future husband’s return from World War II. She said ISU was a good place for a single girl to be because, “at that time there were nine fellows for every girl.”

The Maxwells continued their close association with ISU being honored in 1977 as the university’s Parents of the Year.

Earl Maxwell said the return to Woodbury County, with financing help from Helen’s grandfather, W.W. McGrath, led to the success of his veterinary practice and the farm.

“Our decision to return to northwest Iowa was a good one,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working with livestock as a veterinarian and the outside work that has part of farming

“A part of this was knowing that there was always something new to be learned and to keep up with.”

Maxwell has served several terms as president of the Interstate Veterinarians Association.

The Maxwells said the history surrounding their home and the land grant acres is but a part of their appreciation of life in a rural northwest Iowa community.

“The peacefulness of living here is also important to us,” Helen said. She added the unexpected observances of wildlife sightings in one instance, the sighting of four newly born raccoon babies (later taken to the farm) after being dropped from a large tree visible from their dining room.

Likewise, she said was the watching – and hearing – of the arrival of a number of turkey vultures flying in to claim the same tree at one time.

These loud visitors, Helen said, had previously been tenants if you will of trees in near-by Kingsley where community leaders had frightened the feathered residents away with the playing of loud music.

A ladder still positioned against the Maxwells’ tree more or less symbolizes readiness for such a measure if needed with the help of their grandson to discourage any future stop-overs by the vultures, Helen said.

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