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Tree farm has roots in 1850s

By Staff | Oct 22, 2016

HAROLD AND CAROL HILL, pose with their dog, July, in front of the Christmas tree shed gift shop on their Minburn-area Heritage Farm.

MINBURN – The small log cabin, on what is now an Iowa Heritage Farm in Dallas County, was the first home for the Hill family when they migrated to the state.

Built in the 1850s, it was the home of Jesse Billings Hill, his wife, Rhoda Ann Slocum, and their four children.

Hill’s ancestors originally came from Ireland. He and Rhoda Ann were born in New York, traveling to the Midwest and settling in Iowa as a married couple.

This land, which included the Hill farm of 360 acres, was first ceded by the United States government in 1842, from the Sac and Fox Native American tribes.

The land changed hands numerous times before owners Franklin S. and Isabel Graham sold the farm to Hill in 1866.

Jesse Billings Hill and Rhoda Ann Slocum Hill, taken shortly after their wedding in 1854.

The Heritage Farm, located near Minburn, is now owned by Harold and Carol Hill.

“Originally purchased for $4,200, the farm consisted of the log cabin, then later a home, a barn and a few outbuildings,” Harold Hill said.

Hospitality stop

While it was still home to the Hill family, the small log cabin became a stage coach shop. The stage route, running from Fort Des Moines to Fort Dodge, followed the north fork of the Raccoon River, from Adel.

“There are places on our farm that still show signs of wagon wheel ruts on a west-facing slope,” said Harold Hill.

The stage coach, usually drawn by two horses, ran twice a week, meeting the needs of mail delivery and passenger transportation. The mail rate for a single folded sheet to be delivered 400 miles or more was 25 cents.

Travel by stage, though popular at the time, had its inconveniences – dusty roads, mud, blizzards, prairie fires and robberies, to name a few.

The Western Stage Co., operating this route, necessitated an increased demand for lodging, meals, livery stables and blacksmith services.

Thus, at one time, the Hill family operated a hotel in the town of Minburn. The log cabin became one of the territory’s first mail stations, now known as post offices, for Pierce’s Point.

On Dec. 28, 1846, Iowa became the 29th state and the first free state west of the Mississippi. The Hill’s log cabin mail station of Pierce’s Point was renamed Minburn in 1869, when the first railroad came through the area, part of which traveled through the J.B. Hill farm.

Cost for traveling by railroad was 10 cents a mile plus a fence rail. Male passengers were required to help with line repairs when it became necessary during travels.

In 1877, J.B. and Rhoda donated a piece of their land to the original Methodist Episcopal Church. The church, built that same year, was replaced with a larger structure in 1901.

After the building burned in 1946, it was replaced with a brick church in 1949 that still stands today.

Since 1968, it has been a United Methodist church.

Agricultural census records from June 1880 show that J.B. Hill had 110 tilled acres, 60 acres of permanent meadow and pasture, 10 acres of woodland and forest, which accounts for about half of the 360 total acreage of the farm. There were 50 acres of grassland which produced 50 tons of hay, according to the report, as well as a house, barn and other assorted farm buildings listed.

The total value of the farming implements at the time of the census totaled $300, the report says.

As Minburn grew, automobiles began replacing the horse and buggy for transportation. By 1904 it became necessary to create speed limits through the business section of town, not to exceed one mile in 6 minutes. Vehicles could travel one mile per four minutes in the outer limits of town, and in the country, 20 miles per hour. Horses always had the right-of-way and vehicles were required to have good brakes, a horn and lamp.

“Over the generations, our farm grew corn, soybeans, oats, and hay. Along with the small diary operation, pigs were raised for food,” said Hill. “Horses have always been part of the farm. They were used in the past for working the land and cattle, and now we just have them for the grandkids.”

“When I was growing up, my family had a breeding and trading business with ponies,” he added. “At any given time, we had 20 or 30 ponies.”

Many renovations

Harold and Carol Hill still live in the original farm house, which was built in 1884 for $678.

“The house has seen many renovations,” said Harold Hill. “We had a rather small kitchen back when I was growing up, but I remember guests and visitors were always made to feel welcome.”

“A favorite dish my mom served was fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, some kind of greens from our garden, and always a dessert.”

Hill recalled “doing a fair amount of reading,” as his mother made weekly visits to the Minburn Library, filling a cardboard box with a variety of books that sat in the family’s living room.

“I also recall listening to radio programs like ‘The Lone Ranger,’ ‘The Shadow,’ ‘Fibber McGee and Molly,’ Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and others.”

The couple met at a summer Christian youth leadership weekend hosted by Simpson College, in Indianola. Harold was a senior, Carol a junior in high school.

Graduating in 1960, Harold attended Iowa State University where Carol joined him a year-and-a-half later.

The two were engaged in 1963, married in 1964, and graduated from college in 1965. Harold went on to graduate school, graduating with a masters in agricultural economics. The couple have three daughters; Heather, Jennifer, and Megan.

The tree farm

In 1982, the Hills expanded the farm’s operations by planting 100 trees. The following year they planted 300, and today operate Hill’s Christmas Tree Farm of Minburn.

“We started selling our first Christmas trees in the 1990s,” said Hill. “We now grow four different species of fir, two species of pine, and three of spruce. We have about eight acres of trees, which includes about 6,000 trees in various stages of growth.”

He added the pines grow the fastest, “making a nice Christmas tree in about seven to eight years. The fir and spruce trees take longer, upward to 12 years or more to make a nice tree.”

“Most of our spruces are grown for transplants, for ornamentals, or windbreaks.”

The Hills host international visitors for a farm tour and meal through the Iowa International Center. There have been more than 700 international visitors since 1990.

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