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Run-down farmstead turning into a living history showcase
By Scott Thompson
Farm World Contributor

GREENVIEW, Ill. — Travelers riding down Rte. 29 through the central Illinois town of Greenview had always noticed ‘the mansion’. A showplace in its glory days, for years it had languished at the edge of town, crumbling and tottering a little more each year. Once it was home to the Marbold family and their prized cattle herd. Now dilapidated outbuildings only hinted of the magnificent farmstead the place had once been.

But the past few years have seen a restoration of the old 1850s homestead that is nothing short of miraculous. And one Saturday in April, teams of workhorses once again plowed the soil as they had done a long time ago.

The Historic Marbold Farmstead Association was organized to restore the place as a living history farm and a place for artisans and craftsmen to show their wares at annual events.

One such event took place in early April as the Farmstead hosted their annual Heritage Plow Day. More than two dozen draft horses pulled riding and walking plows across the fields that have only known rubber tractor tires for generations. But tractors were not left out. Another field, a short hike across the woods, was set aside for antique tractor plowing.

A walk through the overgrown timber revealed the ghosts of days gone by. Old tumbledown corncribs and barns sat surrounded by rusty machinery. Gas lighting pipes run through the area, hinting that this was a progressive farm in its day.

But the main attraction of the Marbold Farmstead is the house itself. The two-story brick structure, nearly gutted by the ravages of time and vandalism, is being completely restored. A boiler house provided a steam heating system, nearly unheard of in turn-of-the-century farmhouses. An icehouse, smoke house and milk parlor sat behind the home.

At the plow day, artisans spun wool, played old-time musical instruments and sold wares from another time and place.

If old farmsteads have feelings, this one must have been relieved to have folks visiting again, relaxing on the front porch and sitting in the grass like the old days. The gentle giants pulling plowshares through the rich Menard County soil looked right at home here, as if they had never really left.

“We want to get as many people involved as we possibly can,” said Barbara VanDyke Brown, president of the association and a descendent of John H. Marbold who built the home.

At one time the Marbold farm boasted nearly 6,000 acres, raising draft horses and livestock. Brown is excited about the prospects for the living history farm, located 21 miles north of Springfield, Ill.

“So many people have driven by this house so many times and wondered what the story was behind it,” she said.

If the Historic Marbold Farmstead Association has their way, many of them will get their chance to find out.

The next event is August 6, a picnic featuring live music and entertainment. For more information on the Marbold farm and other events, call Barbara VanDyke-Brown at 217-227-3514.

This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.