By CINDY LADAGE
GREENVIEW, Ill. — The Marbold Farmstead once consisted of more than 4,000 acres, a self-sufficient farm with several barns, dairy, chicken house, smokehouse, icehouse, boiler house and pump house.
The graceful mansion that John Marbold, a German immigrant, built is today a shadow of its former glory, but plans are under way to showcase the site’s unique history as a Living Farm Museum. The Historic Marbold Farmstead Assoc. formed to purchase, restore and preserve this space for future generations.
Charlotte Wohler, Leona Edwards and Susan Wilson, three of the members, shared history about this site. Marbold Farmstead is located at 21722 State Highway 29, approximately one mile south of Greenview and 20 miles north of Springfield.
Marbold, born May 7, 1800, in Hanover, began life with the name Johann Wernsing. His name changed because his childless aunt could only pass on her estate without it being seized by the government to a legal heir of the same surname. In 1820, he was adopted and became John Marbold.
Marbold, a successful farmer, married Marie Sherborn. They had six children, and lost three. Marie died in 1843 and in 1846 his brother returned to Germany from Petersburg, Ill., where he ran a dry goods store, whereupon he convinced Marbold and the children to move to Illinois and start anew.
The Marbolds lived in Petersburg three years, then purchased 200 acres and immediately began construction of the home they called Elmwood. “The house was built between 1850 and 1853,” Wilson said.
Marbold’s son, Henry “H.H.,” was 12 at the time of the move and gained practical experience in farming and cattle trading. The Marbolds bought Percheron horses, and their cattle operation was so massive they had their own stockyard across the road. Cattle were driven from the stockyard into Greenview to the railroad and shipped to Chicago.
H.H. married Margaret Hackman, an immigrant from Germany, and over the years expanded his father’s holdings to 4,000 acres. “H.H. and his father sponsored a lot of German immigrants and placed them on tenant farms around Greenview,” Wohler said. “H.H. was a huge livestock producer with hogs, cattle and sheep.”
The Marbold household employed two girls and 5-6 hired men. The family did their own butchering and milking. One extravagance was an icehouse built in 1902 that stored 200-300 pounds of ice, cut from the pond and dragged there by horses.
Once there was an orchard of apples, peaches, cherries and blackberries. The chicken house was said to have been very elaborate; “H.H. constructed it. He thought outside the box,” Wohler added.
Other examples of this thinking included gas lanterns that worked from methane gas along with the boiler heating the farmstead and outbuildings. “There was a big boiler building. Steam was brought through underground clay pipes. Even the outhouse was heated by these pipes,” she said.
H.H, a Menard County Judge in 1865, used profits from the farm along with other partners to open a bank in Greenview. Eventually he became the sole owner. In 1908, H.H. built a new bank and on April 4, 1915, he died.
Of his surviving three children his son Benjamin Franklin, or B.F., lived in the family homestead and took over the bank. Said to be generous to a fault, B.F. was not able to keep the family fortune intact when the days of the Depression began nipping at their heels. He was forced to sell land when the bank foreclosed in 1927.
More than 1,500 people from five states came to the sale. Plots of land went to different owners and the land with the farmstead and outbuilding went to Carl Miller, who hired tenant farmers to live in the house. Miller died and the house was empty until purchased in 1973 by Bruce and Robert Hansen.
The brothers planned to restore the home and open it to the public. But restoration came to a standstill and in 2004 the Historic Marbold Farmstead Assoc. was formed.
At first the members’ only thought was to hold ice cream socials and keep the memory of this historic property alive. Then in March of this year, they were able to purchase the property, and have been trying to raise funds to restore and preserve the homes and buildings and pay off the mortgage.
In 2012, the Landmarks of Illinois designated this property as one of its “Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites,” emphasizing the importance of the farmstead. The Association is a nonprofit organization and its vision is to “build a living history farm where the public, including students and future farmers, can connect with farming methods of the past and present.”
To learn more about donating, volunteering, or purchasing tickets for an event, log onto www.historic-marbold- farmstead.org or call 217-968-5808 for details.