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Farm's 100 years of history is mostly unknown

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Bonnie and Gary Hockett of Backus will host an open house Saturday, June 29, to celebrate their family farm’s centennial year.

Through sparse stories told by her father and the manifest of the property’s ownership history, Bonnie knew that the property’s centennial was coming, but not much else is known about her 480-acre farm that’s east of Backus on the corner of 16th Avenue and Highway 87. That’s because much of that history was lost with the death of her great-grandfather, Michael Smith. Even more of that history was lost upon the death of her grandparents.

“There’s nobody that can tell us. My grandmother and grandfather died when my dad was 9 and 12, so he was pretty young,” Bonnie said. “There’s a lot of the history we just don’t know.”

It didn’t help that Bonnie’s father, Kenneth Smith, was somewhat close-mouthed.

“He never had much to say about his childhood. I think because he lost his parents at such a young age,” Bonnie said.

He did, however, tell her how her grandfather purchased glass windows, nails and other building materials he couldn’t mill from lumber.

“My dad always said my grandfather took red clover seed to town to buy the nails and the glass and the stuff he didn’t have here for the house and the barn,” Bonnie said.

The farm has always been a small family farm, producing beef, or milk, or feed throughout its existence. Michael Smith bought the farm in 1913. His son, Glen Smith, homesteaded on the property and added onto it in 1916, and Bonnie’s father, Kenneth, purchased it in 1946 after returning from the service.

“We moved here in 1973 to take care of my father, then he passed away, so my husband and I purchased it from my sister, Debbie Gearey,” Bonnie said.

Today the property has a barn and a house from 1919, and a grainery from around 1917. Other historical buildings were once on the property, but they have either fallen down or been taken down over the years.

There was once a house turned corn crib, which was where the family lived before 1919, as well as an ice house, which Kenneth turned into a playhouse for his daughters, complete with real furniture.

The 1919 family home has been remodeled twice — once in 1975, and again in 1989. A porch was added to the house this spring. Throughout all of these remodels, the Hockett family has been careful to reuse as many historical materials as possible.

“We try not to throw much away; it’s kind of our goal,” Bonnie said.

In celebration of the farm’s centennial, Bonnie applied to the Minnesota Century Farms program and is being honored at the state and county fairs this year. In addition, Bonnie and her sister, Debbie, decided to hold an open house for friends, family, neighbors and anyone interested in seeing the 100-year-old property.

“We’re just going to have anybody that wants to come and have a piece of cake and visit with us. Hopefully we will be able to renew old friendships and that kind of thing,” Bonnie said. “Anybody that has an interest is invited.”

Visitors are invited to come and chat with family and neighbors over memories of the farm and its inhabitants. There will be a light lunch.