FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 5, 2007
CONTACT: Caneta Hankins, 615-898-2947
MADISON COUNTY FARM JOINS RANKS OF CENTURY FARMS PROGRAM
Coburn Farm 11th Property in County to be Recognized for Agricultural Contributions
(MURFREESBORO)—The Coburn Farm in Madison County has been designated as a Tennessee Century Farm, reported Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms Program at the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP), which is located on the MTSU campus.
In 1853, John W. West and Sarah Ann Dickinson were married. As parents of 10 children, they were the founders of a family that continues to farm in Madison County today.
During the Civil War, John W. West served in Company M of the 7th Cavalry, along with his brother-in-law, James E. Dickinson, from May 1863 until the end of the conflict. While John was away, Union troops camped on the farm and according to the family, they “expected to be fed from the West’s kitchen.” When one of the soldiers made an inappropriate remark, one of John and Sarah’s daughters, chased him from the kitchen with her frying pan.
In 1875, during the last days of Reconstruction, John acquired a 125-acre farm. On this property the family produced typical crops and livestock including cotton, corn, sorghum, wheat, oats, hay, cattle, swine and horses. Typical of self-sufficient farms of the 19th century, the West family maintained a vegetable garden and an apple orchard.
The next owner of the property was Sarah’s sister, Emma Jane Rose Dickinson, and her husband, James E. Dickinson. While managing the farm, James served as an active member of the Primitive Baptist Church and rode his horse many miles to attend services wherever they were being held. In addition, he crafted spinning wheels and provided veterinary services for his neighbors’ animals. In 1898, the two-story Victorian farmhouse caught on fire. According to the family’s records, Emma shepherded her children to safety in the barn while instructing oldest daughter Ora to blow the conch horn to summon the men from the fields. Everything the family owned was lost with the exception of a spinning wheel. Not long after, the farmhouse was rebuilt and this house still stands today.
The third generation to own the land was Edgar Hays Pentecost and Bettie Pace Dickinson Pentecost, who was John W. West’s niece. The couple acquired the farm in 1924 and, with their seven children, raised cotton, corn, cattle, swine, peas, hay, sorghum, fruit, orchards and a vegetable garden. In 1943, Edgar passed away and Bettie continued on the farming operation with the help of their son, Burnie. Bettie was active in the Home Demonstration Club while Burnie and his wife, Jeanette, worked at the ASCS office. In later years, Burnie worked for the Tennessee Forestry Service, along with his brother, Thomas. Another brother, Kenneth, retired to the farm and lived there until his death in 1984.
In 1974, Mary Louise Coburn, daughter of Edgar and Bettie, acquired 45 acres. Prior to owning this property, Mary and husband Hubert Coburn farmed in Haywood County, where she was an active member in the Home Demonstration Club. Hubert was a charter member of the Haywood Farmers Cooperative and a member of the Farm Bureau. An avid conservationist, he built terraces to control erosion, practiced crop rotation and provided wildlife habitats. In addition to his conservation efforts, Hubert also designed a dairy barn that relieved him from lifting heavy containers of milk; an electric auger system for distributing silage along a feed trough; and an okra cutter that was used appreciatively by many farm laborers.
While Hubert did many of the outside chores, Mary Louise maintained the home and canned and froze the vegetable and fruits that were produced on the farm. Three daughters participated in 4-H and Future Homemakers of American.
In 1993, Hubert died, and today, the couple’s oldest daughter, Harriet, assists her mother in managing the farm. Currently, the land produces row crops and is worked by Steve and Keith Sullivan of Brownsville. The Big Black Creek Historical Association Inc. has placed a sign in front of Emma and James’s house and the land is in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program.
The Coburn Farm is the 11th Century Farm to be recognized in Madison County, Hankins said.
The Century Farm Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have continuously owned, and kept in production, family land for at least 100 years. Since 1984, the CHP at MTSU has been a leader in the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farm Program, and continues to administer this program.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) began the Tennessee Century Farm Program in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial. Today the TDA provides a metal outdoor sign, noting either 100, 150 or 200 years of “continuous agricultural production” to Century Farm families.
To be considered for eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years; must produce $1,000 revenue annually; must have at least 10 acres of the original farm; and one owner must be a resident of Tennessee.
“The Century Farmers represent all the farm families of Tennessee,” Hankins said, “and their contributions to the economy, and to the social, cultural, and agrarian vitality of the state, both past and present, is immeasurable. Each farm is a Tennessee treasure.”
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit its Web site at http://histpres.mtsu.edu/histpres. The Center for Historic Preservation also may be contacted via mail at Box 80, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37132, or by telephone at 615-898-2947.
ATTENTION, MEDIA: To interview Hankins or the farm’s owners, please contact the CHP directly at 615-898-2947.