Mail-order farmhouse stands the test of time
It’s hard to miss the massive barn and iconic foursquare farmhouse at the junction of 220th Street and Neely Avenue in rural Hamilton County. With its tidy yard and signature barn quilt, the stately farm has been home to the Walker family for four generations.
Today, Jim and Patty Walker reside in the house that was originally ordered from a Montgomery Ward catalog in 1918. Jim smiles, “It’s amazing to think about that now … that it was so well-built without all today’s technology.” Truly, it was a concept ahead of its time.
This brand of forward-thinking innovation coupled with strong family connections has enabled the farm to endure the test of time. Just last summer, the family gathered at the Iowa State Fair to receive their Century Farm Award presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau.
Patty’s eyes well with pride when she remembers the day.
“It meant so much for us to have everyone there, it really is an honor,” she said.
It’s a close-knit group, and the entire family values agriculture — whether they are actively involved in the farm or support those that do — because it is in their blood and part of their history.
Deep roots in Hamilton County
Jim’s grandfather, Winfred Walker, was born in 1883 near the Clarion area. The youngest of his family, he was only 4 years old when his mother, Olive, passed away. Upon her passing, his father, William, chose to head west to Idaho but feared his young son could not manage the difficult journey.
So, “Winnie” was left in the care of their neighbors, the John Richardson family, who later moved just six miles east of Webster City. He would continue to live with the Richardsons through his 20s, when he reunited with his brothers in Canada for a period of time, but still felt a desire to return to his adopted home in Iowa.
Eventually he returned to the Kamrar area and worked for the Peter Frohling family. In 1910, he married Peter’s daughter, Nettie, and rented 80 acres near Kamrar.
In 1918, Winnie and Nettie purchased part of the Richardson farm of his youth. With materials shipped on the railroad from Washington State to the nearby settlement of Stonega, the barn was constructed first with the help of friends and neighbors. In true Midwest fashion of the time, its completion was celebrated with a dance in the hayloft.
The catalog purchase, delivery and construction of the house would follow and the Walker family moved to the new farm in 1919. Winnie and Nettie had four children: Lillian, Alvin (Jim’s father), Alice, and Winfred L.
The barn and house would see the evolution of agriculture and transportation in throughout their 100-year history. While the hayloft was home to dances and untold fun by generations of children, it was a valuable warehouse for hay and feed for an ever-evolving roster of livestock on the farm. What began as a subsistence-sized dairy herd in the early days, grew to a 30-head milking operation in the 1960s, and was replaced with a hog operation the 1970s.
By the late 1990s, the last load of hogs was sold, and Jim and his oldest son, Bill, shifted their focus on enhancing the farm’s row crop business. What began in 1918 with 40 acres worked with horses and Oliver tractors has grown to over 3,000 acres managed or rented, and farmed with GPS technology and a fleet of John Deere equipment.
A high-capacity grain system sits where a corn crib once stood, and the three-sided hog shelters were reimagined into a heated shop and office. Beef calves bounce in the pasture where milk cows once grazed. Highway 20 transformed from a gravel road to a bustling highway then back to a quiet county blacktop after the four-lane highway was added to Iowa’s map.
Although a lot has changed, the strength of the family remains the same. Operation of the business has transitioned through Winnie, Alvin, Jim and Bill; but it’s the support from the entire family tree that has allowed this farm to thrive despite the challenges of time.
The big white farmhouse appears as the backdrop in thousands of pictures of Easter egg hunts, baby showers, holiday gatherings, graduations, first cars, and homecomings. It’s seen the best of times and the worst of times, but has always been home to this family with strong connections to the land and each other.