Mill Farmhouse

Old home has new life in museum

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
The Mill Farm House, built by Cordyn Brown in 1878, is now home to the Humboldt County Historical Museum.

HUMBOLDT — What could be defined as the most popular farmhouse in Humboldt County dates back more than 100 years and fortunately, due to some hard work and funding, is now a museum for all to enjoy.

As a main attraction for the Humboldt County Historical Museum, the Mill Farm House is full of artifacts dating back to the Victorian era as well as several items telling tales of Humboldt and Humboldt County’s history.

Erica Knudson, museum director, said the Mill Farm House was built in 1878 for the Cordyn Brown Sr. family.

“Cordyn Brown was a huge farming tycoon that lived in New York. They moved around about every five years. He had a huge farming business and also had a dairy cattle business and some grocery stores from what we have been told,” said Knudson.

Like everyone else, Brown had heard of the Iowa prairie and the opportunity to come here and settle to take up these huge crop land acres.

-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
The ballroom was used for social gatherings, formal dances, holiday parties and more.

“By the 1860s, when he came here, the push was more west due to the heavy settlement population in eastern Iowa,” she said. “He came to Humboldt and saw what a dense prairie was. There were no trees. The trees you see were planted by early settlers except for those growing by the river beds.”

Brown saw the land and made the purchase sometime in the 1860s. He did not move onto the property, however, until his home was built. It is understood he lived in town with his two older sons, Walter Brown and Cordyn Brown Jr., who had made the trek to Iowa with him.

His wife, however, showed little interest in moving to Iowa.

“From what we have heard from descendants is she did not want to move from New York. She loved her upper class Victorian lifestyle there and she wanted to stay there with family,” said Knudson.

However, in 1877, it is said she brought the exact plans of the home they were currently living in, in New York and told her husband if he would build her the exact same house in Iowa, she would consider making the move.

In 1878 construction began. The Brown family used bricks created from the clay sediment found in the nearby Des Moines River. The home rests on a limestone foundation, which according to information provided by the Humboldt County Museum, was popular for structures being built at the time.

The home was completed in 1879 and Lucilla Brown, Cordyn Brown Sr.’s wife, held up her end of the bargain and moved to Iowa.

It was also in 1878 Cordyn Brown Sr. ended up buying the Mill Property that was on the corner of the land — it was his first sawmill.

“The house is called the Mill Farmhouse, and his farming operations were across the street,” said Knudson.

According to information, the last Brown family members to own the home were Walter and Grace Brown from 1930 to 1944.

Before Walter and Grace Brown retired to the home, they were living in Duluth, Minnesota. During that time, the house was occupied by farmhand tenants and other renters.

After Walter Brown’s death, Grace Brown sold the home to Ms. Clarence Kunert.

The Kunert family turned the house into an apartment complex. After some time, the farmhouse was abandoned.

In 1966, the Kunerts donated the home to the Humboldt County Historical Association to use as its main headquarters for daily operations.

With care and hard work from numerous volunteers, the museum opened its doors in 1968.

Knudson said the house is back to practically original thanks to old photos, plans and memory of when the Kunerts bought it.

“We want to say it’s almost to a ‘T’ because they didn’t change a lot of the integral pieces of the home — they just revamped the rooms. We just had to change the rooms back,” said Knudson. “We tried to keep it to how the Browns had it since they were the original owners of the home.”


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