Oldest family farm on record in Moultrie at 178 years
by Keith Stewart
James Patterson, along with his son James and his grandson Levi, first came to Sullivan in 1832. Six years later, the family farm was established through a land grant just off of present-day Patterson road (no coincidence). Through eight generations the farm stayed in the family–all 178 years–eventually finding its way to Daniel Terzo Jr. and sister Leslie Coretti, the great grandchildren, five times over, of the first James Patterson. And more recently, in light of this fact, the family farm was honored through the Illinois Department of Agriculture sesquicentennial farm program.
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“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Terzo. “I was here last summer and saw another farm in Westervelt that had sesquicentennial status, but I thought, ‘Wait–ours beats that.’”
In order to apply, the agricultural property must be owned by a straight or collateral line of descendants for at least 150 years, or 100 years for the centennial distinction, which Terzo’s farm previously received.
After figuring his family farm at 178 years old, Terzo went back home to California and dug out the abstracts for the farm and sent them to be verified. From there, he sent his application to Springfield to the Department of Agriculture. A few weeks later, the placard recognizing the farm’s status was delivered to his Sullivan neighbors Mike and Donna Fowler.
“Then we had Clay Brush and one of his guys make a sign holder,” added Terzo.
The property was officially christened with its sign two weeks ago Wednesday.
And though most would have previously passed the farmland unsuspecting, the property does still boast the original hog trough that Daniel’s great-grandfather Perry erected in the late 1880s. Predating it was a homestead, built in 1853 by Daniel’s great-great-grandfather Donty; the homestead later burned to the ground when lightening struck it in 1947.
The farm, which was home to several cedar trees, was known as Cedar Dale Farm. Donty had received the farm from his father Levi, who also served as the founder of the First Christian Church, according to Terzo. After Donty passed on, his son Perry inherited the farm. Perry was an innovator, being one of the first in Moultrie to have a telephone and indoor plumping. He also installed a compressor that heated the slop fed to his pigs in winter. After Perry, the farm went to Terzo’s grandmother Nellie, then his mother Patsy, who passed on in 2004.
Terzo, who makes a point to come back to Sullivan twice a year, has for the last 15 years paid homage to the family farm by having small wine and cheese get-togethers at the hog trough.
“It started about 15 years ago when a friend and I came back. We just sat out there with wine and cheese and people would stop by and ask what were were doing, and it just grew from there,” explained Terzo.
“We were out in the garden, my husband and I, when a neighbor stopped by and said that there were people out there with chairs and a table set up, eating cheese and crackers,” recalled Fowler of several years ago. “So I told my husband Mike, ‘We have to go figure out who they are.’ So we jumped in our car and drove down.”
It was the start of what remains a growing friendship between the neighbors.
“Meeting at the hog trough is so much fun,” said Fowler. “He tells stories of his grandparents and great grandparents that had the brick home across the street…we just reminisce. He always brings pictures back of what it looked like.”
The tradition was no different two weeks ago when Terzo was in town; he and approximately 12 other friends gathered at the trough and even added a bonfire for good measure.
“I met the Terzos early in my first term as mayor when we, as a council, wanted to annex his farm ground which was contiguous to the city limits,” explained Sullivan mayor Ann Short. “I approached them at the hog trough because I had been told that is where they go to honor their ancestors. They were there, and I joined with them in a glass of wine. I found the Terzo’s to be most interesting, and they shared with me their eventual plans for the property upon their retirement. They were interested in my proposal that we annex their farm ground and abate any city property taxes until such time as the property be developed from farm ground. Part of the agreement was that the hog trough, which holds historical significance to them, not be disturbed.”
“It’s part of Sullivan’s history,” said Terzo. “It’s still farmed. Since 1949, the property has only had two farmers: Ed McClure and then the Sentel family. Dave Sentel farms it now, but his dad and brothers have too. They care for it so much–like it’s theirs.”
“We do our best,” said Dave. “It’s a nice piece of ground. We always take pride in it, as if we had ownership of it. It’s an iconic piece of property.”
Terzo’s family farm marks Moultrie’s fourth to be officially recognized by the Department of Agriculture as a sesquicentennial farm, yet the former Cedar Dale Farm is the oldest, dating back to 1838.
“They would be pretty proud,” said Terzo of his deceased descendants. “The only downfall is my sister and I are the last. It will stay like it is until we’re gone, but we’ve made arrangements to pass it on to people who are like family to us. We’ll see if they keep it another 150 years.”