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paxton-chapman-farmhouse

The four-square farmhouse sits on a rise above the broad sweep of rich land bisected by the Middlefork of the Vermilion River. In the center of Ford County, the last county to be formed in the state of Illinois, the glacial swales are not prominent here, but sufficiently high to see every other rise in the area, including the town of Paxton, the highest point between Chicago and Cairo on the Illinois Central Railroad. Along that ridge a native trail wound above the surrounding marshland, known in historic times as the Ottawa Trail, with respect to the travels of the tribe that used it before and after the battles of Pontiac and later Tippecanoe. We found a variety of projectile points and tools along that ridge, dating from different centuries, unusual because no water source on that land provided the locale for village sites, as were common two miles lower along the riverbanks.

Why is this land so important to me? Fifty-four years ago it saved my family, my hopes for the future, and my sense of a secure place in the world. My father had lost the lease on the 320 acres on which we had lived for twelve years. I was sixteen years old.

For months he had searched for another farm or another job, without any encouraging possibilities. The college funds that my father had guided me to save went into the family budget. The prospective homes that we toured, that we could afford to live in, were depressing in their poor condition. The sale of the Angus herd and the excess farm equipment raised just enough to pay off accumulated indebtedness, leaving nothing to live on or secure someplace to farm.

Then this house and the hundred acres on which it sat came up for sale, owned by the elderly Bonnen couple who had lived there for many years, until his health began to fail, and she needed to move to Gibson City to continue her studio teaching of piano students. My father put together the down payment, based on the cash value of his life insurance, knowing that the farm would ordinarily pay for itself, and he and Mother would have to find other work to provide their livelihood, although the land itself would provide most of what we needed to eat. My mother would continue for many years working as a cook at the county nursing home. My father would get work at the post office and the broom factory, before assembling rental land year by year for the next fifteen years to nearly a thousand acres eventually. This was our home, and to it we returned for family gatherings and for respite for 37 years until Mother died here, and Dad continued to live here for another ten years until he couldn’t farm or drive any more, and he “retired” at the age of 89.

The land and the house, rented to two young families during the past thirteen years, along with Social Security, provided the money needed for assisted living and nursing home care for my father until he died a few months shy of 94. After that, the rental and farm income paid for home maintenance and provided enough to buy some of the land, eight acres, from my brothers. That made a remnant farm of 34 acres. Here we will live for a while, restoring the 101-year-old house to serve the next generation that will live here. We will try to pay this old house back for the happiness it has given us and enjoy it and the serenity of its location for a while longer.

 

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