Visit an 1840s Farmstead at Garfield Farm and Inn Museum (VIDEO)
In the pre-railroad 1840s, a day’s stagecoach ride delivered travelers from Chicago to Kane County where they could spend the night at Timothy Garfield’s inn, along with farmers whose wheat-laden wagons would take three days to get to the city’s port. Today, in about an hour, drivers can zip from downtown to the brick, Federal-style inn Garfield built in 1846. That’s about the only thing that seems to have changed. Time appears to stand still on the Garfield property, now a living history museum as well as a working farm.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Garfield Farm and Inn Museum is a living history farm that preserves the original 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead and Teamster Inn and Tavern, according to museum director Jerome Johnson.
The buildings have survived by a combination of pure chance and forward thinking, Johnson says. In the 1890s, Garfield’s daughter-in-law, Hannah Mighell Garfield, believed that the inn should be preserved to honor the settlers. Moving off the property in 1901, she and her four daughters required their farm tenants to not alter buildings without permission. The youngest daughter, Elva Ruth Garfield, donated 163 acres and buildings to two nonprofits in 1977. Garfield Heritage Society is responsible for the historic interpretation. Campton Historic Agricultural Lands owns 366 acres and restores the agricultural, historic and natural resources, including unplowed prairie and wetlands.
When the museum started, the buildings were in bad shape, according to Johnson. The first building to be restored – the 1849 horse barn – “was literally standing by two corners,” Johnson says. The Garfield family’s diaries, letters and other records helped volunteers and staff accurately restore the buildings.
Today, the site includes the second generation’s 1859 farmstead and 18 historic structures, including the 1846 inn and the 1842 threshing barn. The museum’s funding comes primarily from private donations and occasional grants – some $12 million since 1977.
Visitors to the site get a glimpse of life in the 1840s. Guided tours include the inn’s ladies’ parlor, where proper women travelers gathered as the men enjoyed a hard cider in the adjacent taproom. The inn’s second-floor ballroom hosted dances and Independence Day celebrations. Outside, the farm’s period-appropriate animals roam, including Merino sheep, rare American Milking Devon oxen and Black Java chickens. Once a common sight in 1800s barnyards, the Black Java had diminished to fewer than 500 birds. Garfield Farm played an important role in the Black Java’s comeback by establishing a breeding project.
If You Go
Garfield Farm and Inn Museum
Location: 3N016 Garfield Rd. in Campton Hills (5 miles west of Geneva off IL Route 38)
Phone: (630) 584-8485
Hours: Drop-in tours Sunday and Wednesday afternoons, June through September. All other times by appointment, year-round.
The Black Java project is just one example of the museum’s themes – history, farming, environment – in action. “These three are inseparable if future generations are to enjoy what we have been given,” says Johnson.
With 10,000 annual visitations, the museum is intended to be an educational institution, posing questions for the future.
“Our goal is to provide the visitor with an immersive, hands-on educational experience,” Johnson says. At the annual Harvest Days in October, for example, visitors can try household and farm chores ranging from rendering beef fat for candles to threshing grain with a flail.
Thousands of hours of volunteer time are given each year to help educate future generations about these farming experiences of the past.
“Conservation of our resources requires protecting our agricultural resources, our environmental blessings and the historic fabric of our nation,” Johnson says. “We are here because a lot of great people have been willing to participate and help out.”
Events at Garfield Farm
Garfield Farm hosts a number of events throughout the year. Here’s a selection of what’s happening this fall:
Prairie Walk: Sept. 8, 2019
Corn 101: Sept. 15, 2019
Harvest Days: Oct. 6, 2019
Blacksmithing 101 & 201: Oct. 12, 2019
Barns 101 & 201: Oct. 19, 2019
Most events cost around $6 to attend. Reservations are encouraged for all except Harvest Days, so please call ahead before traveling long distances.