Waller farm in the family for more than a century

John Benton began harvesting the timber in 1902

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

It was in 1902 when John Benton bought 80 acres in Richardson Township in Eastern Morrison County for himself and his family. Today, the farm is being celebrated as a Century Farm by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Benton was born in New York in 1836. It is said that his father took him at an early age to live in Pennsylvania and then died when Benton was about 4 years old. He went to live with his grandparents, but that didn’t seem to work out, for family lore says he left their home when he was 8 years old to make it on his own.

For the next nine years, he did farm work, worked on the Pennsylvania Canal and went to school. The “Great West” then lured him to Wisconsin where he worked in the lumber business until he was 25 years old.

Standing in front of the Waller barn built in the early 1930s are (from left): Betty Kirk, daughter of Arba Waller; Judy Johnson, daughter of Jean Waller; and Phyllis Whitney, daughter of Arba.
Standing in front of the Waller barn built in the early 1930s are (from left): Betty Kirk, daughter of Arba Waller; Judy Johnson, daughter of Jean Waller; and Phyllis Whitney, daughter of Arba.

On Christmas Day, 1861, Benton married Julia Pratt. Soon after he enlisted in the Wisconsin infantry as the Civil War was beginning. He was discharged in 1862 due to injuries, but re-enlisted in 1865, only to be mustered out a short time later.

From Wisconsin, Benton and Julia moved to Meeker County in Minnesota. There they had six children, the first born in 1865.

Julia passed away in about 1899 and a year later, Benton decided to seek greener pastures. Land prices were rising in Meeker County and he learned he could find land for less in Morrison County. He purchased the current farm in both Richardson and Granite Townships, promising his daughter Ella and her husband, George Washington Waller, 40 acres and a home if they moved there, too.

In a written family history, it said, “Morrison County was a little better than a wilderness. The nearest town and post office was Pierz and there were almost no roads.”

The Wallers built a log home in Richardson Township which burned down in 1907 and they lost everything. Their second home was a little to the southwest in Granite Township. They started a saw mill and logging operation in what was then called the Rucker Community for the Rucker family who operated a store and the post office in the area. The lumber the Wallers cut was hauled to Lastrup, Pierz and Buckman by horse, bobsled or lumber wagon.

Pictured are Edyth, left, and Arba Waller in 1928, with their team of horses and plow.
Pictured are Edyth, left, and Arba Waller in 1928, with their team of horses and plow.

The family also operated a steam thrashing machine and engaged in clearing land and building roads and bridges.

The couple had eight children and the third child, Arba, took over the farm in 1912 when he was 20 years old.

In 1914, Arba married Edyth Lewis, who had been his school teacher at Rural District School 62, also known as the Rucker School. They farmed the property together, adding land and building a new home. They called the place Ardith Farm, using the first part of Arba’s name and the last part of Edyth’s name.

Edyth continued to teach school to help with finances and Arba worked at various jobs outside the farm.

Arba also loved baseball and took part in local games as a player, an umpire, coach and manager.

In 1930, the original barn burned along with 16 cows. The Wallers rebuilt, and also added a sheep shed and a silo in the 1930s.

Arba’s youngest daughter, Betty Kirk of Baxter, said that when the barn burned, Arba was pinned in the burning building by the spooked horses and almost lost his life trying to save them.

On the farm, Arba and Edyth had certified Holstein dairy cows and they sold the milk. Until the 1950s, when the farm got electricity, they milked by hand.

Kirk said, “I remember in about 1948, milking 14 cows before I could go to school,” she said.

In 1948, the Wallers purchased 80 more acres in Richardson Township and in 1950, they remodeled the home. In 1951, a combination garage, coop and granary was built.

Arba and Edyth had five children: Clair, Arvid, Phyllis, Jean and Betty.

Arba was one of the founders of the Lakeview Church and the Farmers Co-op Creamery, both in Hillman. He also was a founding member of the Club of the Pines.

“In the 1930s, during the Depression, Arba helped the government distribute clothing and commodities to the local residents. He never took a thing for himself; he felt others needed the items more than he did,” said Kirk.

Arba also received the Morrison County King of the Seniors award and the WCCO Good Neighbor Award, both in 1968.

Arba’s son, Jean, married Luella Boser from Buckman in 1955, and took over ownership of the farm in 1958.

Edyth had died in 1945 and Arba married her sister, Olive, in 1950. They lived on the farm until Arba passed away in 1978.

Jean and Luella had five children: Jane, Keith, Judy, Jill and Joan.

Jean continued to raise Holsteins and had about 40 head until about 1984. Keith had returned home to help on the farm. Since the operation wasn’t supportive of two families, Keith wanted to expand, but Jean was against it. Keith left in 1984, choosing a missionary’s life. Jean sold the cows and rented out some of the acreage.

For 24 years, Jean was the clerk of the Richardson Township.

Jean died in 2002 and Luella in 2013. Their children own the farm and their families, the sixth and seventh generations, gather for holidays and hunting at the old homestead. Judy and her husband, Bill, spend most of their summers there, tending a large garden and an orchard.

“I am the fifth generation to own this farm,” said Judy. “How many people can say their property has been in the family more than 100 years?”

Daughter of Arba, Phyllis Whitney, who lives in Baxter, said, “I am happy to be alive this long to see it happen.”

The Century Farm program began in 1976 and about 8,000 Minnesota Farms have been recognized. About 250 farms are added each year. To qualify, the farm must have been in one family for at least 100 years, be at least 50 acres in size and be currently involved in agriculture production.

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