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Honorable Mention

Ownership Of A Great Farm


John Bergh

The year 1878 brought the Red River Valley wealth thatcould never be analyzed in dollars and cents. It was in this year that theGreat Northern Railroad laid its tracks in the Valley. Along with the railroadcame some of the biggest farms in the valley.

One of the most magnificent farms was the Hill Farm atNorthcote, Minnesota. It was originally owned by James Hill but it changedhands many times in its 65 year existence. Rube Corey broke the first pieceof land in 1880 to start the farm rolling.

For the next twenty years or so the farm was just an averagefarm. In the early 1900's it began to expand. About 1910, James hill puthis son, Walter Hill, in charge of the farm. Previously Walter had livedin the Minneapolis-St. Paul area under his father's support. Walter provedto be be too expensive to support in the city so James gave him the farmat Northcote.

When Walter came to Northcote, the farm was nothing butprairie. Under the direction of Walter, the farm grew tremendously. He improvedit, fenced most of the land, and built on it. Walter owned all the landaround Northcote and had many sections extending to the north and west.Hill employed fifteen men year round and had as many as 250 men workingfor him in the busy seasons.

Although the headquarters of the Hill Farm was always atNorthcote, a large percentage of the land owned was located at a sub farmat Humboldt, Minnesota.

From 1912-13, Hill built most of the building on the farm.A large percentage of these buildings were made of brick. He built fivebarns for his livestock. One was a huge cattle barn, one bull barn, onehorse barn, and a gigantic twin barn. The one cattle barn was attached toa mixing room where all the feed was mixed for the livestock. Near the mixingroom were four small elevators where some of the feed grain was stored.He also built an ice house, some hay sheds, a slaughter house, a pig house,a dip tank, a smoke house, a water tower which provided the whole farm withrunning water, a large boarding house, and 12 cottages for employees. Probablythe most significant building was the $49,000 house he built for himself.This small mansion is still in use today.

The Hill Farm was mainly a cattle farm although it hadmany acres planted into grain crops each year. Hill raised purebred Angusand Shorthorn cattle. In the summertime, Hill had his cattle on the rangeand the barns were empty. When the main battle barn was full it held 400cattle. When the cattle were in it they were fairly noisy. Once when Hillwas there his cattle got the 'itch'. The cattle could be heard bellowingfor miles. "You could shout at a man right next to you in the barnand he couldn't hear you."(1) Hill shipped all his cattle to the stockyardsat Chicago one year. It took one full train to haul them there. Hill hadtwo large silos built to store silage for the cattle. "They were saidto be the biggest silos in the world when built."(2) These silos werenever more than 2/3 full when Hill owned the farm.

Walter Hill stayed on the farm for five years. "Walterwas wild," said Ernie MacFarlane, a former worker on the farm. "Hecouldn't stay in one place very long." (3) Hill had perfected the farmfor his day so he soon got tired of it.

From 1915-20 the history of the farm gets a little hazy.A man by the name of Loer bought the farm from Hill. He farmed at both Northcoteand Humboldt for three years. He became a millionaire and sold the farmto a man by the name Hubbert. Loer then went to Winnipeg to invest his moneyin some Canadian firm. He lost most of his money there and was never heardof again.

Hubbert owned the farm for two years. He too became a millionaireand moved on. Hubbert sold the farm to Frank Kiene in 1920. This farm shouldn'tbe confused with the huge farm Frank Kiene later built at Kennedy, Minnesota.

During these early years of the Hill Farm, Northcote grewwith the farm. The farm supplied the whole town with electricity, so itwas quite modern. The town had a bank, a post office, a large general store,a hardware store, four elevators, a town shed, and a town hall. It consistedof 150 people who were mostly employed on the farm. The town did betterafter Hill left. Hill bought all his supplies from Minneapolis and Chicago,so the local merchants didn't get much business from the farm.

Frank Kiene was the only man ever to go broke on the HillFarm. Kiene owned the farm when the tractors came onto the farm scene. Upto the time of the change, Kiene hired 12 teamsters and many stockmen totake care of the horses. In the springtime one team of horses would pulleight drills. One team could seed a section in a little more than two days.This was a remarkable feat for those times.

When Kiene switched to tractors he made a fast switch.He bought six Rumley tractors toward the end of his ownership of the farm.He also owned and ran three threshing machines at Northcote. Near the endof his ownership at Northcote he was building up an even larger farm atKennedy. Finally, in 1930, Kiene went broke on the farm and sold out. Whenhe finally did leave he had retired his work horses and did all his workwith tractors.

Maurice Florance purchased the farm at Kiene's sale in1930. The size of the farm had dwindled to 25,000 acres. When Hill ownedthe land he had farmed much more land.

When Florance came to the farm he didn't have too muchmoney compared to past owners of the farm. This soon changed. He boughtit during the depression and made it into a very prosperous farm. He hadsome connection with the bank so he acquired a lot of land when other farmerswent broke.

Up to 1931 the cattle barns were used extensively. In 1931,Florance knocked out the partitions and made the barns into a grain storagebuilding. Previously the farm was both a cattle farm and a grain farm. Florancemade it an exclusive grain farm until 1938. Then he bought some sheep tosell on the market.

Florance, like Walter Hill, was a little on the wild side."Maurice Florance was a brilliant man. It seemed like he had 100 ideasa day."(4) This was the general opinion of the men that worked withFlorance.

From these many ideas Florance built an empire. He ownedmost of the land along the Great Northern Railroad to Humboldt, most ofthe land to Orleans, most of the land west of Northcote to the Red River,and all the land around Northcote. The farm was as big as ever.

Florance was very active on the farm. Unlike some millionaireswho let other people do the work, Florance did most of the maintenance workhimself. "He seem to be all over at one time. He always wore the mostexpensive clothes that there were to buy. When something went wrong on thefarm he worked on it is his best clothes."(5) This shows that he wentall out in what ever he did.

The yields on the farm usually ran quite high. The barnsand silos were filled about every year with grain. Wheat ran from 10-30bushels an acre, barley 20-35 bushels an acre, and oats 20-40 bushels anacre.

In the early 40's Florance began to lose interest in thefarm. He began to let his foremen make decisions on where to plant the crops.This was usually done by him. Again the farm was extremely modern for itsday and Florance grew tired of it.

Florance began digging for oil in the 40's. This was thestart of the final decline of the farm. He dug three wells on the farm withno luck. In 1944, he went to the southern states to dig for oil. In 1945he sold the farm and all the machinery. He held two sales to sell all hisproperty. Florance kept on digging for oil He was a millionaire to his death.He was finally fatally wounded in a robbery near one of his wells.

After the final Florance sale, the land was divided upinto small tracts among local people. The house was purchased by Dan McGrewand the barns were purchased by John Bergh. Descendants of these two peopleown the buildings today.

So ended the era of the mighty Hill Farm. It came withthe railroad, built a town, and will always be called one of the most magnificentfarms in northern Minnesota.


(1) (3) MacFarlane, Ernie. Former worker at farm. Interviewedon Jan. 13, 1968, Northcote, Minnesota.

(2) Bedard, Willis. Interviewed on Jan. 13, 1968. Northcote,Minnesota

(4) (5) Bergh, Arlo. Interview on Jan. 13, 1968. St. Vincent,Minnesota

s. Interviewed on Jan. 13, 1968. Northcote,Minnesota

(4) (5) Bergh, Arlo. Interview on Jan. 13, 1968. St. Vincent,Minnesota