Fermilab History and Archives Project

Where Have All the Farmers Gone


By Karyl Louwenaar

Where have all of the farm families who lived on the NAL 6,800-acre site moved in recent months?

Location of Former NAL Families
Location of families who have moved from the NAL Site
(Click on Map for Larger View)

The land, some of the most productive in northern Illinois, was turned over to the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission for development of the National Accelerator Laboratory earlier this year by the State of Illinois.

Relocation Studied

A survey was made this summer of the relocation of the farm families who once occupied the acreage along familiar DuPage and Kane county highways - such as Batavia, Feldott, Giese, Eola, Kautz roads.

Some of the families had been residents of the site area for scores of years. Others were relative newcomers. To honor the former residents of the site and also to provide a historical context, NAL is establishing a museum on the site. It will be located on the former Leon Feldott farm on Batavia Road.

Most Stay Nearby

Of the 56 farm families moving off the NAL site, 39 have relocated within a 40-mile radius of the site. Since many had been long-time residents on the site, the decision of so many to remain in the same general area is not surprising.

The remaining 17 families are accounted for as follows: 11 are still living on the site farms, nine on a lease-back arrangement (they will of course have to move eventually); three families moved to the Dixon-Oregon area of western Illinois; one moved to Minnesota, one to Missouri, and another to a ranch in Arizona, close to the Mexican border.

Some Retired

Only about one-quarter of the 56 families relocated on working farms, since many of the men were of retirement age and took advantage of this opportunity to withdraw from farming. Two families who already owned second farms had only to move to the other location.

Unit Size Increases

Many of those who purchased farms obtained even larger units than they had owned on the site, at least four of the new farms comprising between 250 and 350 acres. These farmers typically say, "Farming is all I know; it's what I love, and I wouldn't want to do anything else."

The rest of the families either succumbed to the lure of suburbia, or stayed in the country but on smaller plots including just the house and perhaps a garden as the last vestige of farm life. While a half-dozen kept their former homes and moved them onto lots in Batavia and West Chicago, others purchased new homes and are enjoying more up-to-date and elegant surroundings than ever were theirs on the farms.

It has been reported that during the past 18 or 20 months there were seven deaths among the farm families of the site. Almost all were over 60 years of age, and all were males.

Now that the critical period has passed - the months, the years of uncertainty since the site was announced in 1965, the searching for a new location (one family looked at over 100 farms, and many looked at at least 40!). and the moving of all their belongings - most seem to be enjoying their new life.

But they say, almost without exception, "I still miss the old farm." Even pleasant new surroundings and a generally smooth adjustment to the change will not replace the loss of the old community and the break-up of the long-established neighborhood groups that existed on the 6,800 acres.

Source: The Village Crier Vol. 1 No. 4, September, 1969


By Karyl Louwenaar

While many of the farm families of the NAL site had lived most of their lives in this area, even in the same homes, others - like the Peter Erdmanns - had gone through the pains of moving several times before. Peter is a dark, rough-featured farmer and printer who, with his wife Anna, came to Illinois as a Hungarian immigrant in 1923. After moving to California for a time and then returning to Illinois in 1939, the Erdmanns bought land in what is now the southwest corner of the NAL site, on Kautz Road, and on that 75 acres Peter built the home that was owned most recently by Jack Whitwell.

Illinois is Home

In 1948 he sold that farm and again moved to California where he raised oranges in the San Fernando Valley, working also in a print shop. He soon became dissatisfied with the shop, and both he and his wife became lonesome for Illinois again; so they returned once more in 1950, this time to stay. They bought a 96-acre farm on Wilson Street, near NAL's eastern boundary, to which they later added acreage and on which they eventually built two homes and Peter's special pride - a flower garden, complete with fountain, which formed an oval island for their drive-around.

Area Egg Dealer

In addition to raising soybeans and corn there, the Erdmanns developed a successful egg business, supplying both Wheaton and Concordia Colleges for twelve years.

Considering all the moving they have done in the past; it may have been somewhat easier for the Erdmanns than for some of the other farmers to "pick up stakes" this time. Nevertheless the process of finding another farm or home to buy, especially for a couple in their 60's, was a long-drawn-out and often frustrating experience, as it was for some other NAL site farmers.

The Erdmanns went through many considerations before they finally found their new home. At one point, they discussed moving the two homes on their NAL site farm to vacant lots they had purchased in nearby West Chicago. But when they discovered that the moving costs would be prohibitive, they decided to dismantle their two farm homes and rebuild them on a new farm that they would purchase.

Moved Houses From Site

The Erdmanns now have a choice 360-acre farm located north of Alt. 30 at Franklin Grove, Illinois, 62 miles west of NAL; and all this spring and summer, Erdmann and his 25year-old son, Peter Martin, have been returning to their former farm on the NAL site to dismantle the homes there and to cart them, piece by piece, to a storage barn on their new farm. Sometime they hope to rebuild these two homes on the new farm - if they can find time. Both men have the varied skills of old-time farmers - from carpentry to gardening, from raising chickens to painting barns.

Search Discouraging

An unusual set of circumstances led to the Erdmann's finding this new farm. Having looked at over 100 farms and discussed and explored the multitude of possibilities that lay before them, they were found on February 4 of this year looking one more time at a farm in western Illinois, near Polo. Knowing that they would soon have to make a decision, and not being enthusiastic about any of the farms they had seen up to that time, they were feeling most discouraged and helpless.

This particular corn-soybean farm was a real possibility for them, but most of the buildings were in a run-down condition, and the main house had even burned down and would have to be rebuilt. The soil also was not as desirable as they had hoped to find.

Against the pleas of both Mrs. Erdmann and their son, Peter decided to settle for this farm. "I'm not going to move out here," declared Mrs. Erdmann flatly; and Peter Martin said he absolutely refused to work that farmland. But Mr. Erdmann countered that he had made up his mind to buy that farm and would move out there by himself if necessary.

Franklin Grove Farm

Along with the real estate man, the Erdmanns dropped into a little restaurant for lunch that day and there happened upon another real estate agent with whom they had some dealings before. He told the Erdmanns that he had tried to reach them by telephone that very morning because he had something that he thought might interest them. Peter informed the gentleman that it was too late, that they had just decided on a place.

However, shortly after they arrived back home that evening, the telephone rang - it was this second realtor again attempting to interest the Erdmanns in his farm. After a few minutes of discussion, they agreed to look at the farm; and on the morning of February 8, the Erdmanns were in Franklin Grove by nine sharp.

New Home

The agent drove them out to a tempting, well-developed 360acre farm, one which the Erdmanns had observed earlier in their searchings and which Peter especially had remarked about. ("Now if we could only find a place like that!") He could scarcely believe that this was the very farm that was now being made available to them. The Erdmanns were skeptical at first about the cost of such a farm, so were incredulous but completely delighted to learn that it would be within their means financially, "Thanks to the State of Illinois," says Peter, "for the easy settlement." Within five minutes, the decision had been made to purchase this farm rather than the other one, and the first real estate agent, who was expecting the Erdmanns to sign the papers later that same day for the other farm, was immediately notified. (Peter writes that since he had been hurt falling off a roof, it was difficult for him to get out of the car; hence the long, five-minute delay in what would otherwise have been an instantaneous decision!)

Terms Attractive

An especially interesting aspect of this episode is that the second realtor had had a deadline of March 17 for finding a buyer for the Franklin Grove farm, and of course the Erdmann's decision to purchase it came only about a month before that deadline. The previous owner, who had purchased the farm for $10,000 down with the remainder to be paid by March 17, 1969, had died unexpectedly on January 15. His family, not wishing to complete the transaction for the farm and have it included in the estate, had contacted the realtor, asking him to find someone to take over the agreement as of March 17.

Thus the Erdmann family, on the verge of settling far a farm which they felt was net firstrate, were able at the very last minute to obtain a spacious and park-like country estate. "Providence led us there," Peter writes. "Thank God for all this."

The Peter Erdmanns
The Peter Erdmanns before their move

New Flower Garden

The farm was developed by a wealthy insurance broker from Chicago, and the Erdmanns, being aesthetically sensitive and artistic people, are particularly delighted with the natural beauty of their new place. There is a flower garden to replace the one on the NAL site, and there is a large variety of trees as well, including blue spruces lining the drive to the house and maples arching the highway that cuts through the farm.

The Erdmanns are still quite European in many ways, and their new surroundings are surely conductive to their philosophy of living simply and "naturally" but beautifully. Life has begun afresh at sixty (plus) for the Erdmanns.

Source: The Village Crier Vol. 1 No. 4, September, 1969

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