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Hinderman: Stellwagen Farm an historical jewel in Orland Park

Updated: October 23, 2013 6:10AM



Nestled in the southwest corner of Orland Park is a farm owned by the village that will serve to educate visitors about life on a typical American farm. The Stellwagen Farm has a house, barns and other buildings on 60 acres northeast of 108th Avenue and 179th Street.

The village purchased the property for $6 million in 2002 as part of its Open Lands Program. A $4.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources covered most of the cost.

The village and the Stellwagen family have been restoring the buildings “to provide the community with a real working farm that will someday provide demonstration projects and tours to show what life was like on the farm in Orland Park,” according to the village.

Under the purchase agreement, the owner of the farm, Harwood Stellwagen, was able to stay on the property until his death, after which the site must remain a living history farm and open prairie to be used for farm-related educational purposes. The family was allowed to continue to farm most of the land through a lease with the village.

Stellwagen died in summer 2011, beginning an 18-month transition to close out his estate, complete the restoration work and prepare the property as a historical farm. In December, the village extended the transition period another year.

In a recent visit to the farm, I met Art Maue, who said his wife, Betty (Stellwagen), would soon arrive. Upon learning his name, I asked, “Isn’t there a Maue Drive in the next subdivision?” Art said there was and that the land used to be his family’s farm.

“I married the girl down the street,” he said.

He showed us the windmill that powered the water pump, which provided cooling for the original milk cans. Cans were transported to Mokena for a train bound for Chicago. In the dairy barn, Art explained the feed, milking and water systems.

He showed how manure was collected in a litter carrier and a spreader distributed the natural fertilizer throughout the fields. Dairy cows were easily trained to walk into their appropriate station in the milking area to be fed and milked.

Betty Maue met us as we continued the tour of the farm. She showed me the hay storage area, where we ascended a ladder to where the hay was stored. Betty said horse-drawn equipment transported the hay until tractors replaced them.

She explained how threshing
machines separate kernels of oats from long stems of straw (adding that “big piles of straw were the best to jump into” when she was young). As everything on the farm has multiple uses, Art said the straw was used for “bedding for the animals, which becomes soiled and when the barn is cleaned, it goes back into the field as fertilizer — the circle of life.”

Exiting the barn, Betty’s granddaughter, Kim, joined us, and we headed into the chicken coop, where Kim showed us her handiwork in restoring the interior walls.

Kim said her senior high school photos were taken at the farm and showed me a beautiful picture of Alma (Betty’s mother) painting a window. Kim took her photos in the same pose.

The family is conducting the farm’s restoration and is dedicated to keeping the original design, with the objective of bringing Harwood Stellwagen’s vision to fruition — “to let his children and future generations see where food comes from in a real working farm.”

Betty’s hopes for the property, besides it staying as a working farm, include a walking trail, livestock and a museum in the farmhouse, built in the early 1900s. Garden and 4H clubs or other organizations could maintain the property, which would host regular tours.

As housing has developed around the Stellwagen Farm, it remains a pleasing and calming expanse, a visual reminder of the Orland area’s rural past. It will be a valuable resource in teaching generations of schoolchildren about how many of our fellow Americans lived during the 19th and 20th centuries.

In stark contrast to the farm’s peaceful setting, about four blocks away is a bustling commercial strip along 179th Street, including a McDonald’s under construction.

For more information about the Stellwagen Farm or its charitable foundation, contact Orland Park’s development services department at (708) 403-5300.



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