PLAINVILLE — On March 20, 1837, Tennessee-born John A. Graham purchased 87 acres of untouched land from the U.S. government for $1.25 an acre. That land, northwest of what is now Plainville, still belongs to Graham’s descendants 175 years later, along with additional acreage purchased at later dates.
Now 216 acres, the land has passed through six generations, starting with Graham’s daughter, Martha, who married George Doolin. The farm went to her daughter, Mae, who married Clay Dougherty. Their son, Leonard “Pig” Dougherty was next in line to inherit the farm. He married Ava Edwards, and their son, Wally Dougherty, now owns the land with his son and daughter, Doug Dougherty and Dorinda (Dougherty) Martin. Doug’s children, Alyson and Derek Dougherty, and Dorinda’s son, Scott Martin, are the seventh generation in line to inherit the land.
“This makes the family the only one to ever own the current ground besides the federal government,” Doug said. “Indiana was being settled during this time, and pioneers were searching for land to build their homestead on. Rarely do you find land that is still in the same family that originally purchased it from the federal government. It is generally sold off by one generation.”
He said no other family, other than perhaps Native Americans, have lived on the land.
“Our grandmother always told us ‘don’t you sell that farm,’” Dorinda said.
It was in Ava’s memory that a nomination application was filled out for a Hoosier Homestead Award, which recognizes the contribution family farms have made to the economic, cultural and social advancements of Indiana. Wally said his mom wanted to apply for several years, but never did.
To be named a Hoosier Homestead, farms must be owned by the same family for more than 100 consecutive years and consist of 20 acres or more, or produce at least $1,000 worth of agricultural products per year.
“Dougherty Farms Inc.” received the distinction Aug. 8 when Wally, Dorinda and Doug received a Sesquicentennial Award from Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman for keeping the farm in the family for more than 150 years. Doug said there’s no specific award for 175 years. They received certificates and signs to post on the farm.
“Up until the ’40s and ’50s, 216 acres was considered a large farm,” Doug said. “Today that’s nothing. The majority of farmers today farm over 1,500 acres. Two hundred and sixteen acres may not be much to most people, but to us it means a lot. It’s about passing on what our ancestors started.”
The farm is located in the river bottoms, according to Wally, whose dad urged him to attend college and not farm the flood-prone — but fertile — ground, which was sandwiched between the levee and river. He remembers the dirt lane leading to his grandparents’ house on the farm used to be covered with water when the river was out. When that happened, Pig would put Wally on his shoulders and wade to Clay and Mae’s house for a visit.
“I remember when I was little they still had cows and hogs out there,” Wally said. “We lived in town, but we went out there for milk — fresh out of the cow.”
He said his grandfather butchered his own hogs, and his grandmother killed the chickens for eating. Mae also grew a large garden so the family had fresh produce, according to Wally. Through the years there also have been sheep on the farm. Wally said the livestock raised there was primarily for the family’s meat, milk, eggs and related products.
“I remember an old barn up there that had harnesses, but I don’t actually remember any horses,” he said. “We got tractors, so we didn’t need horses anymore.”
The Doughertys are an Allis-Chalmers family. Wally said rubber-tired tractors had just hit the market when he was small. He still can name all the models and years of tractors the family owned.
“I started driving a tractor on the farm when I was 10,” he said.
Corn, soybeans, some wheat and milo are among the cropsthat have been raised on Dougherty Farms.
The ground is still farmed, but no longer by the immediate family. Since the early 1960s, when Pig suffered a series a strokes, the ground has been farmed by the Hinkle family, distant cousins. Three generations of Hinkles have farmed it, but will retire this year.
“We have always share-cropped the ground and will continue to do so,” Doug said.
“These days most landowners are cash-renting their ground, which is going for all-time high cash rents. We just feel that sharing in both the expense and any profit or loss generated is a fairer relationship for both parties. It takes some risk away from the farmer and puts it on the land owner, but it creates more of a partnership, which is what we enjoy. We want a long-term farm tenant who treats it as his own, not a new tenant every three years because we leased it to the highest bidder.”
No homes or outbuildings remain on the farm, the family said, but at one time there was a house, smokehouse, barn, shed and other structures.
“There was a windmill,” Wally remembered. “They had a windmill to pump water.
“I remember going out there when they had kerosene lanterns in the ’40s and ’50s.”
Doug, the family’s history buff, said the land had to be cleared when it was originally settled, and the wood was used for many purposes. There were a number of homes in the area when it was settled, he said, but after the levee was built the families became stranded when the river flooded, and eventually all moved out.
“I’ll never forget my grandmother telling us grandkids that we were to never sell the farm,” Doug said. “For that reason, we never will, at least this generation. We did nothing to deserve the land. We were just blessed by God and happen to be descendants.
“It’s the ones that came before me that spent the blood, sweat and tears, and I just want to pass it on to my children just as my grandparents wished.”