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Rural Roots

Madison’s Matthews family
receives rare state honor

Bicentennial Award recognizes
200 years of family farming

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(July 2012) – In a culture that considers couples who have been together six months a “long-term relationship,” a commitment of 200 years seems near miraculous. Daniel Robins began a trend toward miraculous, which the State of Indiana recognized in March with the Hoosier Homestead Award.
In 1811, Robins purchased 120 acres from the territory of Indiana for his daughter, Nancy Robins, who married James Matthews. The two traveled from Pennsylvania to begin a life of farming at 2638 S. Carmel Rd., Hanover, Ind. So began a 200-year journey that continues today.

Matthews Family

Photo provided

The Matthews family receives
their award last March in
Indianapolis. They are Tom, Patty
(Naegele), Bill, Mike, Tommy,
Ken and John Matthews.

On March 21, the Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Joe Kelsay recognized this incredible feat by awarding to Thomas, William and Patricia (now Naegele) Matthews the Hoosier Homestead Bicentennial Award. This award recognizes their family farm as one of only two farms in Indiana owned and operated by the same family for 200 years.
Asked about the award of this prestigious honor to the Matthews family, Skillman said, “Our state has a rich, agricultural heritage thanks to generations of families who have dedicated themselves to farming. These families are also committed to help feed the world. It is important to recognize those who have given so much to our state both economically and socially.”
Jeannie Keating, Indiana Press Secretary adds, “These families must be innovative – balancing weather, depressions, market forces – to hang onto their farms. The Department of Agriculture exists to advocate for them and assist them. We feel deeply honored to be able to recognize their achievement.”
To give some perspective, as Francis Scott Key wrote the words of the Star Spangled Banner, the Matthews were harvesting their crops, settling onto their land five years before Indiana became a state. Tom Matthews currently lives on the farmstead, farming it on behalf of his siblings.
He lives in the same house built by his great-grandfather, John P. Matthews, shortly after his return from fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War.
The two-story building then housed John’s wife, five children, parents, aunt and several hired hands. A summer kitchen was built by the barn to protect the house from fire and overheating in the Indiana summers. An addition to the back of the house brought the kitchen inside years later.
Sitting at a picnic table on a breezy, shady knoll overlooking the farm just outside the front door, Tom indicates a water pump feet away.
“Every evening one chore was to bring in water from that pump for drinking. We didn’t get city water until the early 1960s.”
He laughingly points to a hydrant farther away. “That’s how far the water company came. We still had to carry it from outside, but at least we didn’t have to pump.”
The family ran a waterline to the house a few years later.
Both Tom and Patricia (Naegele) recall their childhood on the farm. Patricia focused primarily on helping in the house and occasionally watering the animals. Tom focused on outdoor chores, both on his farm and others. He recalls going as far as Texas to bring back loads of watermelon to sell. He also helped his father with custom work for other farmers – baling hay, filling silos and other jobs to keep their farms running smoothly. The jobs left little time for play but trained Tom well for his future in farming.
“We worked hard,” they both echo, “but life was good.”
In its early days, the farm boasted both crop farming and herds of cattle, pigs and horses. Tom remembers butchering during early childhood. The family served as a central location for neighbors to gather and butcher. Market prices and intensive labor forced Tom’s mother to sell most of the animals so that now the farm now focuses on crops.
“The land gives a good crop every year. As long as there’s no drought, this farm produces,” Tom says proudly.
The farm produces not only crops for the family living but a generous spirit as well. At one end of the farm lies a cemetery – the only lasting symbol of the land the Matthews donated to Carmel Church in 1816, the first Presbyterian church established in Indiana. When the church folded into Hanover Presbyterian Church in the 1920s, the land reverted to the Matthews Family.
Tom remembers his grandfather tearing down the building in the 1940s. He still owns the church clock. The Matthews also donated another acre of the farm for a local school. When that school closed, the land reverted to the family, and the wood to use for an extra barn.
Will the farm stay in the family for another 100 years? Tom anticipates his four children splitting the farm much as he and his siblings share it today. He knows more farms will become bicentennial recipients but imagines they will be few and far between. “It’s just too hard to get into farming these days.”
The price of land and equipment make it hard; the price of crops too erratic to count on. “Even with the current good prices, a farm can’t support a family.” Yet sitting at the picnic table the he fondly calls “his favorite place on the farm” as a refreshing breeze cools a 90-plus temperature day. He knows he has a piece of paradise – and history.
A sign proudly displaying the Hoosier Homestead Awards for Centennial, Sesquicentennial and Bicentennial stands nearby. In the hands of this family, Hoosiers may look forward to the Tercentennial Award.

Back to July 2012 Articles.

 

 

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