Kelley Farm: Brief History

For immediate release

Release dated: 
February 18, 2014
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen • Marketing and Communications • 651-259-3148 • jessica.kohen@mnhs.org

Lory Sutton • Marketing and Communications • 651-259-3140 • lory.sutton@mnhs.org

Kelley Farm: Brief History

The Oliver H. Kelley Farm is a National Historic Landmark located along the Mississippi River in Elk River. It is the homestead of Oliver H. Kelley, founder of the first successful national farming organization, the Grange.

Oliver Hudson Kelley

Born in Boston, Oliver Hudson Kelley migrated west in 1850 at age 21. Kelley knew very little about farming when he staked his claim at the new town of Itasca on the Mississippi River near present day Elk River. Uncommon for the time, Kelley learned how to farm by reading agriculture journals, which often encouraged innovative farming techniques. Kelley’s farm quickly became a local showplace, and he encouraged other farmers to experiment with advanced methods and to share information.

While still farming, Kelley helped found the Territorial Agricultural Society in 1853, now the State Agricultural Society, the same group that puts on the Minnesota State Fair each August. He also helped found the Minnesota Fruit Growers Association in 1866, now the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.

The Grange

In 1864 Kelley took a position in Washington D.C. working for the Bureau of Agriculture. Through his job, he advanced his idea of bringing farmers and their families together to share information to improve their communities. In 1867 along with 7 others, he established the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange. The Grange became the first successful national farming organization. It was also the first national organization to include women as full voting members from its inception in 1867.

The Grange promotes the economic and political well-being of farmers and farm families locally and nationally. Early on, the Grange successfully advocated for the regulation of the railroads and grain warehouses as well as the first food and drug safety laws in the country. Grange groups lobbied for cooperative research and education services, free delivery of the mail to rural farms, and the Farm Credit System which established borrower-owned lending institutions.

The Later Years

Kelley went back and forth between Washington D.C. and Minnesota for many years. The farm remained in the Kelley family until 1901. Oliver Kelley died in Washington D.C. in 1913.

The Grange purchased the farm in 1935 and donated it to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1961 to preserve and tell the story of Oliver H. Kelley, Minnesota agriculture, and the Grange. Since the construction of the visitor center in 1981, the farm has operated as a living history program of Kelley’s 1860s farmstead.

###