All Roads Lead Back HomePosted on Aug 23, 2021
While farmland and farm structures all paint a similar picture of life in rural America, it is the family unit itself that makes a farmstead home.
Editor’s note: As we begin a series of articles about the history of agriculture in the state, the original idea behind this first offering was to showcase a unique farm structure and the role these types of facilities played on the farm. But the Powell sisters from Webster County led me down a different path, proving it’s the farm family and the communities in which they live that serve as the historical roots of our agriculture industry. The barns, silos and farmhouses may be the first things noticed about a farm, but the heritage of these families will last well beyond the life expectancy of bricks, wood, and mortar.
SEBREE, Ky.? When driving through rural Webster County, the sight of tall corn and lush soybean fields leaves no doubt you’re in the heart of an agriculturally rich region. Along with those crops, the multitude of farmhouses, barns, and grain bins, many of which have been present for generations, dot the landscape.
But it is the sight of a tall clay tiled grain silo seen as you round one of the many bends on Watkins Sebree Road that will catch the eye of most passersby.
While silos are a common sight in many rural areas of Kentucky, this particular type of structure has a uniqueness to it that likely holds a million stories about the farm. No one knows that better than the family who has called this particular farm “home” for decades.
Dinah Powell Crowley and her sister Nancy Powell Wiley represent the fifth generation who have called this special place their own.
“Our great-great grandfather, John Alexander Powell bought the farm originally,” Wiley said. “And it was likely him who had the silo built.”
Clay tile was often used in many such structures because of its resistance to fire, but when concrete silos became the mainstay, probably in the 1930s, these types of silos became relics of sorts.
“I remember my grandfather taking ear-corn out of the bottom window in the silo,” Crowley said. “I’m not quite sure how he was able to fill it because it is so tall, but somehow he managed.”
Along one side of the structure are cast iron openings with wooden doors and an attached iron ladder that runs nearly the entire length of the 50 foot-plus silo.
“There was a large barn/stable that was built near it, but straight-line winds took it down a few years ago,” Wiley recalled. “We're very family oriented; big on family and it was traumatic to see the old barn go down when you think about the history of the farm.”
All these structures rest several yards from the family farmhouse and well within sight of the back of the home.
“Daddy, Mama, and I moved to the farm when I was five, so, that would have been about 1953,” Crowley said. “But Nancy was born here so her ties to the farm are very strong.”
The two sisters recall story after story of growing up on the farm, both the good times and tough periods, all of which make up the heritage of the family.
“My grandpa and I would walk down to the stable and he'd have a bucket in his hand, and he would always swing his leg around some way and kick me in the bottom,” Wiley said with a laugh. “It’s those little things you sometimes remember the most.”
Crowley recalls the hard work her family put in on the farm through the years.
"I can remember the wagon grandpa used, which was pulled by a mule and a horse,” she said. “He would pull it in between the silo and the stable. And I would sit in it and watch him shuck that corn and throw it in the old wagon. I think about all the loads of corn that went into it, and all the cattle and horses that were fed from it, and how hard Grandpa and Daddy worked, and they really worked hard.”
In discussing the family, both sisters remember the sense of community that came from living in the area and how the neighboring families would help each other on their respective farms.
“It’s what we did to get the work done,” Crowley said. “It’s a small community but a tight-knit community and we all helped each other, and I think it’s important for our children to know that story. During those times, all of us around here were family.”
This closeness has only added to the connection the sisters have to their farm as they now see their children and grandchildren coming back as often as they can.
“We get together every July 4th and at Christmas,” Wiley said. “I see the kids come to the farm and they grab a tobacco stick and go out exploring. It's really special to be able to look out and see them having such a good time.”
Crowley said she can’t imagine not having grown up the way she did.
“It's very special to be here on the farm and it helps you appreciate all that’s taken place, and the road our parents and grandparents took to get here.”
Wiley said that even if the children and grandchildren don’t come back to the farm on a permanent basis, they will always have a bond with it and the way of life that goes along with being a farm family.
“It really is true that all roads lead back home,” she said.