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Beginning in the 1840s, large numbers of settlers traveled west seeking the Eden at the end of the Oregon Trail. The agrarian ideal that fueled Oregon Fever encouraged farmers and ranchers to build prosperous lives on the land. Thousands heeded the call but over the decades most drifted away to other livelihoods.
Decendents of 232 early families who stayed on their farms or ranches for at least 100 years were honored by the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program in 1958. Since the program's inception, more than 1,075 families have been awarded the Century Farm or Century Ranch status. A Sesquicentennial Award in 2008 honored 14 Oregon families who have sustained their farms or ranches for at least 150 years. The following pages
show life over the decades on some of the remaining 150-year-old gems of Oregon history.
About the Sesquicentennial Award
Family farms and ranches under continuous ownership and operation of 150 years or more are eligible to apply for the Sesquicentennial Award. Fourteen families qualified for honors at a ceremony on the Capitol Mall in Salem on February 14, 2008. This exhibit illustrates only this inaugural group. Of the recognized Century Farms and Ranches in Oregon, more than 400 were established prior to December 31, 1859, the year of Oregon's statehood. However, some of those may have been sold out of family ownership during the last 50 years since the Century Farm & Ranch Program began in 1958.
Many of those that remain have deep roots in Oregon agriculture as a result of the Oregon Donation Land Law of 1850. That federal legislation recognized legal title to land already claimed by white settlers in Oregon Territory and encouraged additional immigration to Oregon by offering vast amounts of free land. Historian William Robbins writes in Landscapes of Promise: The Oregon Story 1800-1940
that an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 immigrants, mostly of Euro-American descent, entered the territory before the act expired in 1855.
Century Farm & Ranch Program images
Most early donation land claims (DLC) were staked out in the fertile Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue valleys. By the late
1850s, most of the prime river valley lands were claimed, leading settlers to seek out unclaimed land in the coastal lowland valleys, higher-elevation interior valleys, and finally eastern Oregon.
About the Century Farm & Ranch Program
The Century Farm & Ranch Program was created to honor farm and ranch families with century-long connections to the land, and to recognize Oregon's rich agricultural heritage. The program is administered through the Oregon Agricultural Education Foundation (OAEF) in Salem and is supported in part by a partnership of the Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon State Parks & Recreation Department, Oregon Department of Agriculture, and the Oregon Historical Society. The Wheat Growers Association, Hazelnut Marketing Board, Roth's Family Markets, various Oregon county farm bureaus, and many individuals provide additional funding for the program.
All applications for Century Farm or Century Ranch status are added to the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) Library where they provide information about settlement patterns, livestock and crop choices, building design, and family history. Successful applicants receive a personalized certificate of acknowledgement from the governor and the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Many of the recognized farms and ranches display the available durable metal road sign (see example at top of page) to identify their historic Century status.
Century Farm & Ranch Requirements
- Only the legal owner(s) of the property may apply for the Century Farm or Century Ranch honor.
- The farm or ranch must have been operated continuously in the same family for 100 years or more. A farm or ranch settled any time 100 years ago or earlier will be eligible if it meets other requirements.
- The farm or ranch must have a gross income from farming or ranching activities of not less than $1,000 per year for 3 out of the 5 years immediately preceding the application.
- The applicant(s) must live on the farm or ranch, or if living off the property, must actively manage and direct the farming or ranching activity on the land. If the entire farm or ranch has ever been rented or leased, it may not qualify.
- The line of ownership from the original settler or buyer may be through children, siblings, nephews, or nieces. Adopted children will be recognized equally with other descendents.
- Applications must be submitted on official forms provided by the Century Farm & Ranch Program with all questions completed. Applicants must submit additional descriptive information on other family history details not specifically requested in the application (2 or 3 pages of narrative). Copies of historical photographs are encouraged. All information, including photos, will be deposited in the OHS Library.
- All applications must include verification of continuous ownership for 100 years. Acceptable forms of proof include a document (either original or photocopy) showing date of earliest ownership. This may be provided through a Donation Land Claim, Deed of Sale, or Homestead Certificate. Other records, subject to review, include Family Bible, diary entry, or correspondence.
Information in the "about the farm" and "about the ranch" pages is abstracted from applications to the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program that are available at the OHS Library. This exhibit was created in January 2009 and documents only the group of farms and ranches that qualified for the inaugural Sesquicentennial Award. For information about the program contact: Oregon Century Farm & Ranch
The Oregon Blue Book extends thanks to Glenn and Judith Mason of the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program for their help in gathering photographs and information for this exhibit.