Jillson operation oldest among Colorado Centennial Farms honored at state fair
Farms and ranches that have been in existence for more than 100 years earn a special designation in Colorado, and that is the Centennial Farm.
Since 1986, History Colorado, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado State Fair, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have worked in partnership to administer the Colorado Centennial Farms program.
Twenty-four Colorado families who have owned and operated their farm or ranch for 100 years or more were recognized during the 27th Annual Centennial Farms Celebration on Aug. 23 at the Colorado State Fair.
With two-dozen submissions, this year’s group is the program’s largest since 1995.
Ed Nichols, president and CEO of History Colorado, and John Salazar, Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, made acknowledgements and presented awards to family representatives.
“These long-standing farm and ranch families play an integral role in preserving important aspects of Colorado’s history,” Nichols said. “In spite of the pressures of growth, changes in farming methods, drought, and economic conditions, these families have maintained their way of life while many historic barns and other agricultural sites around the nation are disappearing at an alarming rate.”
The oldest farm to be recognized this year was Jillson Farm, located in the Longmont area.
In 1878, the Jillson Family homesteaded Section 22 in the Rinn area of Weld County before purchasing the land eight years later.
Bryon Jillson was one of the first in the area to raise Hereford cattle. Byron and Jennie’s children all attended the Idaho Creek schoolhouse. In 1923, Byron gave his land to his son, Charles, who had already bought a quarter of Section 21 in 1913. This land holding became the Jillson Farm.
After Charles’ death in 1953, the farm was bequeathed to the family of his late son, Harvey, whose wife, Edith, ran the operation until 1976 when her daughter Charla started running cattle. Charla Jillson Richardson has lived all but 12 years of her life on the property, working side jobs at times, including driving an RTD bus.
Today, Charla rents the land to a farmer who raises sugar beets, barley, corn, and alfalfa.
Although life on the Jillson Farm has been anything but easy, and was often marked by tragedy, it is still in operation and has retained its integrity through the remaining historic buildings on the property.
Many of the other properties that were honored have rich history and stories of hardship and dedication. According to History Colorado, Colorado Centennial Farms are important for several reasons.
“Across the nation, family farms and ranches, historic barns and other agricultural sites are disappearing at an alarming rate. In Colorado, the family farm and working cattle ranch serve as a reminder of how the West was settled. The contributions of Colorado’s ranching and farming families have withstood the pressures of growth, changes in farming methods, drought, and economic conditions to preserve these important pieces of our state’s commercial and cultural history,” they state on the website.
They continue, “The Colorado Centennial Farms program not only illustrates the significance of agricultural sites to the development of Colorado, but also shows how vital these properties are to the well-being of our state today. Colorado Centennial Farms provide open space and food, as well as support for our state’s economy and a reminder of our past.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation also recognizes families who have demonstrated stewardship of their historic agricultural sites by maintaining four or more structures on their property that have survived for 50 years with a Historic Structures Award. Honorees received a certificate signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper and other state officials, as well as a sign to display on their property.
The awards honor Colorado families that have maintained ownership of their land for more than a century in spite of the economic challenges that face modern farming.
At the ceremony, a brief history of each property was presented, including stories of prosperity and hardship.
To date, more than 400 Colorado farms and ranches representing 61 counties across the state have received the Centennial Farms award. The majority of these farms were established between 1880 and 1895.
History Colorado and the Colorado Department of Agriculture created the Colorado Centennial Farms Program in 1986 to recognize the important role that agriculture has played in the state’s history and economic development. ❖