Farming in Michigan in the 1880s

Antrim County Farm, 1889, photo courtesy Seeking Michigan

The good folks at Seeking Michigan dug this gem for me and it’s one of those that you just have to check out bigger.

Teaching Michigan History is just one of many of great online features from the apparently soon-to-disappear Michigan Department of History, Arts & Libraries. Read about how this freaks out historians that this incredible cultural resource is being scrapped to save 2 million dollars and see Facebook for efforts to save HAL. They published this cool Excerpt from Charles Estep’s Farm Diary, August 1884 that gives a look at the difficult life of a farmer at the turn of the century in Michigan. It begins:

Nineteenth century farmers often kept hand-written diaries of their farming activities: planting, raising and harvesting crops. The following is an August 1884 excerpt from Charles Estep’s “Farm Diary 1883-1886.” His farm on Musgrove Highway later became the Fred Bulling Farm in Sebewa Township, Ionia County, Michigan. Today, farmers often keep track of their crops on computers. Historians and scientists use diaries and computer print-outs to study farming practices and trends over time.

Since I have no idea how long these materials will stay online if HAL is dissolved, here’s a few excerpts from the excerpt:

Friday, August 1st, 1884. Perry cut some oats yesterday. He came over this morning. I went out and found they were too green and got him to wait until next week. I worked in the corn a little and bound up some oats.

Tuesday, 5th. A little showery this forenoon. I handled over some manure. Perry helped me part of the forenoon. Afternoon he cut and I bound oats.

Friday, 8th. Perry finished cradling the oats today. I went to Portland to take my teeth to have them fixed over. They are worse than ever they were. He is going to reset them again. Ella Estep rode out to Father’s with me.

Friday, 15th. I did but little today. I finished the oat stack, marked out a headland, set a stump on fire and the fire ran all over the piece. In the afternoon my head ached, so I did not work.

Tuesday, 19th. Today I plowed and picked up stone. I am plowing my oat stubble. The weather is very warm and very dry.

Thursday, 21st. I went down home and helped thresh part of the day. The rest I picked stone and plowed. Father and Bion had 971 bushels of wheat.

Friday, 22nd. I picked up a load of stone and plowed today.

Saturday, 23rd. Foe was sick all night last night. After breakfast I went down and got Mrs. VanHouten to come and see her. She said we had better send for a doctor right away, so I went down home and started Bion after the doctor and got Mother. Then I went and got Mrs. D. Leak. In the meantime Mrs. Olry came. Dr. Smith came at two o’clock. At about four o’clock our baby was born, a bouncing healthy boy of 8 and 3/4 pounds. Foe was very sick, indeed. Mother stays all night.

Thursday, 28th. I was down to Mr. Ralstons and borrowed a baby crib. I borrowed a drag down home. I went out and dragged a while. It commenced to rain too hard to work most of the time. I went and got Mrs. D. Leak to come and dress the baby.

Click to read more entries.

5 thoughts on “Farming in Michigan in the 1880s

  1. The off-center placement of the chimney suggests the log house has an ethnic German three-room layout that historians of vernacular architecture call a “continental plan.” Traditionally the front door of the continental-plan house type also has an offset front door entering directly into the kitchen, which extends all the way to the rear of the structure. That is not the case with this example. The front entry is centered, therefore this house would appear to be a variant of the prototype plan.


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