Horst family farm receives Centennial Farm status


MOUNT MORRIS – Rich and Connie Mongan’s Ogle County farm, the Horst family farm, received the historical distinction of a Centennial Farm at the 2019 Illinois State Fair Ag Day Breakfast on Tuesday, Aug. 13 in Springfield.

They were guests of John M. Sullivan, director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and received the distinction after their application for designation as a Centennial Farm was approved by Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Director of Agriculture, Raymond Poe, on Dec. 17, 2018.  The Horst farm joins three Mount Morris Township farms registered with the Program:  the Thompson farm (est. 1841); the Stengel farm (est. 1880); and the Scheffler farm (est. 1899).

The Illinois Centennial, Sesquicentennial, Bicentennial Program was established in 1972 to honor the generations of farmers who have worked to maintain family farms in Illinois. Since its inception, more than 10,000 Centennial,     Sesquicentennial and Bicentennial farms have been registered. There are 157 Ogle County farms registered with the Program. 

"Applying for the Centennial Farm certification was a matter of pride for us,” said Connie Mongan. “Rich and I will be the fourth generation to live on the farm; I grew up there. My grandfather, Theodore (Ted) Horst, and my mother, Marjorie (Horst) Beard were born in the farmhouse. Attending the Ag Breakfast was a humbling experience; we attended to honor three generations of my family who toiled for more than 130 years to pass the farm from generation to generation."

Following the breakfast, Sullivan presented numerous agricultural awards and made a formal presentation to the Illinois Centennial, Sesquicentennial and Bicentennial honorees. The Mongans were one of 136 Centennial Farms registered in 2018; they were the only family from Ogle County that received the centennial status. Two other Ogle County farm families were recognized for achieving Sesquicentennial certifications:  the Greenfield farm in Lincoln Township (est. 1856) and the Heeren farm in Forreston Township (est. in 1866.) 

Photos of the newly certified farms were featured on placemats on the tables, on banners around the Orr Building, and in a loop video which ran throughout the breakfast. Mongan's submission was an aerial photo of the Horst farm circa 1950 photographed by a renowned photography company, the Zekan-Robbins Company. 

To qualify as a Centennial Farm, a straight or collateral line of descendants must own the agricultural property for at least 100 years. Centennial Farm owners receive outdoor display signage and a certificate signed by the Governor and the Director of Agriculture. They are also recognized at "Agriculture Day" at the Illinois State Fair. The Program was established to recognize the importance of agriculture to the economy of Illinois, and more importantly, the pride and determination of generations who labored to maintain the family farm during both the good times and the bad.

The Horst farm was originally purchased by Konrad and Louisa (Lohafer) Horst in 1886 and is currently owned by their lineal descendant, their great granddaughter, Connie Mongan. When Konrad Horst died from pneumonia in 1905 at the age of 53, his wife Louisa and Mongan's grandfather, Theodore Horst (age 15), continued with the dairy and farming the 350 acres. When Louisa died in 1925, the farm was sold in two parcels; the majority of the acreage was purchased by Ted Horst and his wife, Ruth (Lookabaugh) Horst, whose father was the blacksmith in Mount Morris. 

Mongan said that each generation has encountered its share of harrowing times. In 1914, men acting for the state and federal government killed and buried 103 head of livestock on the premises due to an infection of hoof and mouth disease. A trench was dug 50 feet long, seven feet deep and eight feet wide, which required several men and a team of horses with a scraper over two days to excavate. The livestock were driven into the trench and killed by shooting. The disease originated from tankage purchased from a packing house in Chicago that was fed to the hogs months before. The farm underwent a rigid quarantine. The diseased animals were appraised at market value of seven and one-half cents per pound. (Mount Morris Index, Dec. 3, 1914). In the 1920's, the farmhouse caught fire, but was saved. In September 1997, the farm suffered its worst loss from a devastating fire that burned the massive dairy barn and most of the outbuildings.

 According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS), as of February 2017, Illinois had 72,200 farms. Illinois farmland covers nearly 27 million acres – about 75 percent of the state's total land area. The average size of an Illinois farm, including hobby farms, is 358 acres. Most farm acreage is devoted to grain, mainly corn and soybeans. Nearly 10 percent of Illinois farms have swine. Beef cows are found on about 23 percent of farms, while about 3 percent have dairy cows. There are only 75,087 farm operators, down from 164,000 in 1959. During the same time period, the average farm size more than doubled as sophisticated technology made many aspects of the industry less labor-intensive. Illinois farmers are generally more than 50 years old. Forty-nine percent hold jobs off the farm and consider farming their secondary occupation. Family farms still dominate.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture administers the Centennial Farms Program. Applicants must complete the Program's application and verification forms. These forms request information regarding the present owner and location of the farm, a listing of ancestral owners, and third-party verification of records proving lineal or collateral descent. 

For information regarding the Illinois Centennial/Sesquicentennial/Bicentennial Farms Program go online and search "Illinois Centennial Farms Program" or contact: Illinois Centennial/Sesquicentennial Farms Program, Illinois Department of Agriculture Marketing and Promotions, State Fairgrounds, P.O. Box 19281, Springfield, Illinois 62794-9281; phone 217-557-5897 or email:  Erin Cleary@illinois.gov.