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40 years of prairie preservation program at Garfield Farm Museum

Mar 08, 2017 09:44AM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

On Sunday March 12 at 2 pm Garfield Farm Museum will offer the third of seven 40th anniversary celebration programs featuring the museum’s efforts to preserve and restore the native landscape since its founding in 1977. Executive director and museum biologist Jerome Johnson will speak on the effort to re-create an 1840s landscape for this former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead and inn.

It took 8 years of effort just to establish the museum before any real assessment could be made of what the native environment the Garfield family would have known. In 1985, Roy Diblik from Natural Gardens, a pioneering nursery that sold native plants, suggested the museum plant a demonstration patch of prairie and Natural Gardens would donate plants. With the help of St. Charles High School history teacher, Gerald Williams and his students, a 2000 square foot plot of plantings was made. That summer the late Robert Horlock, a St. Charles High School biology instructor who was the first to teach prairie restoration, toured the farm and gave museum officials a great surprise. He found land that had been part of the farm contained remnants of unplowed prairie and wetlands that offered an incredible opportunity to re-establish a prairie landscape.

As less than 1 out of 2000 acres of Illinois original prairie had survived 140 years of agricultural development, finding 16 acres of surviving natural area was a great discovery. However that made two significant challenges for a struggling new museum to confront. The unplowed Mill Creek Prairie had to be sold during Miss Garfield’s estate settlement and the surviving prairie needed to be managed so all its plants would not disappear.  Prairie restoration methodology was in its infancy which in turned challenged museum founders. Museum debt and pressure from neighboring development made hopes for saving the prairie a long shot at best.  From trying to preserve some rural farm buildings by making a museum, the opportunity to do so much more was at hand but potentially out of reach.

The afternoon talk will deal with these challenges, successes, and failures as well as the response of the environment to over 30 years of management.  The talk is $6 per person and homemade desserts will be included. Reservations are requested by calling 630 584-8485 or e-mail info@garfieldfarm.org. Garfield Farm Museum is a historically intact former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead and inn that is being restored and presented as an 1840s living history farm and inn museum. Located 5 miles west of Geneva, IL off ILL Rt. 38 on Garfield Road in Campton Hills, IL, the museum depends upon donations for its preservation and restoration.    

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