October 13, 2009
Preble farm traces roots back 200 years
Town will honor legacy of Van Patten family during ceremony Sunday at fire department
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Bill Van Patten, 89, on the 200-year-old family farm on Otisco Valley Road in Preble. The farm now spans more than 1,000 acres and keeps about 240 dairy cows, along with various other crops.
PREBLE — William Van Patten’s farm has spanned two centuries under the same name.
Because of that legacy, Preble town officials have decided to honor the Van Pattens during a special ceremony Sunday afternoon.
“In this day and age and in agriculture, the idea (the farm) can exist this long is quite rare,” said Preble Town Historian Ann Henderson. “This is a really special thing in our town.”
The ceremony to honor the Van Pattens is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Preble Fire Department, said Henderson. The public is invited.
The Van Patten farm is believed to be the oldest in Cortland County still operating under the same family name.
All the credit is owed to the entire family, especially those who first settled the land, 89-year-old William Van Patten said Monday.
“That’s who I admire,” he said. “I just held the ship together.”
William Van Patten is the fifth generation in his family on the farm, located on Otisco Valley Road.
His family farm traces its roots back to 1809, when Ryer Van Patten secured the property — 165 acres at the time — through a Revolutionary War service land grant he purchased. Ryer’s father, John Van Patten, had received a grant of his own and purchased farmland in the town of Vesper.
The original log cabin built in 1809 is no longer standing, but the family built two additional houses on the property over the decades. The farm now spans more than 1,000 acres and keeps about 240 dairy cows, along with various other crops.
All the buildings on the farm were constructed with lumber taken off the property, Van Patten said.
He could only speculate what has kept the farm running under the same family name for so long.
“We weren’t smart enough to do anything else,” Van Patten joked, later saying he believes his family’s determination kept it running.
“It kind of gets instilled in you,” he said.
Van Patten graduated from Homer Central School in 1939, took several agricultural courses at Cornell University, then took over the family farm in 1946.
He stopped actively working the farm 20 years ago and it is now in the hands of his two sons, Bill and Tom.
Over the generations the task of running the farm has typically passed to the eldest son, Van Patten said.
In some respects, he said, the times have changed to make farms more difficult to operate.
Taxes and expenses keep going up, he said, later recalling that finances did not seem as crucial during the years he ran the farm.
He said people were more prone to volunteering to help out in those days and payment was not always an incentive.
“There was more goodwill then,” Van Patten said. “I visualize (Bill and Tom) will have a harder time than I had.”
He said the lack of industry in this country has him scared about the future economic climate, especially with more jobs moving overseas and the dwindling natural resources.
“We have to be working if we’re going to get out of debt,” Van Patten said.
Van Patten’s outlook stood in contrast to the years he spent growing up on the farm during the Great Depression leading up to the outbreak of World War II.
Van Patten said the war brought its share of difficulties for farmers. Among them, he said, was having to hold raffle-type drawings for new machines such as a tractor because manufacturing efforts were so focused for military purposes.
He also recalled that buses would bring groups of about 10 German war prisoners to the various farms, including his own, to do harvesting work.
“You couldn’t converse with them, but they were good workers,” Van Patten said.
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