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Sesquicentennial farm carries on for six generations

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The Dorsey-Silker farm in Byron has been in the same family for more than 150 years, earning it a Sesquicentennial Farm Award from the Minnesota Farm Bureau. The house is the oldest existing house in Kalmar Township.

BYRON — A family farm near Byron has been named one of 22 recipients of the Minnesota Farm Bureau's Sesquicentennial Farm award for 2016.

The Dorsey-Silker farm has been in operation for 158 years and was recently passed down to the family's sixth generation. It is one of three sesquicentennial farms in Olmsted County to claim the distinction this year.

In 1853, John Soble, a native of New York, traveled west to explore land in what was then known as Bear Grove. Upon arriving, he found no inhabitants and returned to the Empire state. A year later, Soble and his family returned to Bear Grove with money and a dream of owning land. That dream was fulfilled when Soble claimed 120 acres of land on the Zumbro River in Kalmar Township. In 1856, he sold his claim to this land and claimed 80 acres on Section 27, the starting point of the land today.

The first land deed was issued on June 8, 1958, to John Soble's brother, David.

The first house was built in 1856, with room for the horses. This later became a barn and then a chicken coop with room for the family's cars.


Sometime between early 1858 and late 1860 a new house was built. As the years passed, the family added a kitchen, an extra bedroom and hand-pumped water from a cistern. In the 1930s, a bathroom was put in. This original structure is still standing today.

In 1864-1865, the railroad came through the north part of the Dorsey-Silker farm. The township of Bear Grove was renamed by New York millionaire S.W. VanDusen, who called it Byron after his hometown of Byron, N.Y.

In 1920, the farm's landmark barn was constructed. The barn, which still stands today, measures 45 feet by 35 feet and stands 37 feet tall. It was one of the biggest barns in the Byron area at the time and cost $2,200. In 1922, a loan was taken out to pay off the cost of the building. This was one of the most fearful moments in the history of the farm.

The loan was paid off on Sept. 29, 1925, but not recorded or released until 1928. That led to a strict rule for future owners — never borrow money for the farm.

The farm has stayed in the family, but its footprint has changed considerably.

On Jan. 7, 1950, Betty Dorsey married Vernon Silker and as a wedding gift they were granted one acre of land on which to build a house.

In 1959, the U.S. Highway 14 project claimed 15 acres of the farm's northern land, including a spring-fed pond and several acres of the farm's best land. The loss left the Dorsey-Silker's with about 71 tillable acres.

On May 1, 1996, Bob Silker bought three acres of the farm for $1.


On Aug. 4, 2015, Betty Jean Dorsey Silker died and left the entire family farm to her grandson, Brandon Tyler Silker. Brandon is the sixth generation to own the farm and will be the youngest to inherit its rich history at the age of 23. His father, Bob Silker, will be allowed a life lease and be allowed to run the farm as long as he is able, due to his health condition.

"It was Grandma Betty's greatest wish that the farm would go to Brandon," Bob Silker said.

"I'm very excited and proud to be able to keep it going in the family name," added Brandon Silker.

The farm now sits on 87 acres in Section 35 and has various buildings in Byron. The Silkers grow sweet corn, seed corn and soybeans. The house is the oldest existing house in Kalmar Township and is historically significant to the Byron area and the family.

"This award is a fantastic honor," Bob Silker said of the Sesquicentennial Award. "We did this to honor my mother and my family."

Award recipients are given a commemorative certificate signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap. Winners also get an outdoor sign signifying Sesquicentennial Farm recognition.

This crew helped build the barn at the Dorsey-Silker in Byron in 1920. The family borrowed money to help pay for the $2,200 building, which still stands today.

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