The historic Eckberg family farm dates back to when the Bernadotte Township was first founded in 1869. 150 years after its establishment, the now 130-acre farm has stood as the home for five generations of Eckbergs and was at the forefront of agricultural innovations in the township.
The farm’s history begins with Sven Peter Swenson, his wife Maria and their children August, John, Ida and Jennie. Because of the poor farmland in Smoland, Sweden, at the time, the family searched for opportunity in the United States. Between 1864-1867, the Swensons arrived in New York City and moved to what would become Bernadotte Township in Minnesota to homestead.
After arriving in Minnesota, Sven Swenson changed the family’s surname to Eckberg, because there were “too many Swensons” in Minnesota. Eckberg means “corner of a mountain” in German.
The Eckberg family farm was then established in 1869 after Sven Eckberg purchased 120 acres at a sale of school lands in Nicollet County. Eckberg purchased the land at $5 per acre and named the farm Shady Lawn Farm. The farm took received the name after Eckberg’s son, Carl Eckberg planted trees in the yard.
Eckberg continued to purchase land and expand the farm and became involved in the Bernadotte community. In 1875, Eckberg became the first of four generations to serve on the Bernadotte Township Board of Supervisors and remained on the board until 1882. Along with supervisors John Frederickson and Micheal Jensen, Eckberg purchased one of the first ditching machines in the area for $375.
The year of 1875 also brought Eckberg his youngest son, Carl Hanson Eckberg, better known as Charlie or C.H. Charlie and his brother John would continue to work the farm after their father’s death in 1883. The brothers split up the farm and Charlie received 90 acres of what would become the present-day Eckberg family farm.
Like his father, Charlie Eckberg added acreage to his farm and built a house on the land in 1904. In building his farm, Charlie also looked to new technologies. He was the first in the township to install a convenient, automatic water system. The system provided to water to the house, barns and lawn through a pump that could automatically stop and start. The Lafayette Ledger reported on the installation in 1915.
The family farm eventually changed hands from Charlie to his son Kenneth. Kenneth Eckberg was one of three children, along with Florence and Curtiss, to be born to Charlie and his wife Emma.
Kenneth was born in 1905 and married his wife Annie Lou Gray on Christmas Day, 1931. In addition to farming, Kenneth notably had a passion for music. He played the trombone and baritone, served as the director of his church choir and Lafayette Band and was president of the Minnesota After 60 band.
Kenneth wasn’t alone in his musical talents. His father Charlie played the violin, his wife the piano, and he passed down his love of music to his children, Duane, who plays the trombone, and Lou Ann who plays the piano, cornet and serves as the church organist.
“We are a very musical family,” said Melva Miller Eckberg, who currently owns the farm with her husband Duane. Melva plays the cornet and her daughters Sandra, Barbara and Cynthia play the piano.
Duane and Melva have owned the farm for nearly 50 years. The two wed in 1956 and lived on the Roger Pierson farm until moving to the family farm in 1970 after Duane’s parents had retired to live in Lafayette.
In 1967, prior to Duane and Melva taking ownership of the farm, the area was scorched in a fire that burned down some large machinery and two farm sheds.
Duane and Melva remodeled the farmhouse once they took over, turning the homestead into what it is today.
The Eckberg farm has been host to a variety of crops and animals over the years including alfalfa, corn, soybeans, beef cows, chicken, hogs and feeder cattle. When they took over the farm, Duane and Melva also started raising Holstein dairy cattle.
“At one time we were feeding around 300 cattle,” said Duane Eckberg. “We used to have a cattle yard in the southwest part of the farm, but it’s all green now.”
The future of the Eckberg family farm is uncertain at this point. Duane and Melva retired from farm life and moved to Winthrop in 2006 and their daughters have long moved out and started families of their own. Whatever the family chooses to do with the farm, it will remain under Eckberg name, Duane Eckberg said.
“We plan on keeping it in the family,” said Duane.