After 100 years of farming, it's still all in the family
A photo of this Mystery Place is HERE
The home of Ernie and Becky Merwin is located at W4322 Linton Road in the town of Linn. The Merwin family can claim ancestors of three early Walworth County settlers -- Merwin, Reek and Kaye.
You may remember some of the story of the Merwin family from my column about the Peterson farm south of the village of Walworth.
Benjamin Smith Merwin and his family came to Walworth County in 1857 and first settled 1 1/2 miles north of Williams Bay. They farmed there until 1868, when they purchased land in Section 28 of the town of Walworth. He then moved to Delavan, and his son, George Herman, farmed the land in Section 28. Later Benjamin moved back to Walworth, where he died on May 20, 1896.
George first farmed the property on shares for four years. Then he rented from his father for four more years and then bought the property. He lived here until 1895 when he moved into the village. He was a deputy sheriff for about 10 years and was a town supervisor. He and his wife, Mary, had four children: Florence, Thomas, Sarah and Ernest L.
Ernest L. married Alice Kaye Reek on Nov. 11, 1916. This marriage brought the three early families together. Alice Kaye's mother was Julia Kaye. She was born in the town of Linn on Feb. 4, 1855. She was one of 10 children of Abram and Harriett Kaye. Her brother, Arthur, is the one who owned and operated Kaye’s Park in the late 1800s.
Julia married James S. Reek on Dec. 25, 1881, after he came home from having spent 10 years in the gold field of Nevada. James purchased land and became an excellent farmer. He built his home on Maple Ridge Road. By the turn of the century, he had 50 dairy cows, 20 horses and four hired hands to help with the farming of more than 600 acres. He was a longtime member of the Linn Township Board and was an officer of the Maple Ridge Creamery located in Linton.
James and Julia had six children: Nettie, Lillian, James Bennett, Alice, Harriett (who died in childhood) and Robert. When each of the children married, they were given 120 acres of the Kaye/Reek farm acreage and a building.
Ernest and Alice settled on the land that Alice’s parents gave her. This is the land where the current Merwin household is located. At that time the farm was known as Alern Farms. In addition to farming, Ernest was a skilled carpenter. He built a modern barn on the property in 1916.
He added 90 acres to his farm and in 1922 built the home, which still exists on the property and is the home of Ernie and Becky. Ernest L. raised registered Holstein cattle. He farmed with both horses and tractor. He served as town of Linn treasurer for two years and was a lifelong treasurer for Reek School District. Later his wife Alice, took over this last job and then it passed on to their son, George.
Ernest and Alice had three children: George Reek, Janice Lucille and Mary Alice. George attended Reek School and then Walworth High School. He enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He graduated with high honors with a degree in agronomy in 1940.
On Feb. 16, 1941, he married Gladys Lucille Schnitcke. They bought a farm in town of Linn south of where he was born. Later that year Ernest died and George and Gladys moved back to Alern Farms and sold their other farm.
George and Gladys had two children, Mary Kaye and Ernest James. When Ernest James graduated from Big Foot High School, he went into partnership with his father. In 1980 they changed the farm name to Merwin Farms Inc. The acreage of the farm has increased to 660 acres. It now includes land from three of the Kaye/Reek dowries.
The 1916 barn was expanded in the 1950s and at that time accommodated 124 head of milking cows. A second barn was built for young stock. Later, a barn addition housed a pig farrowing operation.
Mary Kaye and her father raised and trained registered Shetland ponies, which helped finance Mary Kaye’s education.
In January 1972, there was a major farm fire and the entire dairy operation was lost. At that point George and Ernie decided not to rebuild the dairy barn. They decided to go into a beef, pig and lamb operation. Later they moved out of this and now the farm produces corn and soybeans.
Ernie married Becky Merwin on Sept. 28, 1968. At that time they moved into the farmstead. George and Gladys moved into the original house of James Reek and Julia Kaye Reek on Maple Ridge Road. Ernie and Becky had two sons, George William and James Benedict. George died March 28, 1993. James graduated from Marquette University and obtained his master’s of business administration from the University of Arizona. He is currently part of Milwaukee Electric Tool Co.