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Gilfillan Estate volunteers busy preparing for Farmfest

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 08/14/2013 8:54 AM

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GILFILLAN — Bill Schwandt is preparing for Farmfest Aug. 6-8 at Gilfillan Estate near Redwood Falls.

Schwandt, the chairman of the Redwood County Historical Society, opens the estate with tours and live farming demonstrations.

"Charles Duncan Gilfillan was a wealthy man," said Schwandt. "He played an instrumental role in developing the St. Paul waterworks system. He was a business entrepreneur who made money."

He was a lawmaker and St. Paul resident.

In the late 1800s, he was encouraged by business associate and friend James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway, to purchase land in Redwood County. Hill told him that this soil was some of the most fertile he'd ever seen.

In partnership with Parker D. Sanders they purchased 20,000 acres at $3.50 per acre. Because of differences in farming ideas, the partnership dissolved, said Schwandt.

"When you look through the old deeds, it was not unusual for C.D. Gilfillan to own a quarter this year, lose or trade the piece of land, only to have his name on it again in a few years."

C.D. Gilfillan and his wife, Fannie, moved to Redwood County and built a house in 1882. The original house remains.

Gilfillan liked the color red. The roofs on the large barns, house, office, shop, ice house, buggy shed, manager and gardener houses all were red.

"The color red even carried into the livestock raised," said Schwandt. "Pigs were Red Duroc and cattle Herefords."

Seeking to improve livestock genetics, he imported and exported cattle. He shipped cattle by train to the Chicago Stockyards."

The cattle were grass fed. Belgian horses were used on the farms.

Gilfillan designed a much ahead of its time water system and constructed a water tower that supplied running water to every building.

The Gilfillans had one son, Charles O. Gilfillan. Rather than run the farm with employees, he divided the land into 32 farms, averaging between 240 to 320 acres each. The boundaries were determined by drainage ditches C.O. Gilfillan had built.

"Each farm had a number," said Schwandt. "Exact records in Gilfillan's immaculate writing were kept for each farm. We still have those ledgers on file somewhere."

Charles O. Gilfillan married Ann Allen. Gilfillan first met Ann Allen when she was 12 years old and he was 35. He told her that someday she would marry him. He proposed when she was older; but she wanted to be a teacher and wasn't yet ready for marriage.

Twenty-some years later, she came back to Redwood Falls as his bride. They had no children, but lived a full life carrying on the philanthropist spirit of his parents.

The Gilfillans paid hospital bills for needy families, purchased braces for two children when their parents couldn't afford it and made a home more accessible for a polio victim.

Schwandt said the Gilfillans quietly worked to make lives better. After Ann Gilfillan's death, their estate was donated to the Redwood County Historical Society with the stipulation that it be preserved and the county's history shared with others.

During Farmfest, Schwandt and many Friends of Gilfillan Estate volunteer to make sure that history is on display.

Guided tours of the house and farm site will be held throughout the afternoons during Farmfest. Farm animals will be in one of the barns, blacksmith demonstrations, quilts on display from Redwood area quilters.

The Prairieland Fly Wheelers will display their tractors and equipment. Old-time music will also be played..

As a fund raiser, Friends of Gilfillan Estate have made 400 gallons of ice cream that will be used to make 1919 root beer floats. They will also sell hamburgers and brats.

"After walking and visiting the booths of Farmfest walk on over to Gilfillan Estates, relax in the shade, listen to the music while enjoying a root beer float," he said.