In 1849, the Minnesota Territory was established with a population of fewer than 6,000 settlers. With few towns and a widely scattered population, farmers raised the food and most of the supplies for their own families, providing little for trade to stores or markets. As the territory grew, improved transportation routes and better farming techniques allowed farmers to supply food for new settlers and growing cities.
Oliver Hudson Kelley was from Boston, and like many Yankees, had migrated west as soon as he turned twenty-one. Although he knew little about farming in 1850, Kelley staked a claim at the new town of Itasca on the Mississippi River near present-day Elk River. He became a "book farmer," learning the latest farming techniques from agricultural journals. It was a legacy he would soon share. He campaigned eagerly for more experimentation, advanced methods and exchange of information among farmers, all of which he published.
Even though his farm was a show place of the neighborhood, by the 1860s Kelley became restless. In 1864 he moved to Washington D.C. where he took a job with the commissioner of agriculture and later the post office department. Kelley kept his farm in Minnesota and returned to it on occassion. But for the next few years he focused primarily on his idea of developing a fraternal organization for farm families.
On Dec. 4, 1867, Kelley and six of his friends, mostly other government workers, established the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, better known as the Grange. Kelley returned to Minnesota early in 1868. Two of his daughters returned to the farm in 1876 and managed it during the summers until 1885. The Kelleys owned the farm until 1901.
Read more about Oliver H. Kelley in Minnesota History magazine, (Fall 1967.)