Oliver Kelley Farm
15788 Kelley Farm Rd.
Elk River, MN 55330


Closed until April 1, 2017 except for special events.
April and May:
Sat and Sun 10 am-5 pm
Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day:
Wed-Sun 10 am-5 pm
Open Memorial Day, July 4 and Labor Day, 10 am-5 pm
September and October:
Sat and Sun 10 am-5 pm
Call 763-441-6896 for group tours.


  • $12 adults
  • $10 seniors and college students
  • $6 children ages 5-17
  • Free for children age 4 and under and MNHS members



2017 Jan 19

Weather Forecast



1826 - Oliver H. Kelley born on Jan. 7, the fifth child of a Boston tailor.  His great grandfather Thomas had come to America with the British troops during the French and Indian wars and was lost at sea in 1767.

1832 to 1847 - Kelley attends Chauncey Hall School and majors in writing.

1847 - Kelley leaves home on May 3 and travels to Chicago.  He works briefly as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, then takes a job in a drug store.

1848 - Kelley receives training to become a telegrapher in Peoria, Ill. In August, he takes a job in the telegraph office in Bloomington (now Muscatine, Iowa) and in turn, trains other aspiring telegraphers.

1849 - He marries 18-year-old Lucy Earll on April 29. In June, they travel to the new territory of Minnesota with a letter of introduction to Gov. Alexander Ramsey.  Kelley is the first person initiated into the Masonic Lodge in Minnesota. The newcomers help organize the official first Fourth of July celebration in St. Paul.

1850 - Kelley rushes to stake a claim after one branch of the legislature passes a bill making Itasca capital of the territory.  Itasca was near present-day Elk River. In July, Kelley is made a colonel by Ramsey when the militia is called out to fight the Winnebago. No battles are fought.  Kelley settles in with Lucy's relative Sciota Earll and an Ohioan named James B. Carroll.

1851 - Kelley trades with the Winnebago and is named justice of the peace and notary public for Benton County.  He is also appointed aide-de-camp to Commander-in-Chief Ramsey. In February, his wife gives birth; in April, she dies. Kelley's mother, Nancy Hancock comes to care for the baby.  In September, the baby girl dies. Kelley writes a letter to a territorial newspaper about potato planting, the superiority of New England frame barns, and the upcoming local elections.

1852 - Kelley helps found the Benton County Agricultural Society, the first such county society in Minnesota, and Kelley is named the corresponding secretary.  He marries a local school teacher, Temperance Baldwin Lane, who also came here from Boston. They have four daughters over the next decade: Julia, Fanny, Garahelia and Grace. None ever marry.

1853 - Kelley helps form the Minnesota Territorial Agricultural Society, serving on its executive committee in 1857. A livestock advertisement appears in the St. Anthony Express in April.

1855 - Kelley's farm was described by a traveling correspondent. Kelley also becomes a sales agent for the Wm. Plant Co. of St. Louis, and he actively proselytizes for the new machinery he sells.  One of his daughters claims later that "Mr. Kelley owned and worked the first reaping machine, built the first frame barn and sowed the first acre of timothy grass north of St. Anthony Falls." The Winnebagoes are moved to a reservation on the Blue Earth River.  Kelley plants and begins developing the town of Northwood immediately after the land is opened to settlement.

1855 to 1856 - Kelley is involved in farming, planting experimental crops and participating in regional and national seed exchanges.  He becomes agricultural editor for the Sauk Rapids Frontiersman, writing weekly columns titled, "The Farmer." Much of what we know of Kelley's farming operation in the 1850s comes from these weekly columns.

1856 to 1858 - Both Kelley and his brother Charles begin developing Northwood with money they received from mortgages on their land in 1855.  Kelley becomes postmaster, notary public and justice of the peace.  A hotel, general store and school are built, as well as a factory for manufacturing Excelsior Metal Polish-a product made from Mississippi River silt.  The financial panic in 1857 forces Kelley to relinquish his interest in Northwood, and the town quickly dies.

1857 - Kelley's mother dies in Boston.

1860 - Kelley begins switching toward market gardening of fruits and vegetables grown for urban areas.

1861 - Kelley queries the Minnesota Farmer and Gardener on the proper way to set out cuttings of grapes, currents, etc.  In a letter to the same journal in August, Kelley reported on the condition of crops in the northern part of the state.  He wrote: "Our frequent rains of late will insure us a splendid crop of weeds by the time we get through haying and harvest. I see a few sprouts today, and have bid good-bye to some of my garden crop.  I must lay the want of help to keep the weeds down to Jeff. Davis."

1862 - Kelley writes a letter of complaint to Governor Ramsey.  When soldiers respond to settlers' calls for help during the Dakota War, some pass Kelley's farm en route and seize his horses and wagon for transportation.  Kelley complains that he is worried because one is a "fine blooded mare" which he was boarding.

1863 - Kelley's brother, William H. Kelley, participates in organizing the St. Paul Library Association and is elected recording secretary.

1864 - Kelley advertises his status as an agent for Col. D. A. Roberson's Nursery and Seed Store in St. Paul. He also notes that he has strawberry plants by the million to sell.  He publishes a "Gardener Wanted" ad; qualifications include a thorough knowledge of fruits and vegetables and their culture. He also receives his last letter from his father who dies shortly after writing it.

1864 - In January, Kelley is elected to the executive committee of the Anoka County Agricultural Society. Along with friend Jared Benson, he is elected delegate to the State Agricultural Society.

1865 - Kelley publishes a series of "traveling correspondent" articles in the St. Paul Press as he tours the Mississippi and Minnesota river valleys.

1866 - In January, Kelley is given the job of touring the Southern states to report to the Department of Agriculture on the status of Southern agriculture after the Civil War.  He is also involved in the founding of the Minnesota Fruit Growers' Association, later renamed the Minnesota Horticultural Society.  He is elected to the Society's first executive committee.

1867 - Kelley is appointed clerk in the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C.. In December, he and six other men form the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, the Grange.

1868 to 1870 - Kelley resigns his clerkship and returns to Minnesota to begin publicizing and organizing a national organization.  He becomes associate editor of the Sauk Rapids Sentinel, and he uses that post to extol the virtues of Grange membership.  His wife's niece, Caroline Hall, becomes his right-hand person by helping him with his media blitz.

1870 - In December, Kelley moves his family to Washington to devote full-time to organizing the Grange.  The family leaves the farm on Dec. 28.  They leave Minneapolis on Jan. 2, 1871.

1871 to 1874 - The Grange catches on and spreads rapidly throughout the nation. Special wagons are sent to Kelley's headquarters to pick up the daily volume of mail.  In 1873, Kelley's old mortgage on the farm is foreclosed, and he loses it for one year, regaining it through help from his Hall relatives and financial manipulation which help save him $6,000.  The Grange succeeds in promoting legislation to regulate railroad rates and unfair weights and measures.

1873 to 1876 - Kelley begins losing interest in the Grange as he loses some control to other administrators.  By 1875, the Grange begins to decline in popularity.  The move to Louisville sours him, and he begins to build his new house in Minnesota, hoping to move his secretarial office back to the old homestead.  He also buys 29 more adjoining acres.  Grange membership begins to wane after reaching a peak of 858,050 in 1875.  Cooperative ventures begin to fail.

1875 - Kelley publishes his Origin and Progress of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry.  The Grange moves its national office to Louisville, Ky. Kelley moves there.

1878 - Kelley becomes deeply involved in real estate speculation in northwestern Florida.  He moves his office and Grange records there, but soon resigns his position.  He has little contact with the Grange for the next 16 years. He founds a new city--Rio Carabelle, Fla.--and begins to promote it as the biggest port between Tampa and Mobile.  A sandbar at the mouth of the river ruins his dreams.  He serves as mayor, and his daughters and niece serve as postmistress, hosteler and school teacher.

1890 to 1900 - Kelley appears at Grange meetings all over the country. In 1899, he returns to Minnesota to be toasted by the St. Paul Masons as the oldest surviving initiate in the state.  He also visits the homestead for the last time.

1901 - The Kelley family sells the Minnesota farm and moves back to Washington, D.C..

1905 - Kelley is granted a $100 monthly pension by the National Grange.

1911 - Temperance Lane Kelley dies.

1913 - Shortly after his 87th birthday party, Oliver H. Kelley dies.