One family shares their ancestors’ stories of pioneering, persevering, and passing on sesquicentennial property.
by Charles Collier, The Denmark News
DENMARK — Nothing of the 19th and 20th Centuries was more iconic to Wisconsin than the family farm, passed down through generations. Times have certainly changed since the forefathers of Northeastern Wisconsin began clearing trees with teams of horses, tilling the red clay, and forging the state’s reputation as America’s Dairyland, but the Wisconsin State Fair continues to pay homage to those living on the state’s heirlooms.
The Wisconsin Century and Sesquicentennial Farm or Home program recognizes families who remain faithful stewards of homesteads that have remained in continuous family ownership—either a blood relative of the original owner or a legally adopted child of a descendant.
The Century Farm Awards began in 1948 as part of Wisconsin’s Centennial Celebration. Since, more than 9,300 Century Farms have been honored and more than 830 Sesquicentennial Farms have been honored since 1998 when the additional recognition began. Among those thousands is an area couple who has captured both awards in the last decade.
Dorothy and Tom Konop of Franklin first applied for the Sesquicentennial Farm award in 2011 after rifling through Kewaunee County land records and piecing together the history of two Czech immigrants, Simon and Anne Konop, who arrived in New York state in 1855.
“Tom is a great-grandson of the original owners and this homestead parcel. Simon and Anne Konop said goodbye to friends and relatives, and proceeded to the seaport of Brennan, Germany, knowing they would never see those people again,” Tom said.
Less than one month after their arrival on the continent, the Konop ancestors paid $40 for an 80-acre parcel in Kewaunee County, likely heavily forested, with winter only a handful of weeks away.
“There were no chainsaws or dozers to aid their work. There were no real roads, but some trails, as used by the Native Americans who lived here. There probably were no horses and buggies to assist them at the time,” Tom said, adding that medical carewas nearly exclusively confined to the cities situated beyond that roadless forest.
Despite the physical toils and barriers, Simon and Anne persisted and transformed their surrounding landscape into rich farmland, living in a log home constructed from the lumber removed for their purposes.
That cabin would stand for more than 50 years and Simon and Anne’s ten children were raised there before it was replaced with a two-story house in 1916 when Martin Konop and his wife Margaret then owned the land.
“It was well-built of cedar logs that were sawed, not hand-hewn,” Tom said.
Martin served on the Kewaunee County Board in 1902 and was a Notary Public in the area, skilled in writing wills, deeds, mortgage papers, and the like. Martin and Margaret were parents to eight children of their own.
When Martin and Margaret’s son Joseph, father of Tom, purchased the farm, he did so with a Bond of Support, pledging his care of his parents until they passed from life.
Even though the nearby Village of Denmark had industrial-scale electricity in the early 1910’s, surrounding rural areas had to wait much longer. In 1946, just in time for Martin’s funeral and wake, electricity became available in the Konop’s area and the family of pioneers did not hesitate to make use of it.
Martin’s wake service was held in the home for two nights, a custom at the time. Joseph and his wife Emily (Ourada) Konop were parents to four children, including their youngest son, Tom who purchased the Konop homestead with Dorothy in 1967.
Tom and Dorothy still reside in the two-story home that replaced the original Konop cabin over 100 years ago. In the mid-1970’s, an additional log cabin on the property was demolished as it had outlived its usefulness. The couple raised three children on the homestead, but their son, Todd, was lost to cancer in 1998.
Realizing a 20-acre wood lot in the Town of Montpelier was also under continuous blood ownership, the couple again got to digging and later applied for yet another prestigious award. At last year’s State Fair, six years after receiving their first Sesquicentennial Farm award, the Konops again posed in the middle of enjoying four free tickets to the State Fair.
“We invited our son, Greg, his wife Heidi, and our two granddaughters, Emily and Lizzie to accompany us,” Dorothy said, the same combination as in 2011.
Last year’s picture mirrored the first, each member in the same position showing the toll of time in heartwarming, memorable ways.
Neither of the couple’s two surviving children live in the area, nor will they be overtaking the farm. Knowing that the family line of ownership is likely stopping with them, Tom and Dorothy simply look with admiration at what the bloodline has already accomplished.
Having taken the time to cement the legacy of Simon and Anne, Tom and Dorothy discovered new meaning and appreciate the recognition of the State Fair. With this year’s March 1 application deadline less than a month away, they highly encourage other longstanding farms to consider going through the same process.
“We recommend that anyone suspecting they could be Century Farm/ Home or Sesquicentennial owners to please check your ownership titles. Contact your Register of Deed office, while checking your Abstract of Title, a Land Patent, Original Deeds, or County Land Records,” they said.
Applications are available through local UW-Extension offices.