Thern Farm aims big
Site seeks national recognition
By James Card
Thern Farm in New London is seeking nomination to the National Register of Historic Places as a historic farmstead.
If the designation is awarded, the Thern Farm would join the ranks of Walden Pond, the Alamo, the Empire State Building and the town of Deadwood, South Dakota. It is a list compiled by U.S. federal government of districts, sites, buildings and structures considered worthy of preservation for their historical significance or artistic value.
Currently there are more than 90,000 listings in the United States and a few foreign countries. In Wisconsin there are 2,478.
In Waupaca County there are 25 listings and some of the more recognizable ones are the Waupaca Post Office, the Danes Hall, a few buildings at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King and the entire village of Rural.
There are no sites in New London on the national Register. Thern Farm would be the first for the community. They are hoping to receive news of the decision by mid to late summer.
Already Thern Farm has two prestigious designations: in 2014, it received a Century Farm Award for 100 years of family ownership of the land. In 2015, a Wisconsin Historical Society sign was erected that details the history of the place. That same year, the farm became part of the New London Heritage Historical Society.
Thern Farm applied for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and 1997, with the historic emphasis being the home of the New London Fairgrounds.
The first New London Fair was held in September 1891 and thousands of people arrived s by horse, buggy and train.
Like a modern county fair, there was an agriculture emphasis and livestock and farm produce were showcased but over the years there were hot air balloons, bands, circus performers, political speeches and the takeoff and landing of a biplane. Harness racing was conducted on a half-mile oval racetrack and the prize money reached up to $450.
The last New London fair was in 1912 and long gone are the grandstand, racetrack and the gatekeeper’s lodge. This was the problem with meeting the criteria for the first two applications. Although the old fairgrounds are a historical site, there wasn’t anything left to preserve.
A different approach
Since the last two applications, a new farmstead methodology was developed by the State Historic Preservation Office at the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Thern Farm meets the criteria.
The process started last summer. They worked with Sheboygan-based Legacy Architecture Inc., a firm that specializes in the historic preservation of buildings.
“They came out and took pictures, did interviews and got the feel for everything. They brought it to their committee to see if it was even worth pursuing or not,” said Megan Koehler, the program director at Thern Farm.
The committee deemed it worth pursuing and the application is a 54-page document that covers the geographic data, property ownership, building inventory and architectural descriptions, statements of historical significance and context, bibliographic references, maps and photos.
The report was submitted to the Wisconsin Historical Society and their opinion was favorable enough for them to proceed with a nomination.
They noted Thern Farm was an excellent example of 19th- and 20th-century dairy farm buildings. Of the nine buildings located on the farm, eight of them fall under the criteria required for the nomination.
Getting such recognition comes with some benefits. There is a tax incentive program and the farm is in a better position for qualifying for grants.
“For us, it is an honor. It gives a little more protection to the property,” said Koehler.
She cited a close-to-home example of when the nearby State Highway 45 bypass was being constructed. Original plans put the highway going right through the farm. This was averted but not without years of fighting the road builders.
“If we get this designation, then if they wanted to widen the highway next to the barn, they would immediately have to stop,” Koehler said. “It will be a big relief to have it somewhat protected. Everyone involved with the farm is so proud of it. So just have it recognized and how much work people have worked to preserve it and for all people to enjoy.”