Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian. This column originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter. The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.
The day was warm and sunny. Perfect weather for a farm auction, I arrived at Harold Bergman’s farm, on the northwest corner of Ela and Algonquin Rds about 9:15 in the morning. The open fields behind the steel barn and old chicken house were already filled with cars. People were milling about, looking in old cardboard boxes that’d been loaded on about a dozen flatbed wagons. I can only assume that they must have been the hay wagons that Harold filled each time he harvested a new crop of hay from his 36 acre farm. They were so old and weathered that I thought that I’d get slivers in by backside for sure when I hoisted myself up onto the wagon.
The auctioneer had set up the area in row upon row of farm tools, boxes of household articles, and furniture. The style of furniture told you much about the many years that it had served the generations of Bergmans, some dating back to the turn of the century and other pieces taking the family into more modern times.
From my perch on the wagon, I had a good view of the auctioneer’s progress. As piece by piece and box after box made its way to the parked cars, it was sad to see the end of another farm especially a farm that had been in existence since the 1860s.
Like most of the farms in the area, the Bergman farm was a dairy farm. With a herd of approximately 30 cows, the crops to maintain the herd were planted and harvested year after year. In 1971, after the Cook County Forest Preserve condemned the land, the bulldozers came to tear down the barn that had been erected in 1903, the milk house and the windmill. The Bergman family sold the dairy herd in the late 60s upon learning of the Forest Preserve’s plans to condemn their land on the south side of Algonquin Rd. What remained of the farm was the acreage on the north side of Algonquin Rd., the farm house and chicken house. Only 36 acres of land remained.
Originally, Harold had decided to sew grass to prevent erosion, but then he realized that he could produce a hay crop to sell to local horse owners as well as the race horse owners who raced at Arlington Park Race Track. Eventually he became the oldest living farmer to be actively farming in Cook County. Last fall he harvested his last crop. The tractors were parked in the large storage building west of the house. The bales of hay were piled high to the ceiling. Winter would bring customers who’d load their hay and eventually empty the building of that last spring planting.
As the auctioneer worked his way through the equipment and tractors, I watched Harold, sitting in a lawn chair outside the house he was born in, graciously accept the extended handshakes of well-wishers who stopped by to greet him.
This June Harold will celebrate his 99th birthday. Happy Birthday to an amazing farmer and dear friend.
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
(The photo is from Saturday Evening Post.)