David Wessels didn’t take his dedication to rural America with him after his death. The vision he left in his will opened the door to an array of opportunities in just a few simple phrases – “a certain amount of land and capital should be set aside to establish the ‘Wessels Living History Farm’.” When David Wessels wrote those phrases, he left an opportunity to send a living story to the world, a story about the spirit of American agriculture.
The story goes back to Native Americans who first cultivated these fields, through the first European immigrants staking out the prairie ground, through boom and bust cycles and through the incredible technological innovations of the 20th Century. It’s a story that will continue as long as the human race consumes food. The York Community Foundation, which administers David’s bequest, formed a committee in 1995 including business people and farmers to carry out Wessels’ vision of an the educational project.
Five years of research was completed, including studies by consultants with grandiose ideas about what truly defined a “living history farm.” Slowly that definition began to form. The site would consider the past, present, and future and attract large audiences. Then it was decided that not only would there be an actual farm located just south of I-80, but it would be shared digitally over the Internet to reach millions more. This decision was solidified when the York Community Foundation filed a lawsuit to make a legal definition of a “living history farm.”
The plans were approved and the building of both the on site and website began in cooperation with Nebraska Educational Television Network. NET completed the first section of the Web site, “Farming in the 1920s.” The next section of the Web site, “Farming in the 1930s,” was executed by The Ganzel Group Communications. The 145 acre physical site includes a house that David Wessels and his brother lived in for a period of time when they moved to town. It’s typical of farm architecture of the early 20th Century. The house was donated to the Living History Farm project by York College and moved to the physical site in 2002. You can see a video of the moving process above.
The site also includes a barn donated by Bill Peters of Shelby, Nebraska. The red, timber frame giant reflects barns typical of the 1920’s, the era chosen for the Living History Farm to interpret. There is also a granary, which belonged to Ralph Stuhr, which was moved to the site from a couple miles west of Bradshaw. The church was an unexpected gift from the congregation of the Zion Lutheran Church of Thayer, NE. It was set on it’s new foundation in November of 2013. In May of 2015, our little one room schoolhouse was moved from it’s place in Sutton, NE. The tank house, windmill, tractor building which belonged to Dave, cob house, Model T garage and outhouses- each have their own stories that begin in other locations.
A modern restroom building, shop building, and poultry house have all been erected on the site. The most recent addition- the 4000 sq. ft. steel building located south of Dave’s machine building- has just been completed in July of 2017. Reinke Manufacturing, Inc. matched $100,000 to make this building a reality. Local donors, including private donors as well as the York Community Foundation and the York Visitor’s Bureau, came together to reach our half of the $200,000 project. Inside the new building, tractors and other machinery will be on display and kept safe from the weather, as well as a feature display created by Reinke on the progression of irrigation.The next phase of the project includes a new office/admissions area and gift shop.
The physical site brings to life the history of agriculture for local visitors. The Web site spreads that message to the world. In the future, the farm could grow in numerous ways. The site is viewed by the Wessels Corporation as a “living project” on a “journey” reflecting the continuing role those involved with agriculture play as they provide nourishment to the world.