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A single dollar, one of the biggest trades in Grande Ronde Valley
history, a team of Percherons that still has people talking and dust
from of the Joseph Building’s attic.
Elements of a Northeast Oregon mystery novel?
No, but all are linked to the legacy of the farm of Spark and Barb Smutz.A legacy with heightened status following a major designation by the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program. The program’s leaders have awarded century status to the Smutz family farm.
“It is pretty exciting,’’ said Barb Smutz, co-owner of the Smutz Century Farm with her husband, Spark.
The Smutz Century Farm is about 800 acres and located along Foothill Road. It was officially recognized as a century farm in September at the Oregon State Fair.
Farms and ranches qualify for century status if portions of their original acreage have been continuously operated by the same family at least 100 years. The Smutz farm is one of 18 to be granted century status in Oregon this year.
Applying for century farm status is a painstaking and detailed process. Details were easy to come by for the application thanks to Barb Smutz, an archivist extrordinaire. She maintains records and scrapbooks of the history of her family and its farm which are overflowing with rich detail. Some of the information she has collected came from dusty ledger books in the top floor of the Joseph Building.
Documentation collected by Barb Smutz indicates that her farm had a blockbuster start in 1910. The I.D. Smutz and W.R. Jasper families traded places, purchasing each other’s farms. I.D. Smutz first paid Jasper $16,000 for his approximately 750-acre farm on Foothill Road. Next, Jasper paid Smutz $16,000 for his farm in Alicel.
The trade was reportedly made because Dora Smutz, I.D.’s wife, wanted to move closer to La Grande to be nearer her family. Dora, I.D. and their family operated the farm along Foothill Road for almost two decades. Then came a $1 transaction in 1928.
That year I.D. sold the Foothill Road farm to his wife, Dora, for $1. I.D. Smutz was in the old Grande Ronde Hospital at the time of the transaction.
“We think he knew he would not live long and wanted to keep the farm in the family,’’ Barb Smutz said.
I.D. Smutz died shortly after the $1 sale of his farm, and Dora Smutz died in 1935. Her six children then inherited its land in equal parcels. The value of each parcel was $1,707. This meant the total worth of the farm had fallen $5,758 since I.D. Smutz purchased it 25 years earlier. The property value decline likely was due to the Great Depression.
Three of I.D. and Dora’s sons, Charlie, D and Lynn, then bought the farm shares of their other three siblings. Charlie, D and Lynn next formed the Smutz Brothers partnership. The three brothers operated the farm through 1947 when the partnership was dissolved.
At this point land was then again split among family members. Lynn Smutz and his wife, Thelma, ended up with the land upon which sits the farm’s original home. Their son, Spark, and his wife, Barbara, inherited the farm in 2000.
The Smutz Century Farm gained a heightened profile in the 1940s thanks to an eight-horse team of Percherons that are now part of family lore. The team was created by Lynn Smutz and brothers Dick and George. The eight-hitch unit served as a show horse team, appearing at the Pendleton Round-Up, the Oregon State Fair, the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show and many other events.
“They were beautifully groomed horses. Everybody knew about them,’’ Barb Smutz said.
Eight-hitch teams have long been rare for coordinating such a large team of horses is difficult and complicated. The Percheron team, representing the Smutz Century Farm, operated through the late-1960s.
The Percheron team was a part of the farm’s story for close to three decades, but Foothill Road has been part of its story throughout. The road, which runs for seven to 10 miles miles southeast of La Grande, was gravel until the late-1950s or early 1960s. The road was then paved and raised significantly, Barb Smutz said.
Traffic along Foothill Road in the early days of the Smutz Century Farm included the family’s horse-drawn carriage. The wagonette was first used on I.D. and Dora Smutz’s farm in Alicel, Barb Smutz said.
The carriage was used on the Foothill Road farm for years until decades ago when it was stored in a barn. The Smutz family began restoring the carriage several years ago with major help from Jim Morgan, one of their neighbors.
He and the Smutz family formed the Smutz and Morgan Carriage Co. three to four years ago. The company provides horse-drawn carriage rides at weddings, anniversaries and other events.
Motor vehicles replaced carriages long ago on Foothill Road, but it still often is as hushed as it was in the horse and buggy days.
“It is very quiet and peaceful. It is like another era,’’ Barb Smutz said.
Spark and Barbara Smutz hosted an outdoor luncheon for family and friends earlier this month to commemorate their farm’s century status. It was one of many gatherings family members put on for each other.
“We are very close,’’ Barb Smutz said. “We use any excuse to get together.’’
The Smutz Century Farm is one of 18 granted century status this year and the only one in Northeast Oregon. Union and Wallowa counties have close to 60 century farms and ranches altogether.