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Sunday, April 29, 2018

103 Years Ago

After looking at the picture on the front of this post card, then reading the title of it here on the back of the card, I was mortified. I do remember when people in the United States of African heritage were called "boys". It was not a complimentary term, either. And then, to read that these two are on a handcar on a track that goes through Colony No. 1,
I thought that this was the lowest anyone could go after the Civil War.

OK, I was wrong. Not about it being the lowest anyone could go, but I was wrong in my 21st century interpretation of what I was reading. "FARMER BOYS" was a movement begun by Will B. Otwell in Carlinville, Illinois.
It was like a predecessor to the 4-H club movement. He sponsored agricultural contests among the boys who lived on the farms. At first the competitions were just local. Will B. Otwell had been active in the Macoupin County (Illinois) Farmers' Institute from the beginning in 1898. As a local nurseryman, he was elected secretary of the group in February of 1898. For their first Institute day, held later that same month, the officers engaged speakers of state-wide reputation to talk on farm subjects. Otwell promoted the institute extensively, advertising in 13 county papers and instructed the janitor of the courthouse to open the doors early to accommodate the crowd. But when the doors of the courthouse opened, the only ones to enter the hall were the officers and the chaplain. A couple of years later he decided to do something grand to promote the event. First, he wrote to leading corn growers in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois and procured 12 samples of first-class seed corn. He then called 12 farmers into the parlors of a local bank and asked them to select the variety best adapted to the soil of Macoupin county. This done, he bought several bushels of the seed corn at $2 per bushel. Next, he solicited $40 in cash and divided it into $1 premiums. A plow company gave a two-horse plow for a sweepstakes premium. Otwell then published a notice in the county papers that every boy under 18 who would send in his name and address would receive a package of seed corn - all that could be mailed for one cent postage. The response was considerable; 500 young boys requested seed corn for the contest and during the summer these youthful contestants advertised the forthcoming Farmers' Institute as no other medium could have done. By 1901 Otwell's annual corn growing contest had attracted 1,500 boys. Soon equipment manufacturers offered premiums to contest winners: a three-wheeled riding plow, a walking cultivator, fanning mill, a high-grade bicycle, a double harrow, a washing machine, a one-hole corn sheller, a box of 100 bars of soap, and even a windmill. The attendance in 1901 set a record and that of 1902 surpassed it, with the result that Otwell and his county Institute became known all over the state of Illinois. Eventually, he opened his contest up to all farm children in Illinois. Then he opened it up to the a wider audience and eventually he opened it up to the entire United States. You can find more about this story at

AND.... it turns out that the Colony No. 1 is one of many real estate ventures that Will Otwell undertook with a partner. Wow!! Was I ever wrong. A good lesson to learn here for me.

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