ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
In 1880, a branch of the Kenneth E. Schroeder family, originating from Germany, planted a seed in a homestead that grew as deep as the roots of any stately old tree.
On March 31, an 80-acre parcel of land in rural Canton will have been in the Schroeder family for 122 years.
“My birthday is March 16, 1922, so the homestead and I will have a birthday together that month,” said Ken, patriarch of the family.
Ken and Ruby Schroeder, in their 70s and retired, live in a duplex in Hillsboro but have memories and documentation of a rich history of family real estate.
Ken has paperwork tracing the first owner of the property, located at 1683 Alamo, to T.J. Peter on Sept. 15, 1871.
The land subsequently changed hands and was eventually sold on Feb. 8, 1880, for $550 to Peter Pankratz, Ken’s great-grandfather.
Pankratz turned around and sold 40 acres of the property to his son-in-law, Heinrich Schroeder, on March 31, 1880. One year later, Heinrich bought the remaining 40 acres.
In 1902, Heinrich enlisted the help of family members and built a house on the homestead. He and wife Eva raised 11 children in the rural home.
Heinrich’s wife passed away in 1913 and he remarried, Ken said.
“He remarried this lady, but on Nov. 10, 1914, she signed off on the house,” he said.
“There was an antenuptial agreement that the property did not belong to her.”
And so began the Schroeder saga to keep the land in the family.
“John Schroeder got it, that’s my dad, in 1922, from Heinrich, who was a widower at that time,” Ken said.
John’s brothers and sisters, legal heirs, signed off on the property.
In 1923, John sold the house, and it was moved off the property, Ken said.
The original Schroeder house recently changed hands again.
“About five or six years ago, a couple bought it and moved it and restored it,” Ken said.
In 1923, when Ken was 1 year old, his father and other family members built the house that still stands on the property today. John and wife Marie raised three boys in the new home.
Ken bought the homestead from his father in 1956 and raised two boys and one girl within its walls.
One son, Russell, and his wife, Debbie, bought the house and 20 acres from Schroeder in 1976.
“When our kids grew up, they had to sign off on the papers,” Ken said, holding tight to the tradition of a male heir owning and living on the homestead.
Each family has left its imprint on the land and the home from the time Heinrich signed the papers in 1880 to present-day owners Russell and Debbie.
Ken said he remembers the events in 1956 when he had the opportunity to buy the house after his parents moved into town.
“My other brothers didn’t want to have anything to do with it, and I said I’d like to own it,” Ken said.
He originally bought 20 acres with buildings. Before his parents passed on, an additional 40 acres of land had been purchased for a total of 120 acres in the Schroeder family.
“Of course we each inherited 40 acres,” Ken said. “And I had to pay off each of the brothers.”
“And when my parents passed on, we sold our 40,” he said.
“The 40 acres bought us enough money where we could buy the other two guys off-it worked out kind of good.”
Ken and Ruby raised their children on the homestead, but any farming was a sideline.
“We farmed it after hours, after jobs,” he said
“We had mostly wheat and milo and a few cattle, chickens and pigs.”
Eighty acres is like a big garden, Ruby said.
“It was a beautiful place to raise our family, and it was our investment, hopefully, toward our retirement.”
Several changes were made on the home and property during the years the Ken and Ruby owned it.
Struggling with maintenance on old farm structures, they said they decided to keep a chicken house on the property. But they replaced a grainery with a three-car garage and a cow barn with a machine shed.
Yellowed-exterior paint was also replaced with a coat of fresh-white paint.
“It was one of these jobs you did after work, after we got home,” Ruby said.
Extensive changes were also made on the interior of the house Ken grew up in.
“When I was growing up, we had indoor plumbing, but we did not have electricity or gas,” he said.
“We had to do our homework by Aladdin lamps. “In fact, I was out of high school before they finally got electricity out there.”
During Ken’s childhood, well water, with three grains of hardness, was pumped up by a windmill and connected to a pressure tank in the basement.
“And that pumped about 35 pounds of pressure, and we had running water all the time in the house.”
When he acquired the home, he re-piped the house, put in an outdoor electric pump, kept the pressure pump and took down the windmill, Ken said.
They also added water and a sink to the utility room, so the washing machine had water, Ruby said.
“We had old ringer-washers and we still hung the diapers on the line to dry-not in a dryer,” she said.
“As time went on, after my kids weren’t in diapers, I got my first automatic washer.”
The utility room also contained a cauldron that each generation has kept to stand sentry in a corner of the room.
It served two purposes, Ken said.
“That old-black cast-iron cauldron was used for butchering hogs and doing laundry every week.”
Eventually, the wood-burning furnace was replaced by a forced-air furnace with propane heat.
“And the house had beautiful oak floors, but they were so hard to keep nice,” Ruby said.
“Every time we scraped a chair across the floor it would make a bad mark.
“So once we could afford to buy rugs, we carpeted the whole place with beautiful carpeting.”
In a kitchen that boasts a spacious breakfast nook, the original wood-burning kitchen stove was replaced with an electric replica, which is still being used by the next generation, Ruby said.
“And when I was growing up, the house had a dumb waiter with shelving,” Ken said.
“A shaft went down below the basement floor where it was nice and cool.”
Ken’s mother canned and put up fruit jars, all kept cool on the dumb-waiter shelving that rested eight feet down at a temperature of 55 degrees.
“We took the dumb waiter out and just put shelves there,” Ruby said.
In 1976, Ken and Ruby sold a share of the homestead to the next generation, son Russell and his wife, Debbie.
“We bought a house three-quarters down the road from the homestead,” Ken said.
“We wanted to scale down, and Russell wanted to farm it real bad. I was tickled that one of the kids wanted to take over the farm.”
Russell and Debbie bought the house and 20 acres but rented the remaining 60 acres, Debbie said.
“We’re checking on getting the rest of it put in our name now.
“We’ll just go by the value of the property and find out what each acre’s worth, and we pay that.”
Russell and Debbie said a recent estimate of the land value of the 80 acres, not including the house or out buildings, was approximately $1,000 per acre for a total of $80,000. This compares to the $6.88 per acre for a total of $550 paid by Pankratz in 1880.
Russell and Debbie have made changes to the Schroeder family homestead, making it their own and molding it to fit in with their family farming operation as silage harvesters.
“The biggest change I made on the house is I pulled up the rugs,” Debbie said.
“I had the kids and the guys coming in from the outside tracking mud,” she said.
“So I just couldn’t handle that on rugs, and it has beautiful oak floors.”
An extensive list of the rest of their changes over the years includes the following:
n?remodeling the upstairs by converting three bedrooms to two, adding a bathroom, putting in Sheetrock, refinishing the woodwork and painting;
n putting in a new chimney;
n re-wiring from the old knob-and-tube wiring to up-dated code wiring;
n remodeling a downstairs bedroom into an office for Debbie;
n replacing the propane furnace back to a wood-burning furnace;
n removing the hand pump in the front yard of the house;
n adding a round-top machine shed outside;
n removing cedar trees, shrubs and
fencing to make way for drives and farm equipment;
n re-working the foundation on the west side of the house where Debbie’s office is now located.
“When the house was built, they had put all the plaster in (my office), and it made this side of the house dip down, and there was always a three-inch drop,” Debbie said.
“My son used to sit here on the floor and roll his cars, and they’d come back to him.”
Russell and Debbie have one son and one daughter. Family members talk about the possibility of son Jeremy eventually living in the house as each generation has done since Heinrich began this real-estate heritage empire.
“We bought some other ground, and my son wants to build a new house on that right now,” Debbie said.
“I don’t know, maybe later on in the years we just might trade houses, but we really haven’t talked about it.”
Of Ken and Ruby’s eight great-grandchildren, none have the Schroeder name to carry on the tradition for yet one more generation past Jeremy.
But that could change soon because Jeremy and his wife, Maggie, are expecting a baby in two months.
Will it be a boy to carry on the name?
“If he has a boy, it will be four generations of Schroeders living, if I live that long,” Ken said.
“Just keeping the 80-acre farm in the family-we always hope it will stay-it’s a good feeling if you know another generation will live there someday.”