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Retrospect: Lisbon's great farming era passes

Last Revised 05/03/2009

 by Fred H. Keller, Sussex Village Historian

published, Sussex Sun, Retrospect, September 3, 2008

Farming’s great days in Lisbon, Sussex and Colgate have passed. Only a whisper remains of what they were from the 1840s to the 1960s.

The cows are down to just a few herds, and what farmland is left is “cash cropped” (rented out), awaiting a developer to snatch it up.

From just the 1950s to today, Sussex’s 46 barns dwindled to just two. One of the survivors is the Schroeder Implement barn, once used by Andrew Davidson and his son-in-law, Charles Rose.

(The Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society is now showing a farming exhibit, including many photos of our long-gone barns.)

Farming was once king, with cows wherever you looked and fields of oats, hay, barley and corn in all directions. Lisbon was a big wheat grower in the pioneer decades, until a smut disease decimated this crop. Another important crop that brought in immediate cash was hops (the main ingredient in beer) until the hop louse ruined this crop, too.

Secondary crops included sugar beets (last planted in the mid 1950s), potatoes and peas, which stocked roadside vegetable stands. A niche crop was sunflowers for seeds and oil.

Soy beans were not grown here until the late 1950s, but they are now a significant cash crop for their oil and protein. Wheat has made a comeback, too, with new smut-resistant varieties.

Much of Lisbon’s corn, soy bean and wheat fields are grown by farmers who rent land to ply their trade. Notable among them are the McLaughlin, Meissner, Fleisner and Fryda families.

Lisbon once boasted three creameries, one at Lisbon and Richmond Roads, another at Champeny Road and Maple Avenue and a third at North Lisbon and Town Line roads. The Merton Creamery was nearby. A cheese factory at Waukesha Avenue and Main Street in Templeton also took in dairy farm output.

Sussex once hosted three feed mills in Templeton, on Maple Avenue (Sussex Mills) and near the North Western Railroad tracks just west of Maple Avenue.

No less than half a dozen farm equipment dealerships did business in Sussex: Nettesheim and Otto, Hardiman Oil Co., Stier and Schroeder, Medhurst, Sussex Garage (Paul Cain’s) and the Marx brothers’ Universal Garage.

The truly great farm families of Lisbon were Meissner, McKerrow, McLaughlin, Manke, Mindemann, Weber, Seaborn, Schlicker, Beaumont, Abel, Rankin, Champney, Butler, Mamerow, Piel, Trapp, Craven, Brown, Metzger, Siewert, Hardiman, Kerr, Wileden, Pfeil, Nettesheim, Tempero, Dobbertin, Stause, Sennots , McGill, Connell, Melville, Stone, Stier, Richmond, Hecker, Jeffery, Sheehan, Grengo, Condon, Howard and Fryda.

Most of them had multiple farms or continued farming for several generations.

According to the Wisconsin State Historical Society more than 400 wooden barns per year are destroyed as neglect, wind, fire and demolitions take their toll.

Most of the Lisbon barns were painted red, the cheapest paint color available, but black, white, yellow, gray and an assortment of other colors also dotted the landscape.

Silos came in all shapes, from the oldest square ones with rounded corners inside (including two still standing in Lisbon) to the later fieldstone and poured-concrete structures. Other versions were made with wood (usually redwood), tile staves or steel (from A.O. Smith). Silos today are made of plastic tubing and concrete bunkers.

The typical Lisbon barn stored hay and grain upstairs and housed cows and horses on the ground level. Silos stood right next to the barn so silage could be easily transferred to the cows’ eating trough. Other buildings were used for machinery storage and repair and to house chickens, pigs and sheep.

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