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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A living agricultural museum

Hanley Farm

A living agricultural museum

Story by Pamela R. Gibson

Photography by Mary Wilkinskelly


It was once said that “history is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.” As one of the oldest preserved farms in the region, Hanley Farm may offer such insight. Located just over two miles outside of Jacksonville, this hospitable 1850’s property provides a peek into our historical past.

Listed on the Registry of Historic Places, the white two-story farmhouse stands as a testament of time and features a classic gothic revival architecture and a gabled roof. The charming front porch is welcoming with built-in bench seating and adorned by decorated railings with flat arched lintels. The numerous old windows with slightly buckled panes grace the home and add much curiosity about the residents who once looked out. The many trees, plants, and gardens on the grounds continue to thrive knowing that they were once planted with passion and care. A rustic old barn built in 1910 is positioned close to the Hanley house, while a barn built in the 1850s is located on the west side of the property. Hanley farm’s history creates a unique living museum for the community with its numerous buildings that hold many stories about the life of a pioneer. 

The story of the farm began with Michael Hanley, a pioneer who was drawn to the West Coast by the gold rush of 1850 where he met his wife, Martha. They purchased the 636-acre Clinton-Welton donation land claim in 1857, which was later named The Willows because of the prominent willow tree planted on the property in honor of one of the Hanley children. They continued to develop and improve the farmstead by planting wheat, oats, corn, and alfalfa while raising cattle, mules, sheep, hogs, and horses. 

The Hanley’s also built a number of structures on the property that remain intact and well-preserved today. The spring house is one such building that is an example of earlier times. The solid stone structure was constructed shortly after the purchase of the property as a necessary means to protect the water source after the nearby artesian well dried up. It also provided a cool, dry storage area for root crops.

Over the course of a hundred years, the farmstead expanded to include ten structures—from the old barn built in 1854 to the caretaker’s house built in 1950. The old barn was originally located on the front side of the property and later moved board by board to its present location on the western edge. The style reflects construction from the Southeastern region of the United States with a general lean-to form. Considered one of the oldest standing barns in Oregon, it was used for the Hanley livestock and as a threshing barn with two side lofts that were later used for hay storage.

At the time of his death in 1889, Hanley had acquired numerous properties in Jackson and Klamath counties. He had become one of the most reputable and wealthiest farmers in the region. His wife, Martha, had passed two years prior, and the Hanley homestead was willed to their daughter, Alice, who had been actively managing the property as well as caring for her parents. Alice inherited the Hanley home and the outbuildings, including the 110-acres of farmland. The other property holdings located throughout the region were equally divided between the five surviving children. 

Alice continued to manage the farmstead while pursuing her innate passions in agriculture and gardening. She was an active community member and responsible for many organizations in existence today. Alice raised her six-year-old niece, Claire after the untimely deaths of Claire’s parents. Claire learned the love and passion of agriculture, horticulture and history from her Aunt Alice and would remain at The Willows for the remainder of her life. After the death of Alice in 1940, Claire invited her two sisters. Martha and Mary, to live with her at the farm.

Although eighty acres of the farm property were sold to Jackson County for the Extension Service of Oregon State University, The Willows continued to be managed by Claire and her sisters, who provided many contributions to its preservation and history. Eventually, The Willows was donated as a living history museum to the Southern Oregon Historical Society by Mary Hanley in 1982 with the right to live there until her passing in 1986. 

As the stewards of Hanley Farm, the Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS) is committed to continuing the legacy of the Hanley Family through sustainable and ecologically friendly farming practices and the preservation of the structures. They continue to embrace the importance of maintaining this living history museum for generations to come while offering farm and house tours, educational programs, events, and as a wedding venue.

The graciousness and forethought of the Hanley family to bequeath this remarkable farm has provided us the opportunity to reflect on our past, embrace our future, and hopefully, illuminate our souls.

For more information about Hanley Farm or for volunteer opportunities, please contact Southern Oregon Historical Society (SOHS) at (541) 773-6536.

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