Century Farms

  7 JULY 1951

Downer Farm

The Downer family can claim a series of pioneers, and over the 110 years it has remained in the family the Lee M. Downer Farm, on King Road (Downer Road), Forestville, has kept pace with the most up-to-date agricultural practices.

Originally a grain farm, it has seen a transition through dairying and is now one of the county's best fruit farms.

The land was included in a 338-acre tract purchased from the Holland Land Company in 1817 by Abner Cooley.  As he grew older, Mr. Cooley divided it into 50-acre plots for his children, and two of them, Lorenzo and Aretus, received the parts which now comprise most of the Downer farm.

Aretus Cooley sold his portion to Silas Remington, and Lorenzo's section was sold to Jonathan Pattiison and then to Remington.  Meanwhile, Remington had aquired an adjacent 20 acres on the south end from a Mr. Holbrook, making a total of 120 acres in his holdings.

In 1841, Mr. Remington sold the farm to Oliver Lee, and later that year he sold it to his brother-in-law, Uriah Downer.  Mr. Lee moved to Silver Creek and was fore-father of an important family there.

Uriah Downer was born in 1796 at Bozrah, Conn., and after Lee purchased the place for him, he brought his family by steamboat to New York, then on the Erie Canal to Buffalo and by steamer again to Silver Creek.

At that time, a small house, about 20 by 26 feet, had been built, and very little of the land had been cleared.  This first house now forms the center section of one of the three dwellings on the farm.

Little is known of the farm's history until 1877, when it was the subject of a lengthy and favorable report in the old Chautauqua Farmer.  At that time, the farm had been taken over by Uriah's son, Edwin U. Downer, who had come with his family at the age of 6.  He took over the farm at an early age, because of illness of his father.

The old newspaper report states that the Downer farm was then "nominally a grain farm," but lists 20 head of cattle including 10 to 12 milers, and some calves and culls fattening for market.  There were 20 acres in pasture, 40 in timber, and the rest on rotation in clover, winter wheat, corn, oats or barley, and grass.  There were then 175 apple trees and some peach trees.

Drainage was an established practice then, with a mile and a quarter of tile and wood drains.  Edwin was prominent in his day, and was one of the founders of the Hanover Farmers Club, started in 1877, which continued to meet until recently.

Edwin dept Durham cattle until about 1905 to 1910, when he stocked the farm with Brown Swiss.  He showed these at fairs throughout this section of the county, but the herd dwindled, probably as a result of disease.

Edwin is also credited with major improvements to the house, including the front up-right section.  Two side wings had been added by Uriah, and one of them has since been removed.  Edwin also built the present dairy barn in 1880, on of the first in the section with hip roof and cupola, sealed granary, and a flagpole.  It had 16 stanchions, and was the subject of admiration by farmers who came miles to see it.

Two other barns then on the farm are still in use, one as a garage and apple storage building and the other as a machinery barn.

Edwin had two children, Karl E. and Walter D. Downer.  He died in 1899, leaving everything in his wife's name.  The two sons each operated half of the farm, until in 1923 Karl's health failed and he moved to Ellington, and later to Randolph where he still lives.

Walter then secured ownership of the entire farm.  His son, Lee M., present owner, was then taking a one-year course at Cornell University, and he returned to take over the part formerly operated by Karl.

Mr. Downer and his father started then to raise pure-bred Holsteins, and the diary has continued on the farm.  The sold milk for 2 years in Silver Creek and later in Buffalo.  About two years ago Mr. Downer sold mos of the herd, but purchased more heifers last fall.

Lee Downer set almost all of the fruit orchards, now the principal business on the farm.  He has 50 to 60 acres in applies, grapes, cherries, prunes and strawberries, and raises hay, grain and tomatoes on other land too low for orchards.  Mr. Downer obtained title to the farm in 1938 and 1943, and in 1944 purchased 75 acres of an adjacent farm, of which he later sold all but 22 acres.

The house now occupied by Mr. Downer was built in 1909 by his father.  The old family homestead, and a house on the adjacent farm which he bought, are occupied by helpers on his farm.