Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Letter Update: Widner-Magers Farm Historic District



Happy 2019 Everyone!

Perhaps because we were raised in a farming community, we don't realize how many people dream of walking into a farm setting as it was almost a century ago, when agriculture was the heartbeat of our nation and folks had the opportunity to own and till their own land.  Besides renovating a total of ten vintage buildings and constructing six more, for the last ten years we have played host to those who fantasize about what they believed was a simpler life. We gave them a little taste of Delta farm life by donning costumes and speaking the language of the 1930s. They have come by bus loads--from as far away as New Jersey--by car and truck, and by bikes on a hot Sunday afternoon. We have also played host to those who have returned to the area for a visit, to reminisce about those 'good ole days.'  We have hosted weddings in front of the old barn. Organizations, various Chambers of Commerce in several towns, church and school groups have visited to find out just what a living history museum is all about. They have washed clothes with a rub board, played games of the 1930s, and had picnics with food from that era. They have picked sacks full of cotton and toted them to the company store for payment in pennies—pennies usually spent on candy inside the store. They have played storekeeper, postmaster, and landowner. Folk crafts have had their hands weaving rag rugs and making brooms. Hopefully, everyone went away with a better understanding about our Delta farming history. Unfortunately, in 2017 we had to stop giving public tours due to a huge increase in liability insurance and government rulings on public places. But, we do still give a few private tours and we always enjoy people stopping by and sharing their history with us.


We have also taken our Delta history on the road and continue to do so. We have taught workshops in rag rug weaving, broom making, Native American herbs, open fire cooking, and other crafts at Arkansas  Parks, particularly  at Parkin Archeological State Park. We have taught workshops for Arkansas Northeastern College. One year the youth from an ANC summer program came to the farm, learning the how-tos of making movies. John has participated in digs with the Arkansas Archeology Department of the University of Arkansas. He has also been a member of their organization. We participated in the Delta Made Products for several years. The Widner-Magers Farm Historic District has been a member of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agriculture Museums for fourteen years, an organization where we were able to share a little of our Southern history.  Our barns were featured in the AETN production Back Road Barns in 2016. We have appeared in numerous issues of Delta Crossroads magazine and Arkansas Living. The old grocery store was the location for the cover of Joe Chipman's CD Keeping It Delta. And you may have seen several billboards from that same store porch.


The groups visiting our farm have been many but we have reached larger numbers of people through our four blogs. Since 2017, I have concentrated on getting our Delta story out through them. The Country Farm Home has had several million people visit since its start. It has also been awarded one of the Top Fifty Farmhouse Blogs in the country.  The Duncan Farmstead blog is running close behind it. It is the place where I sneak in history with present day happenings at the farm. From Our Old Country Store blog, we have filled orders for John's Rag Rug Looms, which have been shipped all over the world--to such places as England, Canada, Italy, Australia, and Africa. In fact, in Nigeria, the ladies have built a cottage industry with their rugs made on John's looms. I also share other folk crafts at this site, and we periodically sell other items.


Dell, Arkansas is our fourth blog. There is probably more interest at that site from all over the USA than there is locally--from people whose families once lived here.  Little by little, I share stories and information about our unique little community’s past history. All through the years, I have continued my research and collecting of information but have had little time to share even a small part of what I have.

Well, I guess you get the picture by now. We've been busy. After all, there are only two of us and John has retired three times now! Most of all we have represented your heritage locally, nationally, and internationally.






Now we are beginning a new phase, the last of our mission and in preparation and anticipation of turning the farmstead over to the state or an organization with the same vision that we have had.  There is a lot of work ahead. It won't happen overnight. It's been through the kindness and interest of others who have donated to our project that has insured that the history of Dell and the surrounding communities will never be lost. We intend to make sure of that.

I have another project going on, too. In 2018, I began writing our Delta stories for the national magazine Country Rustic. The stories have been quite a hit. I will continue to write again this year, plus our farm will be featured in each issue for a year beginning in the Fall of 2019. This is a wonderful opportunity, along with the blogs and workshops, to inform more readers all over the country about our rich history. Cotton has become a huge farmhouse decorating element and people want to know more about the farms that produced it.


So as you see, we are not quitting. We are just slowing down a bit. There is plenty more to do. And, we will continue to collect and keep any history of the area, family histories, and donations. Each will be documented and kept safe here at the Historic District.

We both want to thank every one of you for your support, interest and donations through the years. Hopefully, the future will be just as fruitful. We moved back from Virginia to preserve the community’s heritage and we will continue to work to that end. . .

Thanks again!
Dru and John

The Mission of the Widner-Magers Farm Historic District is to promote and celebrate the unique agricultural experience of the Mississippi Delta in Northeast Arkansas, through the research and preservation of the farm buildings and early 20th century farm life; and to provide educational opportunities to experience 20th century farm life and folk culture.  

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