First established in the 1880s as a homestead associated with the Greeley agricultural colony, Milne Farm sits just west of Lucerne in Weld County. The Milne family has owned the farm continuously for more than 125 years and has long been involved in irrigation, civic improvement, and business in the Lucerne area. The history of Milne Farm demonstrates the growth and change successful family-owned farms experienced during the twentieth century.
First Generation, 1888–1927
The land on which Milne Farm is now located was originally homesteaded in 1881 by Joseph F. Fraver, an Ohio native associated with the agricultural colony at Greeley. Fraver quickly built a three-room frame house and began to improve the land. After five years he had seventy-five chickens, two horses, a cow, and a calf; his crops included wheat, corn, oats, potatoes, and hay. He applied for a patent on his acreage and in 1888 sold the farm to James G. Milne for $5,000.
Originally from Scotland, Milne had immigrated to Colorado in the early 1880s. He was one of many young men from Scotland who came to Colorado’s eastern plains because of Britain’s entail system, which made it impossible for them to inherit land. Milne worked on nearby farms and performed other jobs throughout the 1880s before earning enough money to buy his own land.
Milne soon became a successful farmer, and his success paralleled that of Weld County agriculture as a whole. Like many Weld County farmers, he added alfalfa to his rotation of crops after it was discovered that fields previously planted with alfalfa had larger potato yields. Weld County potato production grew until it reached more than 5 million bushels per year in 1909. Milne also added sugar beets, which became a major cash crop in Weld County and across eastern Colorado in the early twentieth century.
Milne’s greatest influence came in the areas of sheep feeding and irrigation. In Scotland his father had been an authority on sheep, and as a boy Milne had cared for the family’s cattle and sheep. In 1890, two years after the first Weld County lambs were sold in Denver, Milne began to raise sheep to sell in Chicago. He became a local leader in sheep raising, traveling to New Mexico and Mexico to buy the animals. Eventually, sheep became a major element of Weld County’s agricultural economy.
Before Milne arrived in Weld County, the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company was organized in 1879 and developed the Larimer and Weld Ditch (often known as the Eaton Ditch). Milne served for eighteen years on the irrigation company board and also involved himself in other local irrigation ventures. He pushed for construction of the Boyd Lateral (now the Town-Boyd Lateral), which supplies water to Milne Farm. He served as president of the Larimer and Weld Reservoir Company, organized in 1909 to provide a storage reservoir for the Larimer and Weld Ditch. He also became vice president of the Windsor Reservoir and Canal Company, which operated the Windsor Reservoir within the Larimer and Weld irrigation system.
Because of Milne’s success in farming and his leadership in agricultural issues, he became influential in local civic affairs. He advocated building a railroad siding at Lucerne in 1892, which allowed local farmers to ship their produce without having to make a trip to Greeley.
In 1892 Milne built a two-bedroom brick farmhouse in the Edwardian Vernacular style. One 1898 publication described the house as “one of the best places in Weld County.” Though the house has had several additions through the years, the original interior remains largely intact, with only the kitchen remodeled. Other farm structures dating to this period include the bunk house (1897), built as sleeping quarters for hired farmworkers; the pump house (1900); the tank house (1900); and the dugout (1910) for storing potatoes, a common farm building in the area.
Second Generation, 1927–89
When James G. Milne died in 1927, James G. Milne Jr. took over Milne Farm. He quickly expanded the farm and added new facilities. He built a machine shed (1930), a sign of the mechanization of many farm tasks. He also added a second floor to the farmhouse, making sure to replicate all the details from the original first floor. In 1939 he enlarged the farm’s land by buying an adjacent eighty-acre plot.
Milne Jr. had the money for these additions and expansions during the Great Depression, but his farm was not entirely immune from hardship. The brick chicken house (1935) and frame chicken house (1937) stand as evidence that chickens became an important way of making ends meet during the Depression. Like many other farmers, the Milnes sold eggs in town to earn extra money for groceries and supplies. The farm also received an outhouse from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, part of that agency’s efforts to help farmers upgrade their facilities.
Hired farm labor was scarce during World War II, when many men were serving in the military. In some locations, including Weld County, German prisoners of war (POWs) helped offset the labor shortage. German POWs arrived in Weld County starting in late 1943. On Milne Farm they worked on several infrastructure projects, including upgrading the farm’s irrigation system by lining its ditches with concrete.
Throughout Milne Jr.’s ownership, a tenant farmer did the actual farming on Milne Farm. Milne Jr. supervised the farming and irrigation operations as well as the sheep raising. He maintained the family’s interest in local irrigation and business affairs. Milne Jr. became president of the Larimer and Weld Irrigation Company and the Larimer and Weld Reservoir Company, and he served as a director of the Windsor Reservoir and Canal Company and the Town-Boyd Lateral Company. He helped organize Eaton Bank, established to serve local farmers, and sat on the bank’s board for more than three decades.
Milne Jr. also developed business interests in Boulder, where he attended the University of Colorado in the 1920s. He served as a director of the First National Bank of Boulder and the University of Colorado Development Foundation. In 1947 he helped start a Boulder-based concrete business that evolved into the Flatiron Construction Corporation, which worked on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon and now operates across the United States and in Canada.
In 1988 Milne Farm was named a Colorado Centennial Farm, a designation the Colorado Historical Society and the US Department of Agriculture bestow on working farms that have been owned by a single family for at least 100 years.
Third Generation and Beyond
After James G. Milne Jr.’s death in 1989, James G. Milne III and his wife became the owners of Milne Farm. They increased the farm’s size by acquiring several nearby historic farms and continued the family’s tradition of investment and interest in local irrigation organizations. Milne III died in 2007, and the farm passed to his sons. The original Milne farmhouse, first built by James G. Milne in 1892, still stands as one of the last old farmhouses in the Lucerne area.