Shelbyville Daily Union

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July 29, 2011

German Immigrant Finds Fertile Shelby Land


In the mid-1800s Winand Schmitz migrated from Germany to Wisconsin. Eventually he took a train south and ended up in the southwestern corner of Shelby County.

In 1868 Schmitz purchased land in Oconee Township where he and his first wife raised a family. After his wife’s death, he left the land in his sons’ hands and purchased 100 acres of  land in Rose Township in 1887 from William Trower. There Schmitz built a log house on a hill next to Robinson Creek and farmed the land began raising his second family.

“My father was born in that log house,” said Eugene Schmitz, great grandson of Winan.

In 2001 the farm in Rose Township was recognized as a Centennial Farm by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The land is located on the south side of Route 16 between 1350E and 1300E (the old Lakewood road).

“It’s still good farmland if you can keep the water off of it,” Eugene mused.

Winand lived on the land for a couple of years before returning to the homestead at Oconee.

“He knew his sons weren’t managing it right, so he went back to Oconee,” Eugene said. That land in Oconee Township has also been recognized as a Centennial Farm.

Winand sold the land in Rose Township to Eugene’s grandfather John for $1. On the quit claim deed, the consideration states the land is given out of “natural love and affection we have for our son and of $1.”

After his father was born, Eugene’s grandfather John built a two-story home on the site. There he and his wife Margaret reared seven children: Winand (Eugene’s father), Matina, Cornelia, Clara, Leona, Celestine, and Merceda.

“Granddad had a saw mill and built the house himself,” Eugene said.

John died at age 44 leaving the land to his family. Celestine and Winand were the only boys and they farmed the land together. Celestine eventually bought out his siblings’ shares of the land starting in 1939.

Winand was the oldest son and shouldered the family responsibilities after his father’s death.

“My dad raised two families - his brother and sisters and six of his own kids,” Eugene said. He added that much of this time was during the Depression of the 1930’s

“The family income was less than $700 a year. We were poor, but we kids didn’t know we were poor,” Eugene said.

He added that during this time his father bought 80 acres of land for $12,000. It took him 20 years to pay for it.

Eugene said he and his father helped Celestine farm the land for a few years and then Eugene alone helped Celestine farm it.

Celestine had the two-story home taken down and moved a single floor house into its place.

In 1998 Celestine, who never married and had no children of his own, left the farm to his nephew who worked diligently beside him.

“He always said, ‘Thanks, ‘til you’re better paid.’ I guess I’m better paid now,” Eugene said.

Eugene and his wife Jean live a couple of miles from the Centennial farmland. The home and the farmland are rented out.

The Schmitzes plan to leave the land to their children to keep it in the family line.

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