By Beth Clark
Tom Flanagan and his wife Mary Beth (Bolander) reside on the Hancock County homestead on Rt. 1000 N. that has been in Mary Beth’s family for four generations. The farm was the recipient of a Hoosier Homestead Sesquicentennial award, which means the state recognizes that the property has been in the same family for over 150 years. The original 120-acre property was deeded in 1836, the year Vernon Township was organized. The deed to the property, proudly in Mary Beth’s possession, was signed by then Vice-President Martin van Buren. The farm was handed down over the years to members of the Bolander and Cushman families and some acreage was sold off to relatives; Mary Beth and her sister are the last of the Bolander family to be connected with the remaining 84 acre property.
In days past, crops were grown on the farm and livestock raised, including dairy cows (Holstein and Guernsey), horses, and at one time, over 10,000 chickens. The Flanagans graciously consented to an interview to relate stories about the farm, during the course of which Mary Beth revealed that not a single chicken is to be found on the property. Having spent her childhood and a good portion of her adulthood on the farm surrounded by chickens, she no longer has any desire to keep them. Farm fresh eggs are purchased elsewhere.
Tom and Mary Beth attended Fortville High School together, and Tom even worked on Mary Beth’s family’s farm when he was a teenager, but the two were introduced at church youth group. They spent a number of years of their married life away from the farm, but when they returned, they built their own house on the property. Very early structures on the property no longer remain; the original farmhouse was destroyed by fire around 1900. The two barns still standing date from the early 20th century, as does the main farmhouse, rebuilt after the fire. The Flanagan’s daughter Kimberly, son-in-law Brendan Hartnett, and two grandchildren now live in the farmhouse, which was recently gutted and renovated to bring it up to code.
The property today serves as a hobby farm for both the Flanagans and the Hartnetts who share the land. A couple of horses and cows are kept and some hay is grown. When asked the greatest challenge a small family farm must face, Tom replied, “Trying to keep it in the family without it becoming a financial burden. Family farms are disappearing; it’s hard to earn any living at it. Taxes alone are a strain and encroachment carries liabilities.” Legislation that allows small farms tax benefits for things like heritage barn preservation is very important to the Flanagans. Encroachment, new property development near farms, is a familiar occurrence in Vernon Township, especially in McCordsville. The risk it carries is that of complaints against existing family farms for things like the smell and noise of livestock. “New property owners can file complaints and suddenly a farm that raised cattle for 200 years can be forced to get rid of its animals,” Tom explained. Tom and Mary Beth, fully aware of the risks and challenges, are committed to doing all they can to keep their farm in the family.