Neat Gilfillan Farms

This sign hangs in the Gilfillan farm office as a reminder to take pride in all one does. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

GILFILLAN, Minn. – While Minnesota soldiers were away at the Civil War, 1861-1865, another war was occurring on Minnesota’s soils – the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The conflict is studied in school, but there is a living history available today that many people don’t know about. There are about 250 sites to visit that offer monuments and tombstones dating back to the war.

Farmfest attendees can pick up a new book that maps out these locations. “Guidebook to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862,” by Curtis A. Dahlin is $24.95. It is available on the Gilfillan grounds, at the Redwood County Historical Society, Redwood Falls, Minn., and at Larson’s Home Furnishings in Redwood Falls.

“We just made a guidebook – we started 11 years ago – and it’s a guidebook to get you from Point A to Point B,” said Scott Larson, Redwood County Historical Society president.

Featuring GPS locations and drone shots of battlefields, monuments and the lay of the land, the 212-page guidebook shows building foundations and easy-to-miss markers. There are 250 color photos and 31 maps that encompass the war that occurred in 33 counties and five states.

The first printing was available in early June, and a second printing was is for late July, Larson said.

“It’s very exciting. People are loving the book,” he said. “History is messy. Is it politically correct? Probably not, but that whole episode just isn’t politically correct and never will be, but it’s history and history is messy.”

While you stop by Gilfillan to see if any guidebooks are available, consider enjoying all the site has to offer during Farmfest, Aug. 6-8.

During the noon hours when the sun is at its hottest, Friends of Gilfillan will offer homemade ice cream root beer floats as well as hamburgers and brats with side dishes. Roadhouse Bar & Grill of Wabasso is partnering with the organization to serve meals. These are available in the Tauer Pavilion, with a newly-renovated kitchen. Then, guests can enjoy sitting at the picnic tables under mature green trees as polka bands play.

Most of the same groups as in recent years will be displaying again during Farmfest at Gilfillan.

“The whole property, everything, will be open,” said Al Kokesch, Friends of Gilfillan president, adding there may be a fee to tour the mansion, and donations are accepted for the Heritage House.

The Two-Cylinder Club will set up their antique farm equipment, and steam threshing will occur based on how well the oat crop produces.

Kokesch is expecting some miniature ponies at the show. The blacksmith will be back too.

Funnel cakes and curly fries will be available right outside the Tauer Pavilion, Kokesch added.

“The place looks like a park,” said Kokesch. “It’s nice.”

Almost every weekend, a wedding is scheduled for Gilfillan Estates with many wedding parties turned away. The schedule is almost full for 2020, he added.

For people who are interested in fiber arts, the Friends of Gilfillan group encourages a tour of the Gilfillan mansion. Ann Gilfillan, 1895-1990, would accompany her husband, Charles Oswin (C.O.) Gilfillan, 1872-1962, on hunting trips as well as trips around the world. She would take her needlepoint and crochet work with her, said Lavender Boyles.

“A lot of the furniture in the living room is upholstered with her needle work that she did,” Boyles said. “The piano bench, a chair, there’s a bedspread on the first floor that she crocheted.”

Boyles studied the history of the Gilfillan mansion and trained new guides to give tours.

As many know, Charles Duncan (C.D.) Gilfillan, was born in New York to Scottish parents, James and Janet Agnes Gilfillan in 1831. He was orphaned at age 11, yet somehow received a good education. He attended Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., before traveling to the Midwest. C.D. was a successful businessman in St. Paul, Minn., and developed the St. Paul drinking water system.

He and his second wife, Fanny S., had two girls and two boys, including C.O., who was a farmer, philanthropist and traveler. C.D. passed away in 1902 at the age of 71, and C.O. succeeded his father in Paxton Township, Redwood County.

The records are not very clear, but it sounds like the “main house” was built in 1882 under the direction of C.D., then 49-50 years old.

“What I had heard is that his wife, Fanny, wouldn’t move out until the house was done,” Boyles said. “He got it done as quickly as he could, I think.”

Fanny took the train out to Gilfillan, and the general consensus is that she preferred some of their other homes.

“The Gilfillans had several houses, so she probably her choice,” Boyles said. “There wasn’t a whole lot out here at the time. There weren’t stores or easy transportation anywhere. It was a different place.”

There are several pieces in the Gilfillan home that date to 1880 or earlier. There are also pictures of the house from when it was first built, as well as the progression to a more finished farm site.

With someone living in the home until 1990, the furnishings and décor range across the 1880-1990 time period, said Boyles.

“There are a lot of things from the turn-of the century,” she added. For those who are interested, Ann’s outfit for her honeymoon is on display, as are some of C.O.’s sister, Emma’s, outfits that look like they were made in Asia. There are handmade robes with intricate embroidery that are gorgeous, Boyles said.

“You can see the hand stitching on them,” she said. “The workmanship that went into the clothing and the fiber arts is worth appreciating.”

Talk to anyone involved in the Friends of Gilfillan group, and it won’t be long before you’ll hear a thickness in their voice that says they are humbled by the vision and kindness of the Gilfillan family.

Their activities and dollars continue to provide help many today. The Gilfillans have also inspired many people to try to do their best in all things.