The Farmers, Past and Present

Strong backs, hard muscles, rough hands, tanned skin … The farmers of Three Kings Farm have braved the elements and the hardships to work this land. Historical records show there have been at least 12 brave farmers of this land over the last 250 years.

The historical record starts in the early 1700s with a Penn family lease to John Ralston. John and his sons pioneered the land in the 1730s and 1740s, presumably living in log cabins during this time. It appears from Vincent tax records his oldest son, John, lived there until 1771.

The time of the Revolution is a mystery, the farm was not leased as far as we know after John’s death in 1771. The history trail picks up in the 1780s with the Rices and Shinemans. John and Betsy Rice John Rice (Reis) shared a farm with John’s sister and husband, Benjamin Shineman. The depiction on maps for the Rice/Shineman farm is exactly the same as the Ralston farm 50 years earlier. We do not know who first built the current farm house or the old barn. Most of these old homes were built and re-built many times, often starting as log cabins and evolving to log and stone homes. John was a blacksmith, a wheel-wright and stone-wright who had the skills and expertise to build the strong foundation of the farm. The Rice family built several mills, houses and barns in the area; so they likely played a big role in the building of the farmhouse and the old barn. We know the family worked the farm for about 30-35 years (John until 1790 and then his son Jacob until about 1816). The farm then passed to a young couple, George and Leticia Wagenseller, for a very short time. It appears they were absentee owners while Jacob Rice worked the land. The real story of this German couple is unknown. Did they buy the farm to start a family and changed their mind. Or was it just an investment? We will never know, but this couple sold the farm only a couple of years later to another young couple in their church, Michael and Julianna King.

Michael and Julianna were raised in West Pikeland, about 5 miles from the farm. Michael’s father was one of the founders of the Pikeland Lutheran church on Pikeland road. Michael’s grandfather came to America in 1740 using his family dowery (he was the fourth son of a Duke in Germany) to purchase a lease for land in Pikeland. In 1814, Michael and his two brothers returned from serving in the War of 1812, and he promptly married Juliana whose family also went to his church. They bought the farm and started their family. They had many children one after another.

Unfortunately life in those days was hard. Little Julianna died at age 2 and her mother died in 1829 at the age of 40. They are both buried at the Pikeland Lutheran church cemetery. Jacob, their 4th son, died at age 13 in 1831, just a year after his mother died. Michael remarried promptly in 1831 to Anna Rhoads, a member of the church who had been widowed in 1818. Perhaps the new wife spurred on the remodeling of the house, and there are many signals that remodeling occurred in 1833. They expanded the farm in 1841 purchasing 41 acres just to the north of the farm. Michael lived a long life living and working each day with at least two of his sons. The census in 1850 shows the following people living on the farm: Michael (64), Anna (63 – his 2nd wife), Philip (30), Henry (28), Mary (22) and Catharine Shimer (15). Anna was Catharine’s aunt. Michael died in 1863 and allowed two sons, Henry and Philip, options to buy. Philip declined and Henry got to choose between the original 48 acre farm and the 41 acre Shineman farm. He chose the original plot and the 41 acre property was sold. William, the oldest son, had become a tavern owner in Downingtown after working the farm with his father for many years.

Henry King ran the farm until his death in 1898. The census in 1870 shows the following people living on the farm: Henry (49 – farmer), Elizabeth Shineman (54 – house keeper), and Mary Maxson (23 – domestic keeper). Elizabeth Shineman was the daughter of Benjamin Shineman Jr. Henry never married, and gave the farm to the wife of his departed good friend, George B Downing. The widow, Sadie Downing owned the farm for about 10 years, until 1910. Sadie was deeply connected to the King family. Anna King was her aunt, and Sadie lived on the farm with the Kings as a child. The 1860 census shows Sadie, who was 10 at the time, lived on the farm with Michael, Anna, and Henry. Sadie moved away in the 1870’s and returned as a married adult. The 1880 census document also gives us some insight into the situation at the time. Henry King was listed as a boarder with the profession of retired farmer. George (31) and his wife Sadie (30) also lived on the farm with a recorded profession of farmer and keeping house. In reality, the Downings worked the farm for over 30 years (late 1870s to 1910), and it was very appropriate that Henry gave the farm to Sadie upon his death in 1898. Interesting to note, Sadie returned to live out her last years on the farm in the 1930s.

Then John Kenney bought the farm for his wife, Margaret “Maggie” King, a King family relative in 1910. They named the farm “In A Valley” at the time, a good description of the place when viewed from the highest vantage point. The Kenneys lived on the farm until 1964. They even built a house on the edge of the property for their daughter Helen, and a Kenney relative lives there today. Anna was Margaret’s great-grandmother.

A King relative owned the farm from 1816 to 1964, a 148 year time-span. Three Kings built the foundation of the farm for the King family in the 1800s; Michael, Philip and Henry. We honor them with the name Three Kings Farm. Actually four relatives were owners (Maggie – owned for 54 years)(Sadie – owned for 11 years, lived there for about 40 years)(Michael – owned for 47 yrs)(Henry – owned for 33 years, lived there his whole life).

Charlie and Wanda Barron owned the farm for the next 7 years. Charlie, a Veterinary Pathologist from Texas, worked as a cancer researcher for CIBA at the time. The Barrons raised 3 children on the farm and eventually sold the property to Kennard and Veronica Porter in 1971. Kennard Porter was a successful real estate executive in the area for several decades, and the farm got referred to as the Porter place by the late 1990s.

The Porters sold the farm to a development group in 2005, and for the first time in over 200 years the farm was divided into the back 30 acres and the front 18 acres that is today’s Three Kings Farm. The farm’s address, Veronica Drive, gets its name from Veronica Porter. The Earl and Marjorie Cooke purchased the 18 acre farm (within the sale from the Porters) and completed a massive reconstruction of the farmhouse. The Cookes in turn, sold the farm to today’s present owners, Jim and Jane Helm, in 2012.

Still today we wander the through the fields and dream of the past. From the biggest hill overlooking the entire farm to the wetlands below, we can easily see and feel the hard work and commitment of the previous farmers before us. Life, death, blood, sweat and tears – it makes the farm what it is today, Three Kings Farm.