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Cottage Grove 'Century Farm' bought by Henry Bothe in 1881

Most people who know Roger and Ruth Ann Bothe do not know the couple enjoys taking boat tours on the Mississippi River.

Maybe it's because of a river connection that goes back to 1850 for the Bothe family.

The couple presented the history of their farm at 65th Street and Tower Drive in Cottage Grove to those attending the March meeting of the South Washington Heritage Society in in St. Paul Park.

The Bothe family history in America began when Henryk and Louise Bothe, Roger's great-great-grandparents, emigrated in 1850 from Hanover, Germany,

They came through the port of New Orleans. While going north on the river they were accosted by pirates. The second boat they traveled on burned. They walked 100 miles to Warrenton, Mo., according to Roger.

Their son, Fredrick, came farther north to farm in Woodbury. Fredrick's son, Henry bought the current Bothe farm in 1881.

Henry married Louise Bang from Red Wing.

"When the fathers met at the wedding, they realized they had met on the boat from Germany," Roger said.

The couple had five children; Maude, who died very young; Verna; Laura; Roy, who died at age 4; and Earl.

In 1898, Henry built a barn and then a house in 1900 that is still on the Bothe farm. Roger's father, Earl, was born the same year.

Earl went to the Methodist College in St. Paul Park. When it closed, he attended Parker Collage in Winnebago, Minn.

Henry died in the spring of 1918.

"On his 18th birthday, dad (Earl) came back to the farm to be with his mother," Roger said.

Earl married Isabelle George in 1933. Mary Jean was born in 1934 and Roger in 1939.

The Bothe family were charter members of the Woodbury United Methodist Church. "At that time, it was quite a job to go to church," he said.

Bricks were heated the night before church to keep the family, especially younger children, warm, on the eight-mile trip up Radio Drive to Afton Road to the church. Roger said the trip, one way, would have taken about two hours.

Life was hard for those who came to the prairie. With horses pulling plows, not a lot of acres could be planted and harvested.

Women, with no refrigeration other than root cellars, dried food, and canned or pickled the rest of it so there would be vegetables in the winter.

Roger, born during The Great Depression, was told that, at least on one occasion, his parents waited in their car for the mail to come and the check from a hog sale so they could buy supplies.

In the 1930s, a hired man was working the fields on the south side of the farm near School Road when two black cars whizzed by with the occupants shooting at each other.

The next day, the newspaper gave details of South St. Paul Police chasing John Dillinger.

In 1936, Earl bought an Allis Chalmers tractor. Harold Kernkamp, a neighbor who would later become the city's first mayor, said Earl was foolish to trade a good team of horses for a tractor.

There was record-breaking heat that summer. Kernkamp asked for Earl's help in bringing in his hay because the horses couldn't take the heat. "After that, the tractor was OK," Roger said.

Roger and Mary Jean attended Sunnyhill School, located east of the family farm. In 1952, it was consolidated with St. Paul Park and Roger graduated from St. Paul Park High School in 1957.

In 1965, he took over the farm.

Over time, Roger grew corn, soybeans, hay and oats. He milked 35 cows until 1975 and then raised beef cattle until 2004.

In 1977, he married Ruth Ann Nelson, a third-grade teacher at Crestview Elementary School.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to marry a man who was married to cattle," Ruth Ann said. "But we have had a wonderful life."

Earl and Isabelle continued to live in the original house until they died, Isabelle in 1983 and Earl in 1987.

They lived to see the farm designated as a "Century Farm" in 1981. Earl was still alive when Roger and Ruth Ann were named Farm Family of the Year in 1986 by Washington County.

In 1984, the couple adopted a son, Brian, who, at age 22, is married, living in South St. Paul and pursuing a career in music.

Roger and Ruth Ann have an agreement with Orrin Thompson Homes that will see the farmland become housing for another generation.

"All good things must come to an end," Roger said. "We'll be growing houses in about four years."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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