By Starrla Cray
COKATO, MN Thirty-eight-year-old Emil Titrud let his eyes wander over his new dairy farm in Stockholm Township, about a mile from where he was born. All 80 acres were his, at a price of $150 each.
That was 100 years ago. Now, the farm is owned by Emil’s grandson, Lee, and his wife, Rebecca. It’s no longer used for dairy, but Lee still has three cows.
“Up until last year, I was milking one cow,” Lee commented.
Back in 1918, the barn and house were brand new, and Emil was just getting ready to start his own dairy operation. Having grown up on a farm, Emil was already experienced at this type of work.
Emil’s dad, Olof, immigrated to America from Norway in 1868. Olof met and married a woman named Karen, and they settled on a farm in Stockholm Township.
“This was a Swedish community, so they spoke Norwegian at home, Swedish at church, and English at school,” Lee said.
As years went on, Olof and Karen had a dozen children six boys and six girls. Olof passed away unexpectedly of food poisoning in 1899, one week after attending the Minnesota State Fair. The day of his funeral, his six sons posed for a photo, wearing dark suits and somber expressions.
The youngest son, Albert, eventually ended up taking over the home farm, while his siblings found other ways to make a living. Two of the boys, Carl and Victor, started Titrud Brothers Hardware in Cokato in 1903.
Carl’s smart cow
At that time, most Cokato-area residents even business owners kept a cow to furnish their own milk. Carl’s cow didn’t like to stay home, though. On several occasions, the cow escaped its stanchion and was found wandering around town.
In the book “A Can of Cream,” available for $10 at the Cokato Museum, it was noted that Carl initially assumed his wife, Elda, wasn’t closing the stanchion latch properly. But when Carl spied on the cow one day after milking, he was amazed to see the cow using its horn to lift the latch. Carl saw an opportunity for innovation, and created a new stanchion design to prevent this occurrence. He was issued a patent for it Nov. 28, 1911.
The Century Farm’s beginning
Good stanchions were useful for Emil, whose chosen profession was dairy farming. Before purchasing his own operation, he and Albert had farmed together on the home place.
Five years before buying the farm, Emil wrote a poem about a beloved horse named Molly who had passed away. One of the lines was “I used to take her out for a drive, when my ‘sweetheart’ and I went for a ride.”
In 1914, Emil’s “sweetheart,” who was named Emma, became his wife. They raised one son and two daughters while living off the income of the farm. Emil and Emma both helped care for the cows, and the milk was hauled in cans to Stockholm Creamery.
In 1931, Emil’s operation was recognized by the National Dairy Association for high milk production, since his herd of eight cows had produced an average of 388 pounds of butterfat each that year. (Today, the average dairy cow produces about 963 pounds of butterfat annually, according to Holstein Association USA.)
When Emil’s son, Woodrow, got married, he and his wife, Esther, took over the property. The farm was their only source of income, as well. Woodrow and Esther had two children Lee and Anne.
Now, Lee and his wife are the third generation on the farm. They rent out the land, and their two adult daughters (and their families) live less than 2 miles away.
“I have lived in this house for 72 years,” Lee commented.
During his lifetime, Lee has witnessed a shift in the dairy industry. Farms have increased in size, and the number of total farms has decreased. There are currently 3,470 licensed dairy herds in the state, according to the Midwest Dairy Association.
“Years ago, there was a creamery every few miles,” Lee recalled. When the Stockholm Creamery closed, his family started taking their milk to the creamery in Dassel. After that one closed, milk went to First District Association in Litchfield.
In 1965, one of Lee’s distant relatives, Mary Ann Titrud, was crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way the first Princess Kay to have her likeness sculpted in butter. To pay tribute to the butter industry, she wore a dress made from butter cartons representing the various creameries in Minnesota.
Old and new
Lee remembers planting corn without a tractor years ago.
“The whole crop was planted with two horses and a two-row planter,” he recalled. “It took a whole week; with today’s equipment, it would take a couple of hours.”
Lee still has relics from the old days, including a horse-drawn buggy from his grandfather. He also has a diary written by his great-uncle, Albert. The Titrud family took several photographs to help preserve the past, as well.
One book that has helped tell the Titruds’ story is called “Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished places.” The book’s cover features the Titrud Round Barn, which was located on Olof and Karen’s property. The round barn was built by their son, O.L. Titrud in 1908, and was designed to provide an efficient feeding system. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, the Titrud Round Barn is the only property on the Minnesota National Register that has been destroyed by a tornado (June 16, 1992).