Minnesota Historical Society

Mapping the Farm:: The Chronicle of a Family

$ 14.95

An evocative history of four generations of a Minnesota farm family and a chronicle of their way of life.

To some, the fields and farms of the Upper Midwest all look the same, but to the people who have struggled to raise families and make a living from the soil, each farm is a "small kingdom" with a rich and often troubled history. In Mapping the Farm, John Hildebrand, whom the New Yorker magazine praised for his "skill of mind and craft," focuses on the O'Neills, the family of his wife Sharon, and their 240 acres near Rochester, Minnesota.

When William O'Neill began raising dairy cows in Minnesota in 1880, America was a nation of farmers. A little over a hundred years later, William's grandson Ed is too old and ill to continue farming. The farm is being chopped into subdivisions, an interstate has cut off access to the river, and changing technology and the tightening market have made small farms a thing of the past. Ed's children and grandchildren gather to try to find a way to keep the farm in the family.

In this absorbing and hauntingly beautiful book, Hildebrand tells the story of four generations of farming O'Neills and, in doing so, tells a quintessentially American story of land and labor, memory and loss--and one family's struggle to keep their dream alive. From boom times to bust, the bloody farm strikes of the Great Depression to the bittersweet optimism of a county fair, Hildebrand weaves a narrative that is at once an elegy for a vanishing way of life and a celebration of the tenacious and deeply held American values that have made today's way of life possible.


  • By: John Hildebrand
  • Format: Paper, 270 pp., 21 b&w photos, endnotes
  • Publisher: MNHS Press
  • Product ##: 0873514149


JOHN HILDEBRAND is a professor in the English department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and is the author of Reading the River: A Voyage Down the Yukon.



Praise for Mapping the Farm:


"Wonderful . . . an enthralling book, and relevant to us all. . . . It completes something done by Willa Cather in O Pioneers! Both books are golden with the same Midwestern light." -- Noel Perrin, Washington Post Book World


"Provides thorough documentation of . . . intangible, emotional wealth. . . . It manages to be both a personal testament and an absorbing chronicle of agrarian history." -- Maxine Kumin, The New York Times


"An engrossing story . . . that documents a century of American agriculture and rural life. . . . Hildebrand gives a memorable picture of rural society, of a family and community bolstered by their faith and commitment to the land." -- Publishers Weekly

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