History of the University Farm

History of the University Farm

Truman State University has had a farm since June 30, 1910, though the current location for the University Farm was acquired in 1980. The original farm was under the supervision of the Division of Rural Education in the area that is presently occupied by Red Barn Park in the heart of the campus.

In 1980, the University purchased the present University Farm site from the Denslow family. This site, located at the southwest corner of Kirksville, was established in the 1800s by the Dodson family. Eli Dodson was born on the farm in 1858 and was the last Dodson to own it. In 1921, at the age of 63, Mr. Dodson sold his 373 acres to George Laughlin, Doctor of Osteopathy. Dr. Laughlin, and his partner Dr. Charles Still, became known as breeders and importers of purebred Jersey cattle, and also raised Berkshire hogs. At their peak, they are recorded to have owned 100 head of Jersey cows and 300 Berkshire hogs. They are also reported to have received record prices for Jerseys sold from their farm, one cow bringing $13,000.

Later, the operation became nationally known as a producer of purebred Angus cattle under the name of Thousand Hills Farm. At his death, Dr. Laughlin owned 3,000 acres. Following his death, Dr. Laughlin’s wife oversaw the farm, and eventually her daughter, Jane Denslow, inherited the property. Before she died, Mrs. Laughlin donated some 1,150 acres to the city of Kirksville for use in the creation of Forest Lake to serve the city’s water needs.

In 1980, Mrs. Denslow sold 1,200 acres to the Missouri Department of Conservation, which became the Big Creek State Forest. The University purchased 132 acres, which is the current site of the University Farm. In September, 1999, Truman gained possession of an additional 268 acres from the Missouri Department of Conservation so that the University Farm today encompasses 400 acres.

At the time of purchase in 1980, the University Farm was intended as a laboratory for undergraduates studying field crops and livestock. At that time, it was envisioned that corn, sorghum, soybeans and wheat be grown, mainly to support an animal population of beef cattle, feeder calves and dairy cattle. Plans included adding sheep, swine and horses as well.

The University began negotiations with the Missouri Department of Conservation to lease 268 acres for grazing livestock. The land included in this leased acreage was permanently added to University holdings in September, 1999. Today, only beef cattle and horses are housed at the Farm, and soybeans, corn and hay are produced there.