VALORIE EVERSOLE - Daily Union Staff Writer
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
In 1840 a young man traveled from Ohio to Illinois where he staked out three tracts of land totaling 360 acres in Shelby County from the government
He spent the next few years clearing the land of the timber and prairie grass and building his home. During that time he traveled back and forth to Ohio.
In 1851 John B. Leathers and his wife moved to the farm located in what is now Clarksburg and Holland townships. At the time of his death, he owned 540 acres and was deemed a very wealthy man.
Today his great granddaughter Lydia Lewis owns 565 acres in Sections 26 and 27, in an area formerly known as Old Mode, two miles north of present day Mode.
“I have the sheepskin (deeds) that my great grandfather got from the government,” Lewis said. “It’s in a lock box.”
The Illinois Public Land Purchase records stated that the land was purchased December 8, 1838, at $1.25 an acre.
John Leathers’s original home was a log cabin and later he built a house, barn, milk house, smoke house, wash house, and a fruit house. Lewis’ father, Jude Bixler, wrote in a historic narrative, “The fruit house had double walls and this was filled with saw dust between walls to keep the fruit from freezing in the winter and keep it cool in the summer.”
He also describes how the land was used both as a farm and an open range for livestock.
“They used a big plow pulled by oxen to turn over the sod, then would take an ax and chop sod and drop corn in and stop on it to cover it. It raised good corn after the second year the ground could be worked ... The plots of corn were fenced with rails and all other ground was open range. My mother when a young girl would ride a pony down where New Mode is now and seperate (sic) the milk cows from the herds and bring them home to be milked. ... When hogs were ready for market several neighbors went together and drove them to St. Louis. Some went in wagons to haul the feed, and if any gave out put them in the wagon. There were pens along the way where they put the hogs in feed and let them rest.”
The Leathers home also served as the local general store.
“He’d (John Leathers) take a team and wagon to Shelbyville to get supplies for the store,” Lewis said.
Lewis said her grandmother, Margaret Bixler Taylor, worked in John’s store, then later had her own store in Mode.
“Hers was a regular store building,” Lewis said. Lewis’ grandparents, the Bixlers, built their own home on the family land.
When John B. Leathers passed away in 1886, the land was left to his daughters Margaret and Mary Jane Leathers. Margaret eventually inherited all the land and upon her death in 1944, the land was passed to her sons Jude, Paul and John Bixler. With the passing of his brothers (who did not have children of their own), Jude Bixler inherited all the land. Bixler served as road commissioner for the township for 50 years.
The land was left to Lydia and her brother upon Jude’s death in 1987.
“When my brother died, his son got money and I got the farm,” Lewis said.
Lewis and her husband William bought their own land a few miles from the Leathers/Bixler farm. Her husband and son worked on conservation projects on the centennial land including ponds, dry dams, wetlands, and filter stripping. William passed away in 2002.
“I’m trying to care for the farm as my dad did,” she said. “I just signed up for the CREP(Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) dealing with water runoff from the land into the creek.”
The farm was honored as a Centennial farm with the Illinois Department of Agriculture in 1972. It was honored again in 2001 as a sesquicentennial farm. The Bixler farmhouse still stands.