Key Family Century Farm

History of the Joe and Ruth Key Farm
by Granella Ruth Key Thompson

Hezekiah Key was the first to go West. He was born in 1847, and was part of the Confederate Army. He married in 1866, and moved to Iowa and then to Sacramento, California, About 1875, he moved his family to Weston. Hezekiah and his wife had twelve children, but only six lived to adulthood.

He made a living by making and distributing whiskey to local saloons. In 1880, he acquired 160 acres from the U.S. Government, and bought 640 additional acres soon after. He returned to North Carolina for a visit, and the dream of success hit many Surrey County families like fire in their bones--including my grandfather. Families that moved to the Weston area after Hezekiah’s visit included the Badgetts, Yorks, and Bannisters. Many of these family's children married Hez's children. His sons-in-law had names of York, Badgett, Read and Wyland. Descendants today include the Beamers, Townes, and Fox. In 1888, my great-great grandfather came to Weston to visit Hez, got pneumonia and died here.

Joe and Ruth were owners of a small store in Mt. Airy, N.C. Just 21 years of age, Joe and Ruth decided to go to Oregon with their new baby girl, Ollie. They came on the train directly to Weston, in March 1889. After they arrived, they found out the land wasn't so available and that Hez had made it initially on whiskey. Ruth took in laundry and they lived on credit from the store. Joe got a job driving a supply wagon to a lumber camp at Tollgate.

By September 29, 1891, Joe had purchased 250 acres of the steepest farmland we farm, the timbered breaks of Pine Creek and unfarmable land bordering La Marr Gulch, as well as a small flat near the creek. He put in orchards and they were totally self-sufficient there. Dad said he paid nothing down, but the deed said he agreed to pay $6,300. Six children were born on Pine Creek, and one died there. My Dad, Grant Key, was the youngest, born September 27, 1906.

In 1909, Joe bought the McKinnon place where we now live. The kids attended La Marr School, and later moved to Weston, where Dad graduated in 1925. Joe owned land on both the east and west side of Weston. After one year at Oregon Agricultural College, Dad returned to farm the land with his Father and his brother, Roy. After Joe's death in November 1947, the farm was managed as an undivided estate for two years, with Dad in charge since Roy was not in good health.

Dad's sister, Lola, inherited the original hills, and Dad farmed those acres as well as his sister Vergie's land. In 1964, Lola sold her land to Dad. Dad's oldest sister, Ollie, had two sons, Clifton and Wendall Kirk, who both farmed until their deaths. Clifton's son, Sheldon, and Wendall’s son-in-law, Ron Perrine, farm their own places. Three of Dad's siblings had no children. Lola lived in Portland or Long Beach, California, and had one son who died soon after his birth, and two adopted children but neither of them farmed.

When Dad reached the age of 70, I returned to the farm to help out. I am an only child, so I learned to drive combine, tractor, and did my share of spraying with a hand sprayer. But I am really a music teacher, not a farmer. In 1982, I married Jess Thompson, and he began farming the family farm. I manage the books and about once or twice a year, I spend a day in a wheat truck or tractor helping with the harvies. With four children, it's hard for me to help a great deal. Jess 's dad, Hank, helps him off and on with the farming.

Dad's sister, Vergie, left us her share of Grandpa's estate in 1991. Dad died seven months after she did. My mother and I own his land, including the original land of 1891. We farm 1350 acres dryland in pea-wheat rotation, all within three miles of Weston; all but 80 acres of it is family land.

The Joe Key genealogy can be traced to 1645 in Virginia and to Northern England before that. Most families with the Key surname are descendents of Joe's brother, Sam Key. Sam came to Oregon six months after Joe. Sam returned to North Carolina, then moved to Iowa, Montana, and back to Oregon (Basket Mountain) and to Idaho, Iowa, to Basket Mountain and finally Freewater. He had six sons, and many many grandsons to carry on the family name. The Joe Key family has surnames of Kirk, Newbold, Hall, Perrine, King, Foster, Clark, Sincleir, and Thompson.

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