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Fink family: Agricultural knowledge, handed down through generations

Corn illustration, Library of Congress.


Two prosperous farmers from South River Township chatted with a reporter for the Palmyra Spectator in early May 1892. When asked what they thought about the prospects for their crops during the ensuing season, the two men looked at each other, then at the reporter, and chuckled.

The Spectator reported:

“While both gentlemen are anxious to see dry weather they are not losing any sleep over it, for should their crops be a failure they have fat bank accounts to fall back on.”

The farmers were Jacob Fink and J.N. Nichols, who owned adjoining farms in Township 57N, Range 6W, Section 15. The land now fronts the south side of Route F, west of the U.S. 61/Route 24 junction, south of Palmyra, Mo.

In 1875, Jacob Fink’s land equaled nearly a quarter of a section, or 158 acres, to be precise.

J.N. Nichols’ adjoining farm consisted of 640 acres.

Hard labor

Missouri was still an undeveloped frontier back in 1854 when Jacob Fink left his homeland of Switzerland and ventured to America, ultimately settling on the old Berkley farm south of Palmyra. He eventually purchased a farm in South River Township, and it is from that soil that three generations of his family – by the sweat of their brow - would earn their livelihood.

Jacob’s son Benjamin, born in 1861, joined in the operation of the Fink farm. When Ben was 28, the “Success Tongueless Sulky Plow” was introduced into the region; an invention that lightened the load of farm families.

The W.J. Jackson company demonstrated the plow to area farmers, including John N. Nichols and Jacob and Ben Fink.

The plow was used on various types of soil, including land “that was pastured and tramped for two years by 50 head of stock.

“Mr. Nichols took his two 3-year-old mules and plowed a full 16-inch furrow, six inches deep for one afternoon. We believe the plow to be the lightest draft, easiest managed and that it holds to the furrow better and runs steadier than any plow we ever saw.” (Aug. 29, 1889 Marion County Herald)

Second generation

Jacob Fink’s Benjamin had taken a wife, Mary L. Weber of West Ely, in September 1892, and Jacob (a widow) continued to make his home with his son’s growing family, including:

Franklin Fink, born 1894

Edwin Fink, born 1896

Benjamin Fink, born 1897

John E. Fink, born 1899

Harold C. Fink, born 1903

Typical events framed the family’s existence: A cow was struck by lightning; the farm’s barn and tool shed – built in 1905 - burned in 1923. Resilience prevailed and recovery followed.

Third generation

Harold Fink, the youngest of Benjamin’s five sons, went into farming with his father and grandfather. He was about 13 when his grandfather died at the age of 87. Harold and his brothers represented their grandfather’s agricultural heritage by participating in – and winning – agricultural contests on the county and township level.

The year his grandfather died, Harold won a first-place premium for his white corn entry at the South River Township Corn Show, conducted at the West Ely School House. The category in which he won was for boys age 16 and under. His brother, Ben Fink, took the overall grand prize for white or yellow corn.

The following year, Harold Fink was among 10 Marion County farm boys who were chosen to attend “Farmers’ Week” at Columbia University, scheduled for Jan. 1-5, 1917. Those chosen for the honor were Thomas Cunningham, David Cunningham, Richard Tarleton, Carroll Moss, Bryan Clark, Sidney Watters, Harold Fink, Malcolm Moore, Clyde Young and Wallace Gray. They were selected on the basis of their records in the judging contest at the Marion County Round-Up in Hannibal.

Harold Fink was considered to be an unusually good judge of corn, and an article in the Jan. 15, 1918 Quincy Daily Journal credited Fink’s skill at judging for Palmyra High school’s success in winning the corn judging cup in 1917.

Leaving a legacy

Harold Fink didn’t have children of his own, but rather dedicated his resources to providing educational opportunities for his colleagues.

The Sept. 25, 1946 edition of the Palmyra Spectator contained a story written by Harold Fink, entitled “Over the Years.” He told the story of the growth of an organization formed to aid in the Development of Agriculture in Marion County.

His story went back to 1913, when his grandfather and father were still actively involved in farming.

“Meetings … were rotated among the four school districts of the township,” Fink wrote. “Traveling by horse and buggy or spring wagon, a small group of interested farmers conducted their monthly meetings by dim lantern light in buildings headed by wood stoves.”

In 1920, the meetings were centralized at the West Ely Lutheran school.

“Local farmers, businessmen from Palmyra and Hannibal, as well as outstanding farmers from neighboring communities and representatives from the State Agricultural college discussed various phases of livestock breeding, feeding and sanitation, corn growing, soy beans, and other forage crops, silos and silage, farm and home improvements and even banking and road building,” he explained.

Fink said that in the mid 1920s, topics of discussion included “Tractor versus Horse Farming,” and “Automotive Power a Detriment to the Farmer.”

Harold Fink’s father, Benjamin, died in 1931, and his mother, Louise, died in 1942. They, in addition to Jacob Fink and his wife, are buried at West Ely Cemetery.

An artist

Harold Fink had an artistic talent, which garnered several mentions in Palmyra’s newspapers over the years.

In January 1925, the windows of Smith Bros. Clothing Store in Palmyra served as a display case for some of Harold Fink’s landscape paintings.

And in December 1933, two color landscape scenes and a pen and ink drawing by Harold Fink were on display in the mayor’s office in the Marion County Courthouse at Palmyra.

A golf course

The May 30, 1934 edition of the Marion County Standard makes mention of a golf course established by Harold Fink. He was host to the Walther League Picnic in early June, 1934. No further details about the golf course were found in the newspaper.

Death calls

Harold E. Fink died March 16, 1987. He was buried near his parents and grandparents at the West Ely Church


Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

The 1913 atlas of Marion County, Mo., shows the location of the Fink farm in Township 57N, Range 6W, Section 15. Three generations of the Fink family earned a living off of this land. Atlas courtesy of Robert Spaun

Success Tongueless Sulky Plow. The little Success is the simplest and strongest of the tongueless sulkies. It will go through anything and cover weeds as tall as a horse. The duplex lever guide to front wheel makes it the best plow made for opening and closing a land. The Cherokee Sentinel, Cherokee, Kansas, Aug. 20, 1915.

This card is from the Hannibal Monument files, showing a sketch of Harold E. Fink's monument.

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