Century Farm

Over Yonder Farm in Petersburg is recognized as a Century Farm. From left, Todd Swinford and Alice Nichols Swinford receive signage for the Century Farm from Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman and Tennessee Department of Agriculture Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator Boyd Barker. Though the sign says, “100 years of continuous agricultural production,” the sign to be hung at Over Yonder Farm will read “200 years of continuous agricultural production.”

A Petersburg farm, located on Gibson Road in the Po-Grab Community, is in the ranks of 53-certified Century Farms in Lincoln County.

Over Yonder Farm, owned and operated by Todd and Alice Nichols Swinford, received signage last week recognizing the Century Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous agricultural production.

The Tennessee Century Farms Program was created in 1975 by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. In 1985, the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University assumed the responsibility of the program.

Farms across Tennessee continue to be recognized and documented.

The process of becoming a Century Farm took Alice Swinford some time to get together, but she’s glad she was able to get it completed. She started the research in spring 2019. She had to decipher hand-written deeds, type them up so she could read them and decipher which generation the deeds fell under. Older family members helped in the process.

Alice submitted her application to the Department of Agriculture in Oct. 2020 and got a notification it was accepted and approved in December 2020.

She said the farm has never left her family’s direct line and has been through six generations.

Her great-great-great grandfather Thomas Gibson acquired the land through multiple grants. The earliest recorded grant is dated 1808. Thomas GIbson raised wheat, vegetables, horses, sheep, swine, mules, cows and bees

Thomas Gibson willed a portion of land – believed to be 80 or more acres – to his son Thomas W. Gibson and the other portion to his son Nathan F. Gibson, Alice’s great-great grandfather who raised cattle, hogs, sheep, horses, oxen and corn.

Thomas also willed one acre of land to build a church house called Hannah’s Gap, which evolved into what is now known as Hannah’s Gap Baptist Church.

Through the years, interest in the property was traded between family members. However, it never completely left the Gibson family.

Alice’s great-great grandfather, William Harvey Gibson, later inherited the property from his parents. He raised cattle, mules, hay, corn and chickens and milked cows.

Again, interest in the farm between brothers and sisters were bought and sold several times. Lena Belle Gibson Nichols, Alice’s grandmother raised cattle, corn, hay, sheep and chickens at the location. All the descendants also had vegetable gardens.

“The property never left the direct line of ownership,” Alice said.

Alice’s father, Lester Nichols, raised beef cattle, hay and burley tobacco. They also milked cows, had Belgium mares, and raised mule colts, sheep for wool and goats. The farm was home to a variety of animals, including peacocks, guineas and mallard ducks. Canada geese and wood ducks returned for many years to hatch their young on the pond.

Alice said Lester was known in Lincoln County for driving a school bus. For 48 years, he carried children to Petersburg and Unity schools. He farmed between bus routes.

Lester Nichols went on to add about 300 acres to the farm in the ‘50s or ‘60s.

 “As a child, we resided on that acreage (the portion her father purchased) and it joined the original acreage,” Alice said. “When I would ask where my father was working, the response from my grandmother (Lena Belle Nichols) was always ‘he’s over yonder.’ That is how I decided what to name my farm.”

Today, Alice and Todd farm more than 400 acres. They continue to raise beef cattle, goats and chickens. They also harvest hay and grow a vegetable garden.

Alice said the farm’s oldest house – which was occupied by the second, third and fourth generation ¬- is still standing. There are also two barns on the original acreage. Both barns date back more than 100 years and are currently in use, according to Alice.

Alice said she was “tickled” to get the farm registered as a Century Farm.

“I wanted to do it for several years before my dad passed away,” she said. “I never did do it. I thought if I don’t get this done now, I’m never going to be able to do it.”

Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman was with the Swinfords last Thursday when their Century Farm signage arrived.

“The heritage of families is important to us,” Newman said. “When you’ve got a line of people who have lived on the same piece of property for a long time, there’s something about it that is stabilizing for community. For one thing, you can see they take a lot of pride in their farm. A lot of that pride has to do with all the heritage that is right here. They feel it’s important to keep it up.”

The state’s Department of Agriculture Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator Boyd Barker was in Lincoln County to bring the sign to the Swinfords last week.

Barker said the heritage of Tennessee agriculture is on these farms that have been passed down from generation to generation.

“It’s extremely important to the state of Tennessee,” he said.