Rural Mountain Lake Century Farm was once a stagecoach stop
MOUNTAIN LAKE — Brandon Junker’s childhood was a future farmer’s paradise.
Junker, now 35, is the son of Rod and Bonnie Junker, and both his maternal and paternal grandparents farmed within a short distance of one another during his youth.
“I grew up sharing time between the two farms,” said Junker, a 2001 graduate of Mountain Lake High School.
It’s no surprise, then, that Junker developed a love of all things agricultural; upon graduating, he attended South Dakota State University in Brookings, where he earned a degree in agronomy and met his wife, Marta.
“Marta is from Colman, S.D., and her dad is a Lutheran pastor,” shared Junker. “She was going to school for consumer affairs.”
The couple married in 2006 — the same year Junker purchased the 160-acre plot of land that was most recently owned by his grandfather, Laurence Green. The original 160 acres qualified for Minnesota Century Farm status recently, having been in the family since 1917.
It was Junker’s great-great-grandparents, Harlan and Nettie Green, who first bought the property five miles north of Mountain Lake on County Road 1. The Greens, however, were not the parcel’s first owners.
“We have lots of old trees, and there’s a huge cottonwood in our front yard that’s at least 100 years old,” observed Junker of the spot that lies only three miles from the farm where he was raised, and where his parents continue to live.
“It’s just a nice square farm.”
While it may be square, its history is multi-dimensional.
“The person who originally owned the place came here from New York state and was used to the bigger houses there,” explained Junker. “So he built a ‘mansion’ in the yard and named it ‘Bainbridge.’
“It had eight bedrooms and was a really large house for the time and area,” Junker continued. “There weren’t enough trees around here to build such a house, so he had the wood shipped here.”
The house was maintained for a number of years as a personal residence, but its size and traffic patterns of that era eventually led to a different use.
“We’re located halfway between New Ulm and Worthington, and it became a stagecoach stop,” said Junker, saying it was known as a “Stagecoach Inn” for a period.
“It was also used as a post office for awhile,” he said.
Although Junker’s great-grandfather, Kinney Green, tore down the former “Stagecoach Inn” in the early 1970s, evidence of it lingers on the property in various forms.
“My great-grandpa used as much lumber from it as he could to build the current house,” said Junker, “so we have wood from the 1800s and floor joists that date to the early 1870s — that’s some old wood. There are also some old beams and shutters around, little bits and pieces of past memories. It would really have been something if they’d restored it instead of tearing it
“And when we moved in, we found in one of the old buildings a huge chest with 360 drawers that my great-grandpa had been using as a bolt bin; it was first used for the post office.”
Needing to move the large chest to a different location, Junker removed all the drawers to make it as light as possible. That’s a mistake he’s only made once.
“It turns out each drawer was perfectly made for a particular space,” he laughed, recalling the significant length of time it took him to reposition the drawers in their unique slots.
“I’ve got them all numbered now.”
That’s a good thing, as the Junkers have been blessed with four children in the course of their marriage: Isaiah, 7; Ethan, 5; Silas, 3; and daughter Tegan, four months. The older kids have sometimes amused themselves with that antique “shape sorter,” among other points of interest on the family farm.
“Isaiah is my ‘farm boy,’” said Junker. “He doesn’t miss an opportunity to ride the (John Deere) tractor, and he’s spent many 10-hour days in the tractor with either me or grandpa at harvest and planting time.
“He has an enthusiasm for it, and the other boys do too, but they’re a little on the young side yet.”
Junker works about 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans, cooperating on labor and some large machinery purchases with his family and neighbors.
“We help each other out and it works well,” said Junker, noting that while he is strictly a crop farmer now, there was a large cattle operation on his yard until the early ’90s.
Junker is of English and German heritage.
“Harlan Green, our first family owner of this farm, grew up around Spirit Lake, Iowa,” revealed Junker. “He and Nettie moved to the area in 1916, shortly before buying this property in 1917.”
Junker’s English roots in the United States have been traced back to the early 1700s, although his German ancestors arrived more recently.
“My great-great-grandfather, Fokke Behne Junker, was born in Germany and emigrated here in the 1880s,” Junker said. “Everybody called him ‘Ben,’ and he first settled in the Comfrey area.”
The Junkers are very content to be situated on the rural property that has been in Junker’s family for over 100 years now; they relish the quiet day-to-day living their farm provides while also appreciating the camaraderie of a small community.
“We were married in the Mountain Lake Alliance Missionary Church, and it’s been a great way to connect with a lot of people in the area,” said Junker. “We really enjoy our church family, and they’ve been a huge blessing to us.”
And with four young children, the Junkers fully embrace their rural lifestyle.
“We like being out here, having space and being able to let the kids have the freedom to run around the farm as they please,” Junker said.
The historical aspects of the farm also offer a mild level of intrigue that continues to this day.
“It’s been fun to settle in a place and learn some of its history, to look through the old abstracts and see the different names and how things are written out,” he said.
Plus, if Junker looks closely enough, he may find evidence of the numerous stagecoaches that once regularly deposited guests in his front yard for a stay at the “mansion” that still lives on in pieces of his 1970s-era home.
“I always keep my eyes open,” Junker assured, “because they say it might be possible to see the lines marking the old stagecoach path. And my grandpa once found a board with an inscription on it from 1887; we think it’s the name of a kid of the first owner.”
Who knows? Junker’s own children might scrawl their names on boards this summer, making their own marks for posterity and offering hope Junker’s farm could remain in the family for decades ahead.
“I signed it up for Century Farm status to honor the heritage we have here,” said Junker. “Being able to hang onto something for that long, and persevere in farming, says something.
“God willing, we may have another generation.”