Local family receives Hoosier Homestead Award

The original use of a piece of property along County Road 375E in Cortland long known as the “Old Place” was pasture ground for cattle.

During the summers, members of the Otte family would run the cattle together on the back hill. Then toward the front, they would have picnics, and the kids would swing back and forth on a big limb on the huge sycamore tree.

In a wooded area, the kids would pick wild raspberries, take hikes in the summer and cut wood in the winter.

They also would swim in the creek in the summer and ice skate on it in the winter. There was even a pond for the cattle.

The open fields were used for cattle grazing, and the tillable ground was used to grow corn and beans.

Today, corn and soybeans still are grown on the property, lavender plants are being grown by Rolling Hills Lavender Farm and the rest consists of open ground and woods.

Overall, the Old Place has been in the same family since 1847. That qualified them for the Hoosier Homestead Award.

To be named a Hoosier Homestead, farms must be owned by the same family for more than 100 consecutive years and consist of 20 acres or more or produce more than $1,000 in agricultural products per year.

Based on the age of the farm, families are eligible for three different distinctions: Centennial Award for 100 years of ownership, Sesquicentennial Award for 150 years or Bicentennial Award for 200 years.

The Old Place, which has ties to the Mellenbruch, Otte and Rieker families, recently was among 106 Indiana family farms presented the Hoosier Homestead Award at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis from Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch and Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler.

Julie Rieker’s parents, Jerry and Pixie Otte, built a home on the property in 1964, and she lived there for 18 years. Julie and her husband, Greg, still own most of the Old Place land, but someone outside the family lives in the home now.

“My dream was always to have the Old Place because it was just remembering all of the fun times,” she said, as she was the one who recalled the memories of the property previously mentioned.

Julie said her father had expressed interest in applying for the Hoosier Homestead Award, but he died in April 2021. The family then spent the next year gathering all of the documents required to apply for the honor.

“That was the drive because he always wanted it, and that was one of the things he would have liked to have had,” she said.

In June, the Riekers received word from the state that they were among the August 2022 winners. The family received the Sesquicentennial and Centennial awards.

Since the program’s inception in 1976, more than 6,100 families have received the award. Often, a Hoosier Homestead farm is easily recognized because most recipients proudly display their awarded sign on their property.

“For the family, it’s humbling that it has been carried through generations, that it has always been a driving force was keeping it in the family, having the importance of family,” their son, Steven Rieker, said. “Getting recognized for it, learning that we would be recognized was really special because without the five generations before, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity.”

Julie said the award represents all of the work and sacrifices her ancestors put into the property to keep it in the family.

“You look back and you hear the stories of how they all worked together so the different ones could purchase ground here,” she said.

Anna Marie Kobbe Mellenbruch and Conrad Henry John Mellenbruch purchased the ground in 1847.

“(Conrad) is a direct blood relative of Julie’s, and it has stayed in the family through six generations now,” Greg said.

Their daughter, Caroline, inherited the Old Place acreage after Conrad died in 1867. She was only 15 at the time.

Caroline later married John Gerhard Otte, and they maintained ownership of the property until 1926 when it was transferred to Fred and Augusta Koop Otte. Fred was John’s son.

Next, it went to Raymond and Evelyn Behrman Otte in 1960. Raymond was Fred’s son.

Then the Old Place was transferred to Jerry and Pixie Otte in 1964.

“My dad, that was his dream always to get up there, to build the house up there,” Julie said.

Christoph and Erin Rieker purchased the woods of the Old Place in 2016, and Greg and Julie purchased part of the Old Place ground in 2019.

In total, Greg and Julie’s farm today covers 244.25 acres, including 75 at the Old Place and 169.25 along East County Road 925N. Of the Old Place land, 29.5 acres go back to 1847.

Greg and Julie moved to East County Road 925N in the spring of 1985. Currently, the home there is being renovated, and red siding is being placed on all of the buildings.

When the family decided to pursue the Hoosier Homestead Award, a big reference point was a family tree binder put together by a cousin for a school project in the 1980s. The rest came from abstracts.

“We were very fortunate in that Julie’s grandparents and parents had kept all of these abstracts, so we could trace it back literally every sale, which is real important to get the award from the state because you have to have irrefutable evidence that it has stayed in the family,” Greg said. “Without the abstracts, we would have had even more work.”

Greg said in the 1800s, people would have had to travel to the courthouse in Brownstown to obtain that documentation, and that was a full-day trip. For some of the paperwork, Julie said they would have had to travel down to Jeffersonville.

“It’s fascinating,” Greg said. “Those abstracts are just really, really neat pieces of documentation and history.”

While cleaning out their house, Julie said they even found one of the abstracts underneath a safe.

“It’s just like a puzzle, putting the pieces together of this and that,” Greg said.

In their research, the Riekers also found out about 40 acres of ground that has been in the family since 1886 and another 15 acres since 1867.

Greg said they may see about submitting those for the Hoosier Homestead Award, which also is presented in the spring each year.

“It’s interesting to see how it’s all connected,” he said. “If you go back and look at the plat book, you’ll see the names: Mellencamp, Otte, Claycamp. People buy and sell. It’s really fascinating how there’s almost always a blood tie.”

At a glance 

The Mellenbruch/Otte/Rieker family received the Hoosier Homestead Award, earning the Centennial and Sesquicentennial awards. The farm goes back to 1847.

Two other Jackson County farms Meyer-Borgman and Siefker were among the August 2022 recipients. Look for stories on those farms in upcoming issues of The Tribune and online at tribtown.com.