Acres of ancestry

The Quinney farm, founded in 1868, encompassing 160 acres on the outskirts of Elkhorn, is the subject of the recently published “A Farm in Wisconsin,” by Richard Quinney.

Book shares history on local farm and those who cultivated the land

By Dave Fidlin


Nearly a century-and-a-half ago, it all began with just a few acres.

But since its founding in 1868, the Quinney farm has encompassed 160 acres on the outskirts of Elkhorn and has been a source of livelihood for generations of family members.

Madison resident Richard Quinney recently chronicled the farm’s history in the aptly titled book, “A Farm in Wisconsin.” It is 136 pages and includes a variety of black-and-white images from years long gone by.

In his formative years, Quinney grew up on the farm, which is located on Quinney Road – seven miles west of Elkhorn. When he entered college in the mid-1950s, Quinney said he had aspirations of completely leaving farming behind.

“It was a firm idea that I had in my mind at the time,” Quinney said. “But I’ve often thought about that farm, and the stories I’d heard often from family members over time. I actually found myself returning to it often.”

With a career in academia, Quinney said he’s become a farmer without actually farming. He’s poured over historical documents, including many from family members, about the logistics of farming years ago.

“Really, this is an American story about farming in Wisconsin,” Quinney said. “This looks at what it was like to go out and find land.”

Quinney’s great-grandparents settled on a few acres of the farm’s current land in the late 1860s.

Natives of Ireland, England and Scotland, Quinney’s relatives sought a better life in America – a theme all too prevalent at the time – after conditions in their native country deteriorated with famines.

“I tell the story of people who left and those who decided to stay on,” Quinney said of his ancestors. “There’s so much of a connection within my family to that farm. I continue to do research on this.”

Quinney said penning “A Farm in Wisconsin” turned out to be a 30-year process. An early, abbreviated version of the book was previously released under the title, “Of Time and Place” in 2008.

“A Farm in Wisconsin” carries a two-pronged goal, Quinney said.

On one hand, it is designed to give a snapshot of Wisconsin’s rich history in agriculture; on the other, it serves as a detailed encapsulation of his own family’s history.

“This is an example of how to do a family history, complete with narrative storytelling,” Quinney said. “It’s about commemorating and remembering those who came before us. They are still so much a part of our lives.”

While state historical artifacts played a part in the research for the book, much of Quinney’s research centered on family letters, diaries and photographs that vividly portray the triumphs and trials endured over the years.

The book’s recent release serves as a bit of a prelude to an upcoming milestone. The Quinney farm will receive a centennial award at the upcoming Walworth County Fair, which will be held Aug. 29 to Sept. 3.

“A Farm in Wisconsin” is published by Borderland Books and distributed by the University of Wisconsin Press. Copies can be purchased online at and through the University of Wisconsin Press.

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