Cedar Hill State Park
Take a trip down agricultural lane on the Penn Farm tour.
By Elsa K. Simcik
I know what you’re thinking: If you’ve seen one historic farm, you’ve seen ’em all. Not so. Penn Farm at Cedar Hill State Park is unlike any other. In fact, Cedar Hill’s program coordinator, Linda Dunn, claims it’s the “best authentic farm in North Texas.”
As a girl who’s visited her fair share of historic farms, colonial towns and Civil War battlefields, I have to agree with her. And while the buildings on the farm were restored by the state in the early ’90s, many are still somewhat primitive. But in my opinion, that just made it all the more authentic and charming.
Nestled amongst the cedar trees, the farm was in the Penn family from 1854 through the early 1970s. And because there’s over a century of history there, you can’t help but get a crash course in the evolution of Texas agriculture.
If you opt for the self-guided tour you can pick up a map and a brochure from a kiosk and see the exterior of the original farmhouse, a few granaries, a couple of barns, a chicken house and a “newer” farmhouse (originally built in 1876).
But if you go with a guide you’ll see all that plus the real history. This includes more insight into what life was like back in the 1800s, plus some serious scoop on the Penn family.
When I took the tour with Dunn, I was most impressed by the fact that all the buildings were in their original locations. As we stood on the porch of the Penn’s first farmhouse, Dunn talked about how the family endured the Civil War and both World Wars. In fact, she said that during the Civil War the issue of slavery caused serious rifts in the family. One Penn brother even paid someone $1,000 to go to war in his place. Since we were standing exactly where they stood, I felt like I could really see all of this drama unfolding.
As we checked out the barns and granaries, I learned that the Penns were extremely wealthy and that all their children were taught right there on the farm by teachers from Ivy League schools. We even got to peek in at the remains of the school house.
On our tour of the outside of the newer farmhouse (visitors can’t go in because it serves as the park’s administrative offices), Dunn told more tales of marriages to cousins, scandalous divorce and one Penn man’s death by rattlesnake bite.
Idle gossip aside, most visitors will also enjoy learning about the shift in farming during that 100-year period — from a reliance on manual labor to “agribusiness.” It’s the perfect outing for families, campers at the park or school groups (especially those who want to get in a little Texas history credit).
For information on dates and times for the guided tour call (972) 291-3900 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/cedarhill> and check the calendar of events.