New Century Farm
The Joseph Francis Connell Sr. Family Farm, located in Van Buren County, has been designated as a Tennessee Century Farm. The Century Farms Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have owned and kept family land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years.
Frank Marion Connell came to Tennessee from Indiana around 1890 and in 1905 he established a farm of approximately 147 acres four miles north of Spencer in the Cummingsville community. Frank purchased property from Dr. I. C. Morgan in 1905 and married Sara “Sallie” Ellen Cummings in 1908. Sallie’s family was originally from Glasgow, Scotland, and her ancestors included a Revolutionary War veteran, Joseph Medley Cummings, who came to the area to claim a land grant and settled in White County in 1807. Van Buren County would be formed in 1840 and the community became known as Cummingsville.
Joseph “Joe” Francis Connell Sr. was born to Sallie and Frank in 1910. During this time, the family raised cattle, hogs and chickens while also growing corn and hay.
In addition to being a successful farmer, Frank was a lumberman and contractor and the Connells gave generously to the community. They helped establish Oak Grove School for African-Americans on the property in 1925, which held classes until 1932. They also gave a portion of the land for the United Methodist Church of Cummingsville. While the Great Depression forced the family to move to Mississippi around 1930, they returned 10 years later in 1940. Frank died in 1936 and passed the farm on to his son Joe; Sallie died in 1953.
While in Mississippi, Joe married Elizabeth “Betsy” Pollard in 1935; they had their first son, Joseph Francis “Joe Frank” Connell Jr., in 1938. Lawrence “Larry” Howard Connell was born in 1943, and both boys attended the Cummingsville School. From 1940 to 1950, Joe actively farmed and “tracked timber for a local stave mill” while Betsy taught math at Spencer High school from 1944 to 1950. The family then moved to Oak Ridge but continued to oversee the farming operation on a shared or rented basis.
The two brothers, Joe Frank and Larry Connell, acquired the land in 1989, of which approximately 100 acres of the original farm remains. The Connells are actively engaged in the farm management, but Mike and Camilla Carter rent and work the land, where they raise soybeans, wheat and cattle. The remainder is woodland and pasture. Joe Connell compiled the family history and submitted the Century Farms application as a tribute to his parents, “who sacrificed greatly to keep the farm in the Connell family.”