Farm history in the making

Terry and Mary Jean Zavadil are living out a family legacy. The Zavadils and their children are the sixth and seventh generations of the family to be living on the same farm that Terry’s great-great-grandfather, Franz Zavadil, homesteaded in northern Cedar County and built up in the late 1800s after emigrating to the United States from Bohemia.

“It’s also a great responsibility to keep the farm up,” says Zavadil.

At a glance

• Zavadil’s family lives on farm of his great-great-grandfather.

• It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

• The farmstead is considered a rarity in preservation efforts.

Since 1985, this farm has held a special distinction with an official listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Since purchasing the farm, Terry and Mary Jean have spent a tremendous amount of time, energy and money on the original buildings, particularly the home that Franz masterfully built from native chalk rock and glacial fieldstones. In recent years, the Zavadils renovated the roof and one corner of that house. “We could always do more,” Zavadil says. “Maybe when I retire, that can be one of my projects.”

Franz, a trained stonemason, is also known as the builder of St. Boniface Catholic Church at nearby Menominee. He expended great effort in building the original home. In the interim, the family took up residence in a dugout and even a haystack, Zavadil says.

Terry and Mary Jean’s family currently reside more comfortably in an adjacent 1906 brick home, also built by his ancestors, which has been expanded and modernized over the years.

“Few people are as closely connected to the land as farming and ranching families, and I have always believed they are predisposed toward conservation and historic preservation,” says Jessie Nunn, National Register coordinator for the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office, a division of the Nebraska State Historical Society. “However, economic realities and technological developments are sometimes at odds with that philosophy.”

While the Zavadil farmstead is considered a rarity in preservation efforts, owners of properties listed on the National Register retain all of the usual property rights.

“Nebraska SHPO fully encourages the preservation of historic farmsteads and is always available to provide advice on best practices for everything from the farmhouse and barn to your old chicken coop,” Nunn says.

According to Nunn, farm families who choose to preserve the historic character of their farmsteads, while still remaining viable, deserve recognition like a listing on the National Register or other state historic surveys.

“Owners of properties listed on the National Register will be eligible for tax credit incentives for historic rehabilitation of their farm buildings,” says Nunn.

Landowners who are considering an application to the National Register should ask the following questions, Nunn says:

• Is it 50 years old or older? A healthy majority of buildings on the farmstead should be historic. Newer buildings, while occasionally allowed under the designation, should not overwhelm the historic feeling of the farm.

• Is it historically significant? Farmsteads can be considered significant under several categories, like settlement, agriculture and architecture.

• Does it have good historic integrity? Farmsteads with good integrity look like they did during their period of significance.

The Zavadil farmstead maintains much of the same look that it had in the early 1900s, although the current brick family dwelling has been modernized, barns and outbuildings have been renovated, and a newer machine shed has been added.

For more information about listing farmsteads, barns or rural land on the National Register, contact Nunn at or call 402-471-4775.


HISTORIC FARMSTEAD: Terry and Mary Jean Zavadil live on Terry’s great-great-grandfather’s historic farmstead, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


WRITING ON THE WALL: Zavadil points to initials engraved into the chalk rock on the Franz Zavadil farmstead home.


SCENIC VIEW: The historic farmstead of Bohemian immigrant Franz Zavadil, set in pastoral northern Cedar County, is now farmed by his great-great-grandson and family.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.