Historic New Harmony Land Changes Hands

Land auctions nets 10% more than realtors expect. Tom J. Bechman 

Published on: Dec 20, 2005

One of the most unique farms in Indiana is now under new ownership. Nine owners bought a piece of what was once one parcel. Once billed as an island in the Wabash River at the toe of Indiana, it's actually a 3,315- acre peninsula next to New Harmony in Posey County 

The entire farm plus a nearby grain elevator went on the blocks December 15. Jeff Laskey, Vincennes, of Schrader Real Estate and Auction Company, based in Columbia City, says sellers were happy with the results. 

The individual buying a big chunk of the irrigated farmland reinvested money in a 1031 tax exchange, after selling high-priced land in central Indiana. More than half of the buyers sought recreational land.

The total property sold for $3,655,000, or just over $1,100 per acre. The 2,241 tillable acres, with 1,400 acres irrigated, sold for $1,275 per acre. Remaining hunting land near the Ohio River averaged $745 per acre.

A grain elevator in a nearby town brought just over $70,000, selling to a local farm family. "It needs work but it's in a great location for holding grain headed to river markets," Laskey says.

The entire property fetched about 10% more than realtors predicted. Two factors preventing even potentially higher prices were possible flooding and lack of mineral rights. The entire property is in a flood plain. Mineral rights were sold years ago.

Not only location made this property unique. The first recognized owner was George Ropp, one of the founders of historic New Harmony. A 1937 Prairie Farmer article declared "An Island Holds Indiana's Largest Farm." The Prairie Farmer article depicted a fleet of International Farmalls, perhaps F20 vintage, lined up across a huge field, working ground.

Another chapter in the 'island's' history began in '89. Eugene Smith, originally from Lebanon, was the go-getter often praised by university experts in the '70s for his aggressive style. The '80's farm crisis caught up with Smith, and his dominos fell fast and hard. However, he purchased the unique New Harmony property and farmed it until his tragic death, electrocuted while fixing an irrigation rig. His heirs held the farm until the sale.

While the New Harmony property was unique, Laskey says more typical land in southern Indiana also sells well. "Good tillable land sells strong," he says. "We're seeing activity, especially with 1031 tax exchanges."

The market for recreational land is also strong, he observes. Most of it is wooded land sought primarily by hunters.