When Jim and Sharon Lee turned their century farm over to the new owners recently it was the first time since 1855 – 166 years – that the property wasn’t owned by a Lee. In fact, other than three months in 1977, it was the first time a Lee wasn’t living there as well.
The farm first came into possession of Jim Lee’s great-grandparents, James and Rebecca Lee, who were married in Illinois in 1855. A malaria sufferer, James Lee believed Minnesota’s climate might improve his health, so he traveled up the Mississippi River, eventually stopping in Clearwater Twp.
One of the first families in the area, he staked a 160-acre claim four miles south of what would eventually become the City of Clearwater. He then built a cabin and began farming.
Son William Lee purchased the farm after James’ death, where he and his wife, Anna, had been living since their marriage. They purchased more land, farming 220 acres, and in 1916 they built the house that still stands on the land today. Their grandson, Jim Lee, remembers the house’s parlor was only used for company and visits from the pastor. During William’s funeral, which was held at the family farm, his casket was placed in the parlor.
The farm next went to John and Edith Lee, who had been living in a small house they built behind the original big farmhouse after they were married in 1934. After William and Anna both passed away, they moved their family into the big house; the third generation of Lees to own and farm the homestead.
John and Edith Lee’s children, including their son Jim, grew up in the little house behind the farmhouse; he was a teenager by the time his family moved to the big house. He and his siblings were excited because each of them now had their own bedroom. After high school graduation, Jim Lee attended Canby vocational college to study soils and fertilizer and worked in the grain department at Hastings Farmers Elevator.
He and Sharon were married on August 29, 1970. They lived in Cottage Grove for six years, where their children, James and Rebecca, were born.
When his dad quit farming and moved into Clearwater, Jim Lee’s twin brother John purchased the family farm and began selling and renting out pieces of the farmland. A year later Jim and Sharon bought the homestead from him and after a seven-year hiatus, Jim was again living on the Lee family farm, the fourth generation to do so.
Back in the area, Jim Lee worked at the Annandale Elevator until the owner of Tri-County Abstract and Title, Jack Gibbons, stopped him after church one day and asked if he liked history. Gibbons was looking for someone he could work with to train as an abstractor.
Lee worked for him for 20 years before retiring on his 65th birthday. He agreed to continue working a few days a week to help train in the person taking his place. He ended up working parttime for another 1 ½ years before he “really” retired.
Sharon Lee was also busy during that time. She was the financial clerk of their church, Calvary Baptist in St. Cloud, for 23 years, and spent 13 years as clerk on the Clearwater Twp. Board.
The couple was also busy raising their children. Their kids were active in 4-H and FFA, mostly showing sheep. The family raised Hampshire registered sheep, selling them for mainly for their meat, however they also sold the wool to the Minnesota Wool Association, who would come out and do the sheering.
For a while the Lees also raised and sold border collies and chickens. However, what they became most known for was selling sweet corn. For approximately 30 years people from all around would stop by the farm for a baker’s dozen.
Due to health problems, Jim and Sharon recently moved into a new patio home in Waite Park. The farm was sold to someone outside the family as other family members were either uninterested in purchasing it or were unable to.