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Wileys continue a family farming tradition dating to the Civil War
Couple's land recognized with centennial status
Yvonne Wiley grew up on her family farm on the outskirts of Alto. The farm has been in Wiley’s family for more than 100 years, earning it the recent designation of Centennial Farm. She and her husband, Bud, are in the process of transferring the property to their children. - photo by CHARLIE MILLER

Yvonne Wiley recalls the dramatic moment with a sharpness that shows she’s told the tale a time or two.

The date: 1863. The heroine: Mrs. Nancy Furr. The villains: Yankee soldiers pillaging the land.

As the Civil War swept across what is now the outskirts of Alto, Nancy Furr huddled in her cabin, praying the soldiers who had killed her only cow would leave her be. She also prayed her husband, Gus, who bought the farm only four years earlier, would return soon.

While fate granted her first wish, her second prayer fell flat. Gus died in a prisoner-of-war camp in Richmond later that year.

These are the sorts of stories Yvonne can tell about the 500 acres of farmland off Mud Creek Road that has passed from generation to generation, spanning well over a century in the same bloodline. Now, the farm has earned the rare distinction as one of Georgia’s Centennial Farms from the state Department of Natural Resources’ Historical Preservation Division.

“I feel like queen for a day when I think about the life I had on the farm compared to the lives my family had in comparison,” she said. “Nancy had it that hard, and then my grandmother had it a little better, and then my mother had it a little better than that, and then we get to live on the farm in a day where everything has exploded with technology and conveniences.”

Of course, things have not always been easy for Yvonne Wiley and Bud, her husband of 61 years. When the couple inherited a portion of the original 500-acre farm, they had no indoor plumbing, no real heat to speak of and no tractor to plow the fields. They made do with an outhouse, a wood stove and a mule named Old Mamie.

While Yvonne, 79, has always maintained she made do because she loved her family’s land, Bud, 83, insists he just loves land and couldn’t make a living doing anything other than farming.

“I don’t like the inside work,” he said.

Yvonne jumps in, saying, “He just couldn’t take it.”

“I like the outside work, where you’re free to holler, and if you want to run down a hill, that’s all right,” he said. “I love the fresh air and that freedom.”

Since their marriage in 1953, the couple has made the most of their portion of the family land, affectionately known as the Tribble land. It was a name acquired in memory of Tom Tribble, Yvonne’s grandfather, who farmed the land his entire adult life.

They’ve raised broiler chickens, hogs, mink and silver foxes, cows and laying hens. They’ve gardened. They’ve milked their cows and churned their own butter. They’ve picked green beans, okra, tomatoes and cabbage for sauerkraut.

But most important, the couple raised a family that now consists of three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, with the latter category expected to expand by one in December.

“It’s just something to be able to raise your family on the farm where you and your family were raised,” Yvonne said. “The (kids) were blessed with enough land that they could run and play, they could have pets, they could see us gardening and see us canning. Our son was even named farmer of the year at East Hall High School one year.”

“It’s just been a lot of good memories,” Bud said. “A lot of good memories.”

And they want those memories to continue existing for future generations.

“My great-grandparents worked on this land and made a living off it, and so did my grandparents and my parents,” Yvonne said. “And we’re still making a living on it and are about to pass it on to our kids. I think that says a pretty good bit about our stickability.”