For brothers Ren and Scott Hankla, honoring the memory of their father was one of the most important considerations that they made when deciding to permanently protect the family farm that they inherited from him.
Their father was born in the farm’s historic Hankla-Walker House and raised on the land. He left after high school and eventually became part-owner of Farmers Supply in Danville, returning to full-time farming in mid-life.
“Like most Kentucky farmers, he faced years of demanding physical work in a career that could often offer little security and limited control of production costs, markets, or profits. And yet,” share the brothers, “he remained a farmer the rest of his life because he loved the land and the lifestyle. He never missed a single day of working the farm until he was in his mid-eighties.”
Over the last two centuries, the farm’s agricultural operations have been diverse. Cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, chickens, barley, oats, wheat, rye, tobacco, hemp, corn, hay, and silage have all been raised on the land. Today, about half of the farm’s 311 acres are in woodlands and the remainder in warm and cool season grasses under the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program with a few acres in hay production.
The Hankla family’s tie to this land all began with their ancestor Hans Michael Goodnight, who made an “actual settlement” in 1779 and then purchased 400 acres for 160 pounds from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Goodnight, his wife Mary, and their nine children, moved from North Carolina to Kentucky and settled near Harbeson’s Station, now known as Perryville.
Nearly 100 years after Goodnight’s settlement, in the fall of 1862, one of the fiercest Civil War battles fought in Kentucky took place on this farm when the Union Army led by Major General Don Carlos Buell attacked the Confederate Army led by General Braxton Bragg.
Confederate troops, led by General Benjamin Cheatham, were deployed to Walker’s Bend. From this position, Cheatham led the attack on the Union troops across the Chaplain River and onto the present day Perryville Battlefield State Park, which neighbors The Hankla Farm. By the end of the conflict, Bragg had withdrawn his army and retreated into east Tennessee.
The Hankla-Walker House, circa 1832, served as a hospital for the wounded Confederate troops and still stands on the farm today. The land itself has changed little since bearing witness to this important battle in American history.
Ren and Scott are now the seventh generation to own their family’s land in Boyle County. From hours spent as little boys floating down the creek on the small boat their dad made them under big, overhanging sycamores on hot summer days to recent “Farm Week” reunions where everyone works and plays together in old-fashioned barn raisings, the farm holds some of their family’s best memories and experiences.
The brothers believe though that the land will eventually transfer out of the family, and that belief became another significant reason for them to conserve it. “This takes the pressure off our children, and whether they keep it or sell it, they know that our wish for the farm to be protected into the future will be carried out,” Ren and Scott say, before adding,
“We wanted to permanently conserve the land for our father and our other ancestors’ sake. We believe future generations will deeply appreciate this unique agricultural and historic legacy. No matter who owns this land in the future, it can remain bountiful and productive farmland, and its rich American history will be preserved.”