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The Farmington Independent Published Thursday, November 30, 2006 By: Nathan Hansen
P.H. Feely and Son Elevator hauled its last load of corn earlier this month.
Oh, the elevator, the most prominent structure in downtown Farmington for the past 112 years or so, will still be around in the years to come. It will even continue to carry the Feely name. But for the first time since 1894 it won't have a Feely behind the counter.
The Feely family sold the elevator Nov. 17 to Doug Gilbertson, a Farmington native and the owner of grain elevators in Randolph and Nerstrand.
There has been some uncertainty about the elevator's future since Don Feely died Sept. 3. Don and his brother Greg took over the business after their father died in 1979, but it was Don who ran the operation on a day-to-day basis.
It did not take long for Greg to realize there was no way to keep the business in the family once Don died.
"We were doing some work in there for probably a month or so," he said. "The people that were always helping Don had full-time jobs and I have a full-time job too. We were putting things together as will as we could and it just couldn't be done that way, especially with the harvest coming on. We just had to make the decision."
Deciding to sell was not easy, but finding a buyer was. Gilbertson, who grew up two streets from Greg and Don in Farmington, was interested in buying even before Don died following a long struggle with kidney cancer. He contacted the family while Don was still undergoing treatment.
"At the beginning it was just kind of a process that we were going through. It was at the end when everyone was just sitting around and talking over the issues of being in business in one family that long and challenges that the new owner was going to be up against in an area that wasn't as agriculture-based as it used to be," Feely said. "At that point it got to be more personal and that was just a little harder to take.
"It was not at all easy."
Gilbertson, whose uncle owned the long-closed Gil's Farm Service elevator in Farmington, did not know the Feelys well growing up but he played sports against them. He wanted the elevator to remain in business, he said, because it still serves a significant population of local farmers.
Gilbertson knows a thing or two about running elevators. He studied agribusiness at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount and he currently owns elevators in Randolph and Nerstrand.
"I've been in the business my whole life," Gilbertson said. "I bought Randolph in 1983. I've been in that market for a long time dealing with customers from Farmington and south.
"They're good people to work with, the farmers," he said. "It's a business that's always going to be there."
Gilbertson isn't worried about Farmington's farmland disappearing beneath new developments.
"I know enough local farmers and the need for storage is going to be there for quite some time," he said.
Gilbertson has put a new floor into the office area of the Farmington elevator since he took over earlier this month, but that's about as dramatic as the changes are going to get. Gilbertson sees little reason to make major changes to a business that has been successful for more than a century.
That includes keeping the business' name, at least after a fashion. Gilbertson will drop the "P.H." from the beginning of the elevator's name and the "and Son" from the end, but he's keeping the Feely name.
"It's got good recognition. It's been there for over 100 years and it's well liked in the community." Gilbertson said.
Patrick H. Feely came to Farmington with his parents in 1861. He opened his business, now believed to be the oldest independently-owned grain elevator in Minnesota, at Second and Spruce streets in 1894.
The original elevator was destroyed by fire in 1895, but Feely leased land from the Milwaukee Railroad to build the elevator building that still stands in downtown Farmington.
The business was officially incorporated as P.H. Feely and Son Inc. on Aug. 1, 1927. Patrick served as president. Until this month, Feelys had run the elevator ever since.
The business has changed over the years. Over time different crops became dominant, and more recently the elevator expanded into other areas to help make up for a loss of framland.
"So much of what we do now has changed," Don Feely said in a 2003 Independent story on the elevator's history. "We still do grain, but instead of concentrating on livestock feed, we're doing pet food. Instead of field fertilizer and seed, we have lawn fertilizer and feed. It's all changed with the times."
The Farmington Independent Published 2003 By:Jeff Mores
At 75 feet tall, the P.H. Feely and Son grain elevator, situated along the railroad tracks at Second and Spruce streets in downtown Farmington, can not help but dominate the skyline. But the elevator is a significant structrue in town for more than its size alone.
Farmington has changed quite a bit over the years, but the grain elevator still serves as a constant reminder of the city's past. Before Farmington was a city, it was a village of farms.
P.H. Feely and Son is believed to be the oldest independently-owned grain elevator company in Minnesota. It opened 1894 to serve the needs of area farmers and has continued to evolve for more than a century, adapting to the ever changing and expanding needs of the community and beyond. Today, the company is still owned and operated by the Feely family but, while it still serves area, pet food, bird seed and lawn fertilizer sales have become a large part of the business.
"So much of what we do now has changed," said Don Feely Jr., who serves as co-owner of the business with his brother Greg. "We still do grain, but instead of concentrating on livestock feed, we're doing pet food. Instead of field fertilizer and seed, we have lawn fertilizer and seed. It's all changed witht he times."
Patrick H. Feely, who founded the company, came to Farmington with his parents in 1961 and resided on a farm in Empire Township until 1879. He then purchased 120 acres on the west side of the then village of Farmington, where he remained until his death on Nov. 11, 1935.
Before long, Feely partnered with J.C. Geraghty of Rosemount to start his grain business. The business opened on Feb. 1, 1894 in the Charles R. Griebie elevator building, formerly known as the old Independent Elevator. Feely worked hard to grow the business and secure its place in Farmington and the surrounding communities, but his elevator was destroyed in a fire in the fall of 1895.
Feely was not about to call it quits, however. Instead, he decided to lease land from the Milwaukee Railroad and erected the present elevator in downtown Farmington.
On Aug. 1, 1927, the grain firm was officially incorporated and the name became P.H. Feely and Son Inc. Patrick served as president, while Edward C. Feely was vice president and Thomas J. Feely was both secretary and treasurer.
In the early days of the company, area farmers were mainly raising wheat, so wheat buying and selling was a major part of the business. Eventually, oats evolved into the main crop and corn, flax and soy beans entered the mix. According to records, the firm handled 33,000 bushels of soy beans alone in 1943.
As the company attracted more and more business, it was necessary to continue updating and improving the equipment and facilities at the site. Patrick Feely got the ball rolling on expansion and his son Thomas J. Feely, grandson Don Feely, and eventually, great-grandson Don Feely Jr. have continued to make the necessary changes ever since.
In 1930, P.H. Feely and Son added a 20-ton truck scale and in 1940 a new seed cleaner was purchased and the office space was doubled. The warehouse doubled in size in 1943, an office and display room were constructed in 1947 and dryers were incorporated in 1961 and 1967.
Perhaps one of the stories the Feely family enjoys telling the most is that of the blind horse that powered the elevator when it first opened its doors for business.
That is right. From 1894 until 1897, the business was powered by a blind horse that traveled in circles while hitched to a power sweep. From 1897 until 1916, a gasoline engine was utilized and electric motors had take over by 1920.
While the Feely's worked to keep up with demands, so did area farmers. Farmers began raising more livestock and producing dairy products, thus creating a whole new set of demands. The company even got into the business of selling equipment to area farmers, in addition to producing formula feeds, field seeds, hybrid seed corn, twine and more.
According to an article in the Grain and Feed Review of 1953, the largest day's business Pet Feely remembered was 10,000 bushels of sacked oats.
All was well until the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 28, 1983, when the elevator's future was in jeopardy. At approximately 2 a.m., a fire broke out in the elevator and, given the fact the structure stood 75 feet tall, it was difficult for Farmington firefighters to reach the blaze. The Rosemount Fire Department chipped in, however, bringing its snorkel truck to Farmington. The fire departments of Farmington, Rosemount and Lakeville fought the fire together and gained control of it by 6 a.m.
At its peak, the flames rached the top of the 75-foot elevator tower, traveling through the grain chutes from the floor up. Firefighters reponded quick enough, however, that the elevator was saved and the damaged sections restored. It was only a matter of time until business returned to normal.
If it were not for the snorkel truck from Rosemount, the damage would have been much more significant. In fact, there is a chance the structure would not be standing today, to serve as a reminder and a link to Farmington's past.
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Monday, January 15, 2007
St. Thomas legendary coach dies
Tom Feely, the former College of St. Thomas basketball coach whose teams dominated Minnesota collegiate athletics for three decades, died Saturday in St. Paul.
From 1947 to 1980, Feely coached baseball and basketball at St. Thomas Academy and College, where his teams won 28 championships and scored a remarkable 645 victories against 379 losses.
Feely, who was 87, died at St. Mary's Home in Highland Park as a result of complications from a fall suffered in October.
His proteges include University of St. Thomas athlectics director Steve Fritz and his grandson Jay Feely, a kicker for the New York Giants.
"The wonderful thing about coach Feely was he was just such a great competitor," said Fritz, who played for Feely in the 1960s and later worked as his assistant before succeeding him. "Henot only taught us about basketball, but he taught us about life. He was a great family man."
Feely's four sons remembered him Sunday as a nurturing and gregarious athlete who played tennis until he turned 70 and inspired deep loyalty in his former players, many of whom kept in touch with him for life. He also is survived by his wife, Mary Feely.
After serving stateside in the Air Force during World War II, Feely returned to Minnesota and coached baseball and basketball at St. Thomas Academy from 1947 to 1954. He coached both sports at the College of St. Thomas, now known as the University of St. Thomas. He retired in 1980.
At the college level, Feely's basketball teams accumulated a 417-269 record, seven Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics titles.
"He was in five different halls of fame," said his son Richard Feely.
Former Pioneer Press sports columnist Don Riley developed a close friendship with Feely in retirement, and the two lunched together dozens of times in the past three years. Former players - in their 50s or 60s themselves - often would come along, insisting on picking up the the tab.
"He would fill you up with Irish stories, all with a fast punch line," Riley said. "I never saw a coach that had a relationship with his former players like he did."
Feely was raised in Farmington, Minn., where his family name still decorates the century-old grain elevator that juts above the downtown skyline. P.H. Feely was one of the city's earliest business leaders, and much of the city has been built on former Feely pastureland.
A Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 324 Prior Ave. Vistation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at O'Halloran and Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Ave.