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Farm memories

Horse-drawn hay mowers rest in the grass at the former Charlie Allen farm in Superior’s Billings Park neighborhood. Allen’s children are hosting a farewell to the farm event Aug. 2 for people to come and share their memories of the farm. (Jed Carlson/

The Charlie Allen farm covers 10 acres in Superior’s Billings Park neighborhood. Its green expanse doesn’t seem big enough to contain all the memories it evokes.

“We saved our babysitting money and hiked from South Superior over the tracks and down the dusty road to ride for an hour,” Karen Basterash Neuburger wrote on a Facebook post.

She was one of dozens of people who responded to Facebook posts about the farm.

“Spent so much of my childhood there — riding on some old nags, but many memories of the sleigh rides in the winter, with friends from town and country,” wrote Sue Preston Smedegard. “It was a place memories were made of!”

Everyone is invited to gather at the former farm to share those memories during an open house Aug. 2.

The farm was home to many animals over the years, including geese, pigs, rabbits and some mean goats.

“I have fond memories of the hustle and bustle of the farm as you drove up the long driveway,” wrote Lola Mae Johnson. “As you entered, the pigs would be running free as were the dogs. From all the horses, pigs and dogs, it was a child’s wonderland.”

But the horses left the biggest mark.

“All of us that grew up in South Superior and were Girl Scouts and 4-H-ers remember Charlie’s” wrote Diane Barton. “He brought many hours of fun and memories to our lives. Our childhood was better thanks to him.”

Those who rode at the farm ticked off the names of horses long gone: Star, Blue Boy, Trigger, Appaloosa, Prince, Snowball, Jiggers, Snake, King, Pete, Freddie, Shake, Spook, Blaze, Champs, CoCo, Snickel Fritz, Sam, Blackie and more

“Came back home hot and stinky and loved every minute of it,” wrote Audry Doucette Comeaux. “A dollar an hour for a ride I still remember with love and joy!”

Charlie’s daughter, Mary Lou Peterson, remembers guide riding at age 5. When an observer asked if she was old enough to be riding, she proudly told them she was going into kindergarten that fall.

“Lots of good times growing up on Charlie’s farm haying, guiding, cleaning barns and of course the egg sandwiches Alice would make for us,” wrote Darrell DeMoure.

The farm was established along Tower Avenue in 1887 by Charlie Allen’s grandfather. The place was handed down to his father Monte, then Charlie. After it was relocated to Billings Park in 1955, the farm remained a draw for local youth until it closed in 1984.

“That was the beginning of horses for many of us,” said Bob Bender of South Range.

Marilyn Olson began riding at the Tower Avenue farm when she was 10 years old.

“At that time I used to ride out the back fence onto Hammond Avenue,” said the Superior woman. Hammond was just a dirt road, North 28th Street and Hill Avenue were muddy trails and Olson had to jump her horse over a creek where Northern Lights Elementary School stands today. She got her first horse from the Allen Farm along Tower Avenue, her second from the farm in Billings Park.

“I had them until I was 30 years old,” Olson said.

Bender was born, bred and broke in Billings Park, about a mile away from the Allen farm. The horses piqued his interest and by age 12, he started riding. Soon, he became a regular.

“The best job there was always working as a guide rider,” Bender said.

The family relocated the farm to Garfield Avenue in Billings Park when Peterson was in fifth grade. There was no running water or indoor plumbing, so they drove to Kossics gas station daily to fill up barrels of water. But the perks made up for those inconveniences.

“Looking out the window I saw the love of my life, horses,” Peterson said. “I had all these horses in my backyard; I had everything I wanted.”

That’s what kept the farm so busy, said her brother Ron.

“The horses and the girls,” he said. “Girls loved horses.”

That, in turn, attracted young men to the farm. Visitors crossed the Arrowhead Bridge from West Duluth to ride; servicemen would bus to the farm from the U.S. Air Force base in Duluth; adults would swing by for rides and kids from the Bethel Children’s Home visited every Sunday night. The farm held hayrides and sleigh rides, as well.

All over the country there are people who have ridden at the Allen farm, Peterson said.

Charlie’s youngest son, Doug, remembers the farm’s “marrying years.”

“A lot of people met their wives out here in the ’60s and ’70s,” Doug said. “Probably at least a dozen.” Including Doug, who has been married to his wife Diane for 39 years.

In addition to the horses, the farm had many pigs. Bender recalls riding up and down the alleys along Tower Avenue, picking up scraps from restaurants and grocery stores to feed to the pigs. When they went around a corner, Charlie would slap him on the knee and say “Barney Oakfield at the wheel.”

Bender said it was always a treat to pick up day-old pre-wrapped treats at Eddie’s Bakery.

“Before that went to the pigs we made ourselves sick on it,” he said.

Charlie Allen rescued many of his horses from the slaughterhouse in Duluth before it closed down. That’s how Peterson got her horse, Snickel Fritz. Allen was known as a horse trader and would often board out horses over the winter to families in the area. His guides were often called on to break horses as well as lead rides and help with other farm chores.

Charlie’s easygoing manner attracted folks to the farm, as well. He was friends with everybody, say those who know him, and a father figure for young people.

“He really just loved kids,” Peterson said.

She and her brothers are hosting a farewell to the farm event from noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 2 at the property. The open house is a time to share memories and photos with others as the family prepares to sell the land.

“We’ll try to see some old friends who used to hang out there,” said Allen’s son, Ron.

Everyone is encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and a chair or blanket to sit on. There will be a short prayer of thanks for the land by Pastor Gary Garnatz at 2 p.m. But the site doesn’t need any blessing, Olson said.

“The place is already blessed — so many happy times,” she said.