Wakelon Angus Farms in Zebulon can trace its history back not just a century, but over two centuries. The farm, which is owned and operated by the Fowler family, can trace its history back to 1743, making the farm 278 years old.
The story of Wakelon Farms is a story of family legacy. The farm’s longevity is evidence that the Fowler family truly cares for their land and wants it to endure for as long as possible. This is the legacy of the Fowler Farm.
Eight generations of the Fowler family can trace their land origins to Joseph Fowler from England who settled on the land back in 1743, almost three decades before Wake County was even officially established as a county.
The land settled by Joseph Fowler consisted of three major farms which were later referred to as the “Dr. Fowler Farm,” “Homeplace Farm” and “Fowler Crossroads.” While these plots of lands had different names, they were all settled by the Fowler family and has remained within their family ever since.
In 1782, Joseph Fowler willed his lands to his wife and children. Their fifth child, Godfrey Fowler Sr., received a large portion of the land from his family. After his death in 1797, the land was divided amongst his widow and four children. His youngest son, William, deeded his lands to his oldest child, Joseph Fowler, in 1825 when William and the rest of his family moved away.
Joseph left his homeplace and land to his son, Dr. Martin Luther Fowler. Years later, in 1928, Dr. Fowler’s estate was bought by his nephew, James Robert (Bob) Fowler Sr. and his wife, Gertrude Robertson Fowler. This piece of land is one of the three major farms within the family that became known as the “Dr. Fowler Farm.” This large farm operation was assisted by their son, James Robert Fowler Jr. and other farming families living on the land. They produced several acres of tobacco, cotton, soybeans, grains, forestry and seeds for both dairy and beef cattle herds.
After Bob Sr. and Gertrude moved into their first home, they built a small store across the road to provide farm supplies needed for their farming operation, as well as groceries. Their second home was built in 1951, and they loved living there. They especially enjoyed having their long-distance family and friends over for long visits. Across the street, you can see rows upon rows of tobacco. Gertrude also loved maintaining her own garden of fresh vegetables. She would stand in the kitchen and gaze out the window above the sink, admiring her contribution to the land. She was always hard at work in the kitchen cooking, canning, or freezing her vegetables.
In 1953, Bob Sr.’s son, James Robert Jr., was discharged from service in the U.S. Army. He happily rejoined his parents on the farm to help his retiring father. James Robert was an aggressive farmer and appreciated all the hard work that came with production but caring for the Aberdeen Angus herd was what really made him happy.
The Fowler family has always loved the fact that different members of the family lived and farmed near one another. There is something meaningful about living and working so close with the people you love. Because of his love for family land, in 1958, James Robert Jr. and his wife Jane Cate Fowler decided to fulfill one of James Robert’s childhood dreams and purchase the Fowler Crossroads Farm. James Robert’s “Cousin Sallie” sold them the land because she wanted to keep the land within the family. James Robert and Jane also bought five of the six tracts of the Homeplace Farm from family heirs.
To James Robert, what made all his hard work worthwhile were things like good friends, visitors, shows, sales, fairs, meetings, and especially, big dinners using the produce he grew. In addition to those joys in life, he also found great joy in his participation and leadership in both the N.C. Angus Association and American Angus Association where he served as a nationally elected director. He and his wife Jane often said, “Our travels and friendships across the nation have been priceless!”
Wakelon Angus Farms held James Robert’s attention for 44 years until he passed away in 2000. Jane remarks that life is so different without her husband and his parents. Wakelon Farms has continued on since then, now in their 66th year. The next generation to take ownership of the farm is James Robert and Jane’s three children, Jill F. Bright, Ginny F. Wheeler, and J.R. (Bob) Fowler III. It has been Bob who has taken on the full-time care and supervision of the farm since his father’s passing 21 years ago. Jane Fowler knows that her husband is watching her son from above with a huge smile on his face.
When you run a family business such as a farm, it is important to consider how to both honor the legacy of your ancestry while also leaving behind an honorable legacy of your own. This is something Jane Fowler has thoughtfully considered.
“With the current farming conditions and economy, one must really enjoy nature and productions from the lands to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors’, but an even greater challenge is making the right steps to be followed by our heirs!”
“We have instilled in our children the high values of life and want them to continue the Fowler tradition and heritage,” said Jane.” We are proud of, have respect and appreciations for, and are most thankful for our many blessings!”
2020 marked the 50th anniversary of the NCDA&CS Century Farm Program. Century Farm Families will gather at the 2021 N.C. State Fair for a reunion. Less than 2,000 families across North Carolina can say that they have operated a family farm for 100 years. Applications to join the Century Farm and Bicentinial Farm programs are online: https://www.ncagr.gov/paffairs/century/index.htm