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The Coleman Family’s Gift of Good Land

Mondon Smith’s stewardship ethic and connection to the land held by his family for nearly 200 years can be traced to his birth in the front room of the first house built on the now-preserved, 110-acre Coleman Farm in Altoona.

He has lived here his whole life, as did his mother, Thelma Coleman Smith, who shared her passion for the land with her son — also undoubtedly an influence on Smith’s commitment to stewardship.

Thelma, who raised six children on the farm, tended the vineyard at the top of the hill, overlooking the fields that stretch from the woodland at Davis Road to Grandview Road.

“I never thought of myself as the owner of the property, but as its steward,” says Smith.

Smith worked as a locomotive engineer, the same job held by his father and father’s father, operating freight trains.For a stretch of several years, he worked the route between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. He retired in 2005 after 37 years combined at Penn Central, Conrail, and Norfolk Southern Railroads. He does not have children.

By 2018, when Smith donated a conservation easement to the Centre County Farmland Trust, both his parents had died after living into their 90s. Through agreements with them, Mondon had become the farm’s sole owner and there was no interest among the rest of the family in farming.

He knew the land faced an uncertain future, and wanted to keep it in agriculture and undeveloped, so approached the Trust.

The easement is a legal instrument that stays with the land to keep it open and undeveloped in perpetuity. Since this reduces the commercial sales value of the land, an easement represents a landowner’s generous donation to the public, through the Trust.

The Coleman family has owned the land since at least 1835, according to the “Century Farms” designation, signed by Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh, who served from 1979 to 1987. Such continuous ownership demonstrates “a durability and love of the land that is the heritage of Pennsylvania.”

Such continuous ownership demonstrates “a durability and love of the land that is the heritage of Pennsylvania.”

Smith’s maternal grandparents, Chester and Agnes Coleman, purchased the land from Chester’s cousins in 1919 for $9,000, a sale price higher than that of other farms. Since his grandparents fared well during the Depression, the farm seems to have been a good investment, says Mondon Smith.

They grew fruits and vegetables, poultry, eggs, meat and dairy products and were in good proximity to the Altoona Farmers Market building on Green Ave., at Eighth Street.

When Smith’s parents ran the farm, his mother’s grapevines were the only remaining fruit crop. The farm’s mainstays were boarding horses and making hay. Earl, Mondon’s father, worked as a locomotive engineer on the railroad and in time the vineyard succumbed following problems with black rot, and damage from turkeys, deer, bear and people.

Today, remnants of the old vineyard are visible on the hill. The land is managed for grazing and leased to beef cattle farmers, and provides a beautiful view from the neighboring Grandview Cemetary on top of the ridge. A small herd of friendly, entertaining goats greets visitors.

“I was the one that more or less never left home,” says Smith, who has continued the Coleman Family’s

legacy. He hopes to find a new owner to keep the land in agriculture and hand it down — continuing the

legacy of stewardship of this Gift of Good Land.


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