America's oldest family companies list: Page 1

By Barbara Spector

The Family Business 100: America’s oldest family companies



* Denotes new listing


17th Century



1 1623
Avedis Zildjian Co.
Zildjian family
Cymbals/Norwell, MA

Founder Avedis Zildjian I was an Armenian alchemist in Constantinople who discovered an extremely musical alloy while attempting to create gold by combining base metals. He was invited to live at court and make cymbals for the sultan’s elite bands. The sultan gave Avedis the name “Zildjian,” an Armenian word meaning “son of cymbal maker.” In 1623, Avedis received permission to leave the palace and start his own business. Avedis III moved the family business to America in 1929. His son Armand took over in 1977. Armand’s daughter Craigie became the company’s first woman CEO in 1999. Her sister Debbie, the vice president of human resources, is the first woman to be responsible for the company’s secret process. Fifteenth-generation member Cady Zildjian Bickford, Debbie’s daughter, is the associate product manager for apparel and novelty items.

2 1638
Shirley Plantation
Hill/Carter family
Historic site/Charles City, VA

Virginia’s first plantation, settled in 1613 by Sir Thomas West. Edward Hill I acquired the property and established a farm in 1638. In 1723, his great-granddaughter Elizabeth Hill married John Carter; construction of the present mansion began then and was completed in 1738. Their descendants have managed it ever since. The site continues as a working plantation and a tourist attraction. Exhibits at the site document the plight of slaves at the Shirley Plantation.

3 1640s
Little Farm*
Little family
Agriculture/Newburyport, MA

George Little arrived in Massachusetts from London, England, in 1640 and began farming near Newburyport. Records indicate he purchased the farm in 1650. His descendant Susan Little, who lives on the site, now owns a bookstore in town but still derives a small income from the farm by haying the field behind the barn, renting out horse stalls and raising chickens for eggs.

4 1642
Barker’s Farm
Barker family
Produce/North Andover, MA

Founded by Richard Barker. His descendants operate a farm stand offering fruit, vegetables, baked goods, flowers and plants. Visitors can pick their own apples and strawberries.

5 1661
Wells Farm*
Wells family
Farm, slaughter facility/Riverhead, NY

This Long Island farm—the oldest farm in New York state —grows potatoes and cabbages and sells them to markets across the U.S. It also sells field corn and grains for local animals. In addition, it is a custom slaughter facility and specializes in barbecued prepared animals. Ancestor William Wells founded the Long Island town of Southold. Todd Wells runs the farm with his son Eric. Vernon Wells, Todd’s father, stepped down from day-to-day management in the mid-1980s but still works on the farm.

6 1667
The Seaside Inn and Cottages
Mason family
Inn/Kennebunkport, ME

The family dates its history back to 1640s, when John Gooch was asked by Fernando Gorges, agent for King Charles II, to live on the site and ferry travelers across the Kennebunk River. Gooch provided rooms and operated a tavern for travelers who wanted to stay a night or two. The family’s first dated record is Gooch’s 1667 will. The inn is now owned and operated by ninth-generation descendant Patricia Mason and her husband, Ken.

7 1680
Saunderskill Farms
Schoonmaker family
Produce, baked goods, plants/Accord, NY

Originally granted to Lieutenant Hendrick J. Schoonmaker by Peter Stuyvesant in 1663 as payment for military service. The land (named for the tributary of the Rondout Creek that flows through it) has been continuously farmed for 12 generations, since 1680. It now includes more than 12 acres. A stone manor house, built in 1787, still stands on the property, as does a barn that housed oxen used to pull barges on the Delaware & Hudson Canal, a section of which flows through the property. Jack, Dave, Cathy and Dan Schoonmaker now run the farm.

8 1684
Reynolds family
Farm, bread bakers/Sudlersville, MD

The property, first surveyed by John Slaughter in September 1657, was originally a tobacco plantation. The original parcel was 500 acres. The ancestors of Julie Reynolds purchased the property in 1684. In the mid-1700s, the land was put into wheat production; throughout the 1800s the fields produced wheat, barley and corn. In the early 1900s the family raised prized dairy stock and truck crops; soybeans were added in the 1950s. Today the family still owns 300 of the original 500 acres. Since 1993, Julie Reynolds and her husband, Jimmy, have operated the Magnolia Bread Company, baking bread using wheat grown on the premises.

9 1697
Howell Farm
Howell family
Farm/Cedarville, NJ

Joseph Sayre of Southampton, Long Island, acquired the farm’s original 200 acres in Cumberland County, N.J., in 1697. A Sayre descendant, Tamson, married Charles Howell in 1740. The 150-acre farm, only four feet above sea level, today produces salt hay, soybeans, alfalfa and beef cattle. Manmade dikes protect the cropland. The family once had dairy cows and shipped milk to a condensed milk plant. Records indicate that the farm produced peaches, flax, hogs, sheep and vegetables at one time or another in its history. Current owner James Burt Howell III now rents out the farmland and a house on the site.






18th Century


10 1700?
Allandale Farm
Lawrence family
Produce, plants/Brookline, MA

Allandale Farm specializes in plants, flowers, vegetables, turkeys and Christmas trees. Its retail market sells local, sustainably grown produce. The property was deeded as a land grant to Captain Joseph Weld from Governor Winthrop in 1640; it originally stretched from Boston Harbor to Dedham. Weld later gifted the land to his two daughters, who accumulated additional land, including the Allandale parcel. The farm is currently owned by the Lawrence family, descendants of Captain Weld.

11 1712
The Orchards of Concklin
Concklin family
Produce, bakery, plants/Pomona, NY

The Concklin family came to America in 1637 from Nottingham, England. Nicholas Concklin bought 400 acres in the Pomona region in 1711. The family owned and farmed the land continuously through the American Revolution, the Civil War and the early 20th century. J. Raymond Concklin took over in 1945 and operated the farm with his wife, Ardelle, son Richard and daughter Linda Concklin Hill. When he died in 1993, Richard and Linda took over the farm. After financial problems in the 1980s and 1990s, the family sold most of the land to the county; they are now tenant farmers with a long-term lease. The family still owns a five-acre parcel with greenhouses.

12 1720
Smiling Hill Farm & Hillside Lumber
Knight family
Dairy farming, lumber/Westbrook, ME

The farm stands on the property where Colonel Thomas Westbrook and nephew Nathaniel Knight built a house in the 1720s. Westbrook is buried on the site. The Knight family, now in its 12th generation, processes and packages its milk on the farm. In the winter, Smiling Hill Farm offers cross-country skiing on about 25 km of trail throughout the farm, including logging roads and livestock paths. In the late 1970s the family established Hillside Lumber to accommodate the farm’s growth in silviculture.

13 1722
Nourse Farm
Nourse family
Berries, fruits, vegetables/Westborough, MA

After innocent victim Rebecca Nurse was hanged for witchcraft in 1692, her family fled Salem, Mass. Brothers William and Ebenezer Nurse, her grandsons, established the farm in 1722. The family changed the spelling of its name to escape persecution. Farm operations have varied over the years from production to consumption to dairy farming to berries. Currently the family’s ninth generation is actively involved. David Alden Nourse owns the farm and raises a small herd of beef cattle. His brother Jonathan Willard Nourse directs operations and owns the farm business. Tenth-generation member Timothy Haskell Nourse and his wife, Catherine, operate Olde Nourse Farm Gourmet, which sells Nourse Farm jams online.

14 1728
Clark Farm
Clark family
Agriculture/Danvers, MA

Peter Hobart founded a 12-acre sustenance farm for his family in 1728. The Hobart family began producing commercially in 1908. Current owner Bill Clark’s grandfather and father (eighth and ninth generations) traveled to Boston biweekly to sell vegetables and small fruits from a market wagon. Bill continued the farming tradition even while teaching full-time; he is now retired from teaching and devoted to growing crops. Horticultural/greenhouse flowers are the farm’s bestsellers; it also offers mulch and seasonal items for fall (pumpkins, cornstalks, gourds, winter squash, cider) and winter (wreaths, trees, greens).

15 (tie) 1741
W.D. Cowls Inc.*
Jones family
Timberland management, real estate, retail sales/North Amherst, MA

In October 1741, Jonathan Cowls brought his family across the Connecticut River from Hatfield, Mass., and settled on land he bought. The eastern part of Hadley where the company is based became the town of Amherst in 1759. Additional timberlands were acquired since then in about 30 other towns. In the late 18th or early 19th century, lumbering became the significant activity. Lumber milled by Walter Dickinson Cowls supplied the railway in the late 1900s. W.D. Cowls hired Massachusetts Agricultural College student Gerald Jones, who married Cowls’ daughter, Sarah. At the turn of the 20th century the family was still engaged in dairy farming but shifted their enterprise as lumbering technology evolved. Gerald and son Walter C. Jones built an electric sawmill on the family farm and later a planing mill. In 2010, the company discontinued its sawmill operation to focus more attention on timberland management, retail sales and real estate enterprises. The town plans to rezone a significant part of Cowls’ 1741 Home Farm land, on which the mill used to operate. Cowls will redevelop the site as a mixed-use village center. Ninth-generation member Cinda Jones is president of W.D. Cowls Inc. Her brother, Evan Jones, manages the subsidiary retail operation, Cowls Building Supply. The 1768 Cowls family farmhouse is the company’s headquarters.

15 (tie) 1741
Lyman Orchards
Lyman family
Apples, berries, baked goods, golf/Middlefield, CT

John Lyman and his wife, Hope, moved to Middlefield from Durham, Conn., in 1741 and purchased a 36-acre parcel of land. One of their nine children, David, took a leading role in expanding the family farm. By 1790, the family had 650 acres. During the Civil War years, David II built the Lyman Homestead (now available for weddings and events). By the 1880s, David II’s son Charles Elihu Lyman had introduced crop specialization and increased the size of the farm to its present 1,100 acres. After a winter freeze destroyed the peach crop, the family planted apple trees instead. The family made a strategic shift to retail marketing under John Lyman Jr. in the 1960s. Between 1969 and 1994, the family added two championship golf courses, a pick-your-own operation and a retail salesroom. Eighth-generation member John Lyman III is executive vice president.

17 1750
Parlange Plantation
Parlange family
Cattle, sugarcane/New Roads, LA

This National Historic Landmark is still used as a cattle and sugarcane plantation. Vincent de Ternant received the grounds from a French land grant and developed it into an indigo plantation. His son, Claude, shifted to sugarcane and cotton. After Claude’s death his widow, Virginie, married Colonel Charles Parlange, for whom the plantation is named. Their son Charles was a state senator, lieutenant governor, federal judge and justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. When Virginie died, Charles and his wife moved to New Orleans; the plantation was managed by tenants for 20 years until Charles’ son, Walter, returned to the plantation. Owner Walter Charles Parlange Jr. died at age 87 in 2010 and is buried on the grounds. The land is now farmed by tenants.

18 1759
Normandy Farms*
Daniels family
Campground/Foxboro, MA

François Guideau, a French army officer taken prisoner by a Colonial privateer and brought to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, caught the attention of jail keeper George Hewes and went to work for Hewes’ brother, a wealthy landowner. After paying off the cost of his passage, Guideau—who changed his name to Francis Daniels—purchased 53 acres in Foxboro in 1759 and established a farm. In 1971, in response to declining profitability of family farms, the sixth and seventh generations of the Daniels family established a campground on the site. The campground and RV park is now run by the seventh and eighth generations.

19 1761
Great Brook Farm*
Graves family
Dairy farm/Walpole, NH

The dairy farm was established in 1761 by John and Lydia Graves and has been an ongoing commercial operation ever since. Ninth-generation member Peter Graves is the farm manager; eighth-generation members George and Robert Graves are still active. The family operates a farm store that sells raw cow’s milk, ice cream and cheese, as well as ground beef. The farm’s sugarhouse provides maple products for the store.

20 1769
Bachman Funeral Home
Bachman family
Funeral Services/Strasburg, PA

Swiss Mennonite Johannes Bachman came to Pennsylvania to avoid religious persecution and began as a cabinetmaker. He later transitioned to coffin production and funeral services. His original business ledger (in German), dated April 1769, has been passed to the present funeral director, eighth-generation member John D. Bachman.



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