Skip to main content
Carlinville Public Library

Site of Otwell Iris Fields

Site of Otwell Iris Fields Site of Otwell Iris Fields: (1030 West Main Street). 

The iris fields were the creation of William B. Otwell (1863-1941), a national leader in agriculture despite a modest personality. An 1884 Blackburn graduate, Otwell traditionally planted 25 acres of farmland near Carlinville as an iris field, which attracted as many as 50,000 visitors annually to see the beauty of the irises in bloom. 

Worker at Otwell Iris Fields

Visitors to Carlinville to see the Otwell Iris Fields

Among his many endeavors, Otwell sponsored a variety of national activities for farm youth, including the Farmer Boy Round-Up, which brought thousands of farm youth to Carlinville each year from 1907-1910 for educational pursuits, seminars, and hands on learning.  In addition, Otwell edited and published Otwell’s Farmer Boy, a national publication for farm youth, from 1914 until his death. 

However, it is Otwell’s corn-planting contest that left the greatest legacy.   In late 1898, Otwell began organizing a contest for Macoupin County farm boys to produce the best yield of corn from seed that he had chosen, with a premium of one dollar as a prize.  The response was high, and by 1903 Otwell expanded the endeavor from countywide to statewide.  That year, over 50,000 packages of seed were shipped, and the corn contest became a phenomenon in rural America.  Many scholars accept Otwell’s corn contests as the forerunner to the 4-H movement.


Photos from the Farmer Boy Round-Up on the Square in Carlinville

Travel back east on West Main Street and turn left on Loomis Lane.  Travel north on Nicholas Street and turn right at Nicholas Street.  Travel east on Nicholas Street to North Oak Street, turn left.  Continue north on Oak Street and turn left on West Breckenridge Street.

NEXT: Macoupin County Historical Society