Our History This is the story of why we chose Hill Prairie as the name for our winery and the history before it became Hill Prairie Winery. We dedicate our efforts to those in our family who toiled here in generations past: five generations on this site and eight generations in the Oakford, IL area.
The present day site of the vineyard is surrounded by native Illinois prairie grasses. The grasses have been restored to look much like original Illinois prairie that greeted our ancestors when they arrived to settle this area. Since the time of the settlers and the advent of the steel plow, the natural prairie slowly disappeared. It was plowed under to make way for the cultivation of grain and forage crops. Until recent years, the only place left to observe the natural prairie plants was in places inaccessible to the plow and tractor. The places were generally steep knobs or hills, often located in wooded areas or near river bluffs. They are usually small parcels of land, sometimes only a few square feet on top of a hill. The conservation community called these areas "hill prairies." In recent times, the seeds from these plants have been reproduced commercially and programs have been put in place to restore large areas of prairie plants. Our vineyard and surrounding area is one of the restored prairies. So to recognize the heritage of our Illinois prairies, we have honored our past by naming our winery after the landscape from which it was born.
Before Hill Prairie came into existence as a vineyard and winery, it was a typical grain and livestock farm, like many in its day. Our ancestors traveled to Illinois eight generations ago from Pony Hollow New York in 1832. Matthew Lounsberry brought his family here, and the following year his father Matthew, Sr., his brother Jonathan, his two sisters and their families (32 people in all) arrived. They all lived in one log cabin west of present day Oakford for two months, until more homes could be built. They were among the first settlers here before Oakford came into existence in 1872. In 1887 some of them moved to the location of Hill Prairie and went about the business of building a farmstead and working the land with large draft horses. Their horsemanship is something they would become known for in this area. Since that time, four generations have lived and farmed this site. The fifth generation is presently working in the vineyard and with the winery duties.
Sometime near 1911, J.C. Lounsberry built the structure which stands today as Hill Prairie Winery. Its original purpose was to house all of the draft horses and work animals used to perform the tasks of farming in those days. The upper loft was used to hold all of the hay required to feed the animals during the winter months. It was a hard life and not for the faint of heart, but our family has survived here since those times to the present day, performing the duties of agriculture. Horses remained a part of this farm and were kept in this barn until the 1980s. Homer Lounsberry was the last horseman to ply his trade here and was well known for his knowledge and love of horses. We wonder what he would think if he could see it today. What we are doing here now is another step in the evolution of our family as farmers and stewards of the land. We hope that what we do now will bring honor and pride to those who came before us and leave a legacy to those who will come after we have gone.
As you look around our renovated barn, bear in mind that you are standing in the original building constructed in 1911. All of the timbers are still in their original place and some of the materials used in the renovation have been rearranged, but they too are original from the time of the barn's construction. Much of the renovation that you see here is through the skill and hard work of Lloyd Lounsberry, who lives with his wife Nancy in the house east of the winery. You will see pictures and reminders of who we are and where we came from, with some local history thrown in for good measure. It is our hope that you will see and learn something of value to take home with you, aside from wine and products you may find here. We offer a little history, a little something new and hopefully leave some room for your imagination to take you to a place you will want to return to and visit again.
Friends & Family
Here stands our great helpers at our most recent Harvest Festival. We are a family run business and you can always find a family member or friend onsite to help make your visit a great one. We always offer free wine tasting to help you pick your favorite wines.