James McDonald settled the area now encompassing McDonald Farm in 1821, and eight generations since then have enjoyed the bucolic setting straddling Sale Creek at the upper end of Hamilton County in East Tennessee, which was formed two years earlier in 1819 as a result of the Hiwassee purchase, which forcibly removed the original Cherokee inhabitants. James was descended from Bryan McDonald, who emigrated from the province of Leinster in Ireland in 1691 to settle first in New Castle, Delaware, and later Botetot County, Virginia.
The first house built by James McDonald was made of hand-hewn timber and was located just off Coulterville Road not far from the site of the present Homestead. James owned 609 acres. His fourth son, Benjamin Jones McDonald, initially built a small house near his parents but eventually outgrew it, and in 1884 built a larger house for this family of eleven, and ever since then, this house has been the spiritual center of the McDonald Farm.
The sons of Ben Jones McDonald remembered all the hard work and excitement of the construction of the house. Brothers “Papa” Frank McDonald and Charlie McDonald remembered helping with the construction, and reusing every possible piece of the old house, including having to straighten all the old nails so they could be used again. They also remember planting two cottonwood trees to provide shade, one of which still stands at the back corner of the house. Ben McDonald had $100 with which to buy hardware, glass, and other materials, but all the lumber was sawn from timber on the west side of the Farm.
The Farm eventually expanded to supply the milk, eggs, and other produce to the Home Stores grocery chain, which “Papa” Frank McDonald started and passed down to his son Roy. A generation of East Tennesseans from Knoxville to Chattanooga enjoyed McDonald Farm ice cream, butter, cheese, and a host of other products sold through the Home Stores.
Roy McDonald took what he learned running the Home Stores and started the Chattanooga Free Press in 1933, which originated as a weekly newsletter featuring stories, comics, and advertisements for the Home Stores. Within three years he had turned his company’s newsletter into a daily newspaper that reached 65,000 homes. The Chattanooga Free Press eventually merged with its competitor the Chattanooga Times in 1999, creating the Times-Free Press that Chattanoogans are familiar with today.
Beginning in 2011, the McDonald Family opens the Farm to the public each Fall to take part in a variety of fun, family-friendly activities. We hope you’ll join us this Fall to take part in the family tradition.