Lanis and Joyce Ethridge

Ira died in 1945 and his son Lanis Ethridge inherited the farm. Lanis now faced the task of adapting his farm to a rapidly changing postwar world. Throughout the South, the tenant sharecropping system was disintegrating as croppers left the land and sought a better life in cities. This increased the pressure to mechanize cotton farming and that in turn required an increase in the scale of operations. Lanis was able to do this by acquiring the William Shields place along Johnson Mill Road and thereby reuniting the James Shields property. But after experimenting with mechanical pickers in the 1950s, Lanis decided that updating his gin to handle the mechanically picked cotton was a losing proposition; instead he reduced the acreage in cotton and converted most fields to pasture for cattle. The gin was closed in 1964 and the farm ceased to grow cotton in 1969. Many of the buildings on the farmstead fell into disuse, but they were not demolished, simply closed up with all their contents left inside.

When Lanis died in 1970, his wife Joyce realized she had inherited a remarkable resource – a farmstead that preserved abundant evidence of a way of life that as it receded into the past was in danger of becoming incomprehensibly foreign to succeeding generations of her own family and the general public. Rejecting offers to buy the land she resolved to find ways to preserve this extraordinary place.

In 1994, she established the Shields-Ethridge Heritage Farm Foundation to preserve the buildings and landscape on 152 acres at the center of the historic farm.