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lars and grethe anderson house

an 1866 norwegian home built in chippewa county, wisconsin

Further Information

The Journey to America

 

Staking a Claim

 

A Home on Big Elk Creek

 

Daily American Life

 

The House in Later Years

Related Reading

Farm Life by Frank Smoot, Chippewa Valley Museum Press

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Chippewa Valley Museum
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DAILY AMERICAN LIFE

 

Lars and Grethe had ten children, but four of them died in childhood, as was all too common during the era. And, between babies having yet to be born and young adults leaving home, a varying number of kids slept under this roof at any given time. But in 1874, Lars, Grethe, and eight of their children lived within these walls.

The family spent most of its time outside or in the main room, where they cooked, ate, studied lessons, bathed in winter, relaxed, conducted the business of the home and farm, and tailored and sewed their clothing. Many Norwegian settlers found that American-manufactured clothing became tattered quickly under the strain of farm labor, but they quickly learned to tailor the clothes they made to an American cut.

Tax records also show how quickly their names were Anglicized. Lars became Louis or Lewis. His brother Jens became James. On various documents Grethe became Greta, Gertrude, and even Margaret.

*

The Andersons settled in southwestern Chippewa County and were soon surrounded by friends and fellow Norwegians, all originally from Baerum. The families of Gabriel Jensen, Hans Holm, Bernt Hanson, and Nels Hanson claimed adjacent or nearby farms.

Brother Jens donated the land for the school, on a property adjacent to Lars and Grethe’s. This same land was later used as the site for the Big Elk Creek Lutheran Church and its church yard. Building began on the church in 1876 and finished in 1884. It is still an active church.

Lars served as church treasurer from about 1867 until 1894. His son Harold took over the job and remained as treasurer until 1941. At various times, Lars also held positions as constable, justice of the peace, and town supervisor.

Lars and Grethe’s daughter Antonia was married at Big Elk Church in 1895, and many members of the family are buried in the cemetery.

Rites of passage also took place in people’s homes, especially before the church was built. After their second child Antomine died at two years, nine months, in 1864 her coffin lay in the cabin. After the service a procession led to the graveyard, where the men of the neighborhood took turns digging her grave.

Neighbors accomplished many tasks together. Although Gabriel Jensen is the named builder of this house, and was the craftsman who designed it and fit the joints, it’s clear that several neighbors lent their sweat. Home building was a communal affair. House-raising bees, quilting bees and husking bees also provided relief from the isolation of pioneer life. Young men especially liked Indian corn husking. Anyone finding a red ear could kiss the girl of his choice.

“No Norwegian settlement was complete until a church spire arose in its midst, and so was the desire of these pioneers.”
— Big Elk Creek Church History, 1958

 

coat worn by Lars Ronnenberg

Coat worn by Lars Ronnenberg at his wedding to Lars and Grethe's daughter Antonia in 1895. They were married at Big Elk Church, a short walk from the Anderson's farm.

Big Elk Lutheran Church, 1997

Big Elk Creek Lutheran Church, 1997

 

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