Thursday, September 25, 2008

Historic Cabin Represents Lives of My Pioneer Ancestors

I would love to spend months exploring Chippewa County, Minnesota. It is the center of the genealogical universe when it comes to my mother's ancestry. All four sets of her Norway-born great grandparents homesteaded in the area, and their children intermarried to create the families I am obsessed with researching.

Years ago, the Chippewa County Historical Society (CCHS) set about to preserve many of the original buildings of the area's first settlement along the Minnesota River: Chippewa City. Among the preserved treasures is the original cabin of homesteader Bardinus Anderson, where the congregation of the old Saron Lutheran Church was first organized.

Layout of buildings in Historic Chippewa City, Chippewa County Historical Society.

The following photographs were taken by one of my cousins, Michael Siverhus, of Minnesota, during a visit to Chippewa City over Labor Day weekend, 2008. Michael is an "internet cousin." We have never actually met, but we are related through my mother's maternal grandmother line, the Slaaens (Sloans). Last year, I asked the Chippewa County Historical Society if it would print a little article on the family research I was conducting. I listed off surnames, many of which are represented in several pioneer cemeteries in that area, including Saron Lutheran. As a reader of the historical society's newsletter, Michael saw the article and contacted me. Now, that's networking!

"One of the most authentic log cabins in the state, the Anderson Log Cabin was built by Bardinus Anderson in 1870. Originally located 8-1/2 miles southeast of Montevideo this building was brought into Historic Chippewa City in 1965. Inside the walls of this log cabin, the Saron Lutheran Congregation was organized. Twisted prairie grasses were once used as fuel by settlers who lived in log cabins much like this one."

Bardinus Anderson hosted the first meeting to organize the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church at this cabin on November 1, 1870. The initial church membership was made up of 99 Norwegians, 16 Swedes, and two Danes. But, it was only charter members came together for that first discussion; their families remained at home, obviously due to lack of space.

The discussion included where to locate a permanent church and cemetery for the new community. Charter members, including some of my ancestors, agreed upon 80 acres along the south edge of Leenthrop Township, in Section 31. The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad owned the land, but donated 10 acres to the community. The congregation then purchased the remaining 70 acres for $650. In 1886, the existing Saron Lutheran Church was built at a cost of $4,750, and the cemetery, where many of my ancestors are buried, went in to use soon after the land was secured.

A typical pioneer farm table setting inside the cabin.

The woodstove:  the most important feature of any homesteader cabin.

A warm and cozy place to sleep after an exhausting day's work.

Each year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, visitors to Chippewa City can walk through many buildings depicting pioneer life as it was during the early years of settlement. It was a time when my ancestors were building their own cabins, pushing plows, and fighting to put food on the table throughout seasons of relentless drought and locust infestations, punctuated by severe winter weather and exceptional blizzards. It was not an easy life, to say the least!

Thank goodness for historical societies whose members work hard to preserve our heritage. Why don't you join one local to your genealogical heritage today? If you're not close enough to help with your hands, the societies can always use extra membership funds and donations to shingle structures, for example, which is a project CCHS is committed to in order to keep Chippewa City in good condition for future generations. I am so glad!


"Historic Chippewa City," Montevideo Chamber of Commerce, (accessed 25 September 2008).

Christianson, Mrs. John. Our First 100 Years: 1870-1970. Chippewa County, Minnesota: Saron Lutheran Church, 1970.

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