History and [Agri]culture

Carver County Historical Society’s Andrew Peterson farm connects communities, continents and a rich culture.
The entire Andrew Peterson family (Andrew, 66; Elsa, 50; Anna Isabelle, 13; Josephine, 9; Ida, 26; Emma, 15; George/Sture, 24; Charles/Cark, 20, Frank, 17) stand outside the farm home in 1885

Tucked away just west of the Twin Cities resides a farmstead that resonates with Swedes and Americans alike: The Andrew Peterson farm.

Andrew Peterson, a Swedish immigrant who cultivated his land with the special care of a horticulturalist, would likely be pleased to know that a portion of his land was recently donated to the Carver County Historical Society, where it will be used to educate and serve the community.

The land was donated to the historical society by Ward Holasek, a lifetime member of the historical society, who—unaware of its historical value at the time—purchased the land in the 1970s. When Holasek learned about the importance of Andrew Peterson’s history and his land, he worked tirelessly to have the farmstead recognized and restored.

“Ward had this wonderful vision for the property, and for the value of preserving the history and culture of what it was like to be a farmer, and what early immigrants’ lives were like in this part of the country,” says Michael Owen Hill, former board president for the Carver County Historical Society.

The land continues to tell Andrew Peterson’s story, which is a powerful narrative of Swedish immigrant life in America. Upon his departure from Sweden in 1850, Peterson kept a journal detailing his experience and life in Minnesota until the day before he died. These writings were further brought to life by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, who discovered Peterson’s journals at the Minnesota Historical Society and used them as the foundation for his Emigrants book series.

Moberg’s books eventually inspired films created in the 1970s and the musical Kristina from Dufvemala, created by two former members of the musical group ABBA, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. Further attention was paid to the historic farmstead by author Jo Mihelich, who recounted the life of Andrew Peterson in her book Andrew Peterson and the Scandia Story, which was published in 1984.

Besides being a dedicated journaler, Andrew Peterson is known for his substantial agricultural work with the development of apple trees. His work was recognized several times by the Minnesota Horticultural Society and his farm even served as one of the first research stations for the eventual University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

More than 100 years later, his legacy still strikes a chord with the Carver County community and beyond. Across the Atlantic Ocean, his story has inspired the foundation of The Andrew Peterson Society in Sweden. The chairman of the Andrew Peterson Society, Jan Hermelin, visited the farmstead in September 2015 to release a CD recording that tells the story of Andrew and his wife Elsa’s life with traditional Swedish music. “The CD was made with the musician Kajsa Svensson and singer Michael Lager, and used song texts written by me,” Hermelin says.

The society plans to seek counsel on the preservation of the buildings on the farmstead and implementing traditional Swedish building techniques. “We won’t be changing much out there, beyond restoring the buildings,” says Wendy Petersen Biorn, executive director of the Carver County Historical Society. “The donor always wanted it to be a gift to the public and for us to serve as caretakers of the land.”

As they work to restore the farmstead and connect it to the community, the Carver County Historical Society will maintain the historical integrity of the land.

Following a contestation of Holasek’s will, says Petersen Biorn, a complicated settlement was reached, resulting in the Historical Society owning 12.17 acres and all of the National Register of Historic Places land and buildings.

The Carver County Historical Society’s long-term vision sees the farm as a place for the community to reconnect with the importance of agriculture and horticulture, as well as with each other. “Ward was heavily involved in 4-H and the Rotary program, and wanted to make sure that agriculture would be taught to students of all ages,” Petersen Biorn says. “He also hoped it would be a place for people to gather for events, like weddings and dinners.”

The society hopes to have one of the structures function as an interpretative center, to offer a venue for active learning.

The farm, which will function as it would have in the 1800s, will hold educational gatherings, guided tours and the opportunity for visitors to wander at large to visit planned garden plots and an apple tree, and to get their hands dirty.

“There’s such a great opportunity to show people who didn’t grow up in an agricultural setting where their food comes from, and particularly to show them the importance of supporting local agriculture and to exemplify how healthy and good for the environment these farms are,” Owen Hill says. “To really be able to bring that out of the abstract and into reality will be a great opportunity for everyone to learn.”

“We hope that the land will serve as a public place, and one that truly serves the community,” Owen Hill says. “It will go beyond preserving history and will serve as an interpretation for future generations, to give them a connection to where we came from. In order to understand where we are now, we have to know where we came from.”

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Carver County Historical Society
555 W. First St., Waconia; 952.442.4234

The Carver County Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the history of Carver County. Find detailed information about the Andrew Peterson Farm - and other interesting topcs, including local historical figures, ghost towns and a brief history of Carver County - on the historical society's website. In addition to maintaining a museum and library, the organization also offers educational programs.