What an exciting week it has been, especially for history lovers like we are. After doing so many renovations to the house since I first arrived the last week of May, we were finally ready to have an open house for our neighbours. Not all were able to come; however, we had a good crowd mid-afternoon Saturday, with a cozy fire and 14 people stuffed into our living room, 11 of whom had done the whole house tour, down and up. Since this house has SOOOO much history in the area, many remember it in its various stages, and we still have several more to invite to get more info. But when we arrived at church on Sunday morning, as promised, Jane, one of the die-hard historians of the New Denmark area, had one of her books ready to lend us. This particular book was offered because it was written by the sister of the first housewife/mother who ever started off here, fresh at age 16 in the one-room log cabin, beginning in the year 1918…
But I’m getting ahead of myself in excitement. First of all, we always knew from things people have said to us over the summer, that this big old farmhouse of 5 bedrooms started off as a one-room log cabin. The ironic thing is, two families have lived and renovated this place, and both had 5 children. But it wasn’t until after the last set – all girls – of 5 children had almost grown and left that the house was finally finished into the 5 bedrooms. The rest of the time, as per the early days of our pioneering ancestors everywhere – it’s been pretty crammed!
There are many pieces of the puzzle still to fill in, but from what we know from Carrie (Rasmussen) Albert’s book, where she has devoted an entire short chapter to our own Blue Belldon Farm, it looked like this in its beginning stages:
That is, a one-room log cabin on a slightly raised foundation, with a loft for sleeping and a summer kitchen at the back. The logs were square, and few windows were cut out as of course they were expensive, and also made for more cold to draft in, in the freezing winters. But since we know in the late 1880s/90s (when our little cabin was first built) the gorgeous views across to the mountain tops were yet to be seen, why would anyone want too many windows? Trees would have surrounded most of the cabin at that point, as the potato and other farmers from Denmark were just starting to settle here.
Earlier this year, I wrote of the Rasmussen link (that’s the name of our brook, and you’ll soon see why!) and of the fascinating history of Lucy’s Gulch, our short cut ‘just over yonder’. If you’re a history buff, do please read about these connections to our new/old community. It was in the late 1800s when Jens Rasmussen and his two sons immigrated with thousands of others from Denmark, and ‘took up’ this property, building the cabin (where we are still stepping everyday – in fact, there’s a hole in our bedroom’s closet, and if you reach in you can feel the original log walls!) as well as an exciting surprise – a tunnel to the barn! Many of us are familiar with standard New England barns that are attached to the farmhouses to save the farmers going out in the blowing snow. But there are very few who went to the trouble of digging underground to do this! The first Rasmussen that came here, apparently, wanted his big barn (no longer here, sadly) to be a conversation piece – and to this day, it still is!
Likely little more than a crawl space, the opening was under the floor boards in both the cabin and in the barn, according to Carrie, whose sister was a young bride here… but more on that in a moment. The little we know at the moment about this first Rasmussen family was that they sold up to a young man, Johann Jensen, and went off to the Maine side of the border to regroup. This was approximately in 1911 or 12. Johann (later just called John C. Jensen) had a few of his unmarried sisters ‘keep house’ for him through his bachelor years, and we also suspect he went off to fight in WW1, though we haven’t yet confirmed this either. Regardless, in 1918 he married the very young (16!) Ida May Rasmussen – a whole different family from the original Rasmussens who built the cabin, tunnel and original barn. Apparently they are not even distantly related. So Ida is the very first wife and mother to have come here to start a family. She had already helped her mother, Georgine to raise her younger siblings, Carrie and Hartman, a few roads over toward Bell Grove, so obviously Johann thought she’d make a fine mother !
The above is the only photo we’ve found so far of Ida. She is 6 here, with Carrie in the middle as an 11-month-old, and Hartman at age 2. Hard to believe it is only 10 years after this that Ida comes here to live, actually sitting and standing in the very spot where I am now writing this!
Johann and Ida had 5 children – 3 boys- George, Lester and Max, and two girls, Alice, who just died in 2013 and Phyllis, whom Richard and I were delighted to discover is still alive and just living over on the other side of New Denmark! She is 91 and we are going to try and see her to talk to her about the ‘cabin’ and her family as soon as possible. She is apparently a favourite school teacher of many in the area, and the fact that she was born in this very house is really tickling me no end! Ida and Johann also began adding to the cabin. The summer kitchen became our kitchen and they added two rooms upstairs in what Ida’s little sister Carrie described as a loft, originally – she even had memories of herself and Hartman coming over to spend the night and crawling the SHORT ladder into the loft to sleep on a mattress on the floor – Ida and Johann must, then, have really RAISED THE ROOF on the cabin in order to get what we now believe are Mom’s loom room and her cute cottagey kitchen upstairs, seen below:
Sadly, Ida died in 1933, age only 31. Her children had all just been born in the 1920s, and now she had left them all! We have yet to find out more (hopefully from Phyllis herself, as the only remaining of Ida and Johann’s children!) but we believe Johann did not remarry, and that he and the 5 children remained here until the next family came along in the 1950s – the Pedersens! This morning despite the first big snowfall of the season, Richard and I went up the hill to St. Ansgar’s Anglican cemetery (across the road from our own St. Peter’s Lutheran – (see the Hallowe’en posting/photos I did to see how the two churches are beautifully situated in this rolling-hilled community!) Here are Ida’s parents’ gravestone (her mother also died very young, though not as young as poor Ida!) with our church in the background, and Ida and Johann’s gravestone as well:
Herluff Pedersen was born the same year Ida died (and weirdly, would DIE only 4 years after Johann, yet a whole generation was between them!) He married Reta Adams in 1955 and they immediately began working the potato farm here and raising 5 girls: Donna, Vicki, Gayle, Lisa and Paula. Richard has already worked 2 weeks in potatoes for Lisa’s husband, Willem, and Lisa baked us traditional Danish Almond loaf for the open house, although they were unable to attend themselves. So, another 5 children were born here, and yet most of those girls had grown and left home before our farmhouse had even more major renovations done to it – Now the entire back wing, both up and downstairs was added, along with the brick side porch, and because the basement was completely dug out and extended, we think it melded into the original tunnel to the barn. Lisa has told Richard that she used to sleep in the ‘yellow’ bedroom, and Mom hasn’t changed this wallpaper even now – that is the main guest room with two single beds for anyone who’d like to join us here for a visit.
While Reta is still alive in her 80’s (and another source of much history of the place, we hope!), it was Herluff who died quite young this time, in his mid-50s. However, Reta continued to make improvements to the farmhouse throughout the 1970s and ’80s, while dividing off the land and living here with her 2nd husband. We will be featuring more about what Reta and Lisa tell us later about the house, when they’ve had a chance to visit us (Reta’s 3rd husband is ill in hospital now, so she couldn’t make our open house on Saturday either). Following are a few of the open house photos. As always, just click on each to blow them up for viewing. In the first one, to the far left, are the Reverend Ralph Weigold and his wife Ellen, from Ontario, but who are our pastors at the Lutheran church, and sitting in mauve facing the camera directly is our next-door-neighbour Greta, who is Reta’s sister-in-law, and who also remembers spending many happy hours in this house from the 1950s right up until 2011 when Reta sold to Janet and Ann, the two ladies from whom we bought Blue Belldon Farm.
I’m still the most excited this week to have all these connections to the original family (excepting the first Rasmussens about whom we haven’t found much yet). Lester and Alice, two of Ida’s children who were born here are below, having just died in the last decade:
I love the twinkle in both their eyes – hopefully it means neither they nor their poor young mother are interested in sadistically haunting their home’s new owners!
We figure their brother George must have loved bull-dozing things (maybe the tunnel?) and mild-mannered Lester (doesn’t he look so in the photo?) must have adored fishing, as these were the symbols on their gravestones when we saw them today:
There will be much more as we learn more from the wealth of information our there about our dear Blue Belldon Farm. But to finish tonight, isn’t it interesting that the owners, or part-owners through the last century and a half are as follows: Jens, Johann (Jensen), Janet and Julie (Johnson)? There has always been at least one ‘J’ in the name of whoever has been on the deed, right from the very first!