“Settlers wanted! Immigrants welcome!” Headlines circulated across the young United States and into Europe, encouraging people to settle in the newly formed state of Wisconsin.
The first settlers in Westby arrived in 1848, quickly followed by relatives and neighbors from Norway in desperate need of land, food, and the chance of a better life. Peder Oleson Hjelstuen from Gudbrandsdal, Norway was among them, coming in 1857 to join his uncle and cousin Johannes and Chris Berg.
Peder staked out his claim, worked his land and lived in his cabin until 1864 when he registered the deed to his property and enlisted in the Civil War. He was eager to serve his new-found country. As happened to so many, he contracted dysentery and died at Camp Reno in Milwaukee.
His parents were notified of his death, and they were also informed of their inheritance of a quarter section of land. In the meantime, the Berg cousins took care of Peder’s farm, even paying the taxes. When Peder’s parents, Ole and Anne finally came in 1868, their remaining children came with them. Knud, Marthe, Anne, John, and Karen lived together on Peder’s little cabin on the farm for a time. The children ranged in age from 15 to 28 years old.
Ole and his boys, Knud and John, built up the farm as quickly as possible. One of their first buildings was a corn crib, building it just the way they had been taught by in Norway for their storage stabbur. This corn crib uses a special Norwegian construction technique called notching. It is built with spaces between the logs and without chinking to allow ventilation for drying the corn on the cob. It was completed in time for the 1870 corn harvest.
In 1977 local families envisioned a museum to recognize and preserve the history of this Wisconsin region. In 1982, this corn crib was the first building moved to the newly established Norskedalen Nature and Heritage homestead. It was loaded onto a farm wagon and entered as a float in the local Syttende Mai Parade.
With American and Norwegian flags flying on the little building, the corn crib drove through Westby and continued straight out to the Norskedalen homestead, where the corn crib is on display to this day.
Photo by John Zoerb for my private collection.