Star Tribune: Waconia farm's history is focus of U project

Original Peterson Farmstead
The original Andrew Peterson structure, in a 2006 photo. Tom Sweeney/Star Tribune.

U students will do restoration and other work on a Waconia farmstead that inspired a famed novelist. 

Andrew Peterson has stayed neutral through all the questions about the ownership of his historic farmstead in Waconia.

But then, he died in 1898.

Now, the Carver County Historical Society and the University of Minnesota have formed a partnership to shed new light on the Swedish-American writer’s legacy, just as a legal dispute over the property is almost tied up. Peterson’s journals inspired Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg’s great immigration novels, including “The Emigrants” and “Unto a Good Land.”

The university and the Historical Society have partnered up through the U’s Resilient Communities Project. The farmstead is one of 32 proposed projects in Carver County during the one-year partnership. Each year, a city or county is chosen to work with students and faculty from university courses ranging from engineering to environmental sciences.

At the farmstead, graduate students will work on projects including historic restoration, assessment of buildings and an archaeological analysis of how the farm has changed over time.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled,” said Wendy Petersen Biorn, Carver County Historical Society executive director. “They will save us a lot of time and money.”

Graduate students have already started getting the lay of the land, which was purchased in 1856 by Peterson.

Legal problems for the farm didn’t start until the 20th century. The farm’s most recent owner, Ward Holasek, deeded the 51-acre property to the Carver County Historical Society in 2012.

Holasek’s sons sued to get it back. A settlement was reached in 2014 between the sons and the Historical Society that gave 12.5 acres, including the historic buildings such as the 1917 dairy barn and Chaska brick smokehouse, to the Historical Society. The county has yet to finalize the property’s subdivision as minor issues are resolved.

Among them: the septic system, which is out of compliance. “It’s one legal issue after another,” said Howard Bard, attorney for the Holasek sons.

The historic property is a reminder of the millions of Swedes, including Peterson, who came to the United States between 1820 and 1920. While living in Minnesota, Peterson worked to build the state’s apple industry and formed the Scandia Baptist Church. He kept a diary until his death, later read by Moberg.

Wood from door frame of original Andrew Peterson Farmstead barnWood around what was the door frame on the north barn built 150 years ago by Swedish immigrant Andrew Peterson in Waconia Min., Friday, March 2, 2012. Photo by Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune.

Although the Historical Society and the Holasek sons are at a legal standstill until the county signs off on the property, plans for Peterson’s farmstead are in the works.

The U plans to offer a course focused on turning the property into a historic tourist destination, said Mike Greco, Resilient Communities Project director.

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