posted February 15 2019
My name is Gary Gauer. I lived here in Lake Lillian until graduation in 1957 from Bird Island high school.
This 20-minute talk is about connections to places and times. Mostly about Tromsø Norway and Lake Lillian Minnesota over 155 years. That allows less than 8 years per minute. Some detail will be left out.
I attended my first AA reunion in 2014 at Tromsø and enjoyed it totally. My wife, Grace, and I found the Ludvik Sebulonsen house along the Balsfjord at Andersdal just south of Tromso where my grandmother Halfrida lived as a young girl. She left there in 1900, at the age of 13, and in 1904 married August Erickson, a Swede born here in 1877. Frida died here in 1960 without the opportunity to visit her homeland.
I must confess that I am not a descendant of Anders Anderson. I do however have an affinity for this reunion group because 2 of Halfrida’s sisters were married to Hanson brothers whose father was Hans Andersen, 14th child of Anders Anderson.
The first permanent settlers in the area of Lake Lillian came from Tromsø Norway in 1864.
My great great grandfather Larsved Olaf Mattson was one of the first Swedes to come here in 1869 from Lake Moje near Gagnef in the area of Dalarna. His daughter Anna Olson married my great grandfather John Erickson from the same area.
Most of my relatives were farmers except for my dad Otto who worked as a salesman for the Ford dealership. We lived here in town and I am the oldest of 5 boys. We were farm kids on weekends and during the summers when we helped relatives or nearby farmers.
I have a web site about the history of this place that has evolved over time. The site started in 2002 when I began to use it for my Gauer Family Reunion and post family stories and photos from relatives.
I wanted to learn more about the life of my Swiss and German grandparents Mat and Lena Gauer who died in East Lake Lillian 16 years before I was born. Some information of East Lake Lillian residents was found in the old newspapers from the nearby towns Atwater, Bird Island and Willmar.
Many hours went into that effort at the Minnesota History Society Library in St Paul which has microfilm rolls of all the newspapers in Minnesota.
Volunteer country correspondents submitted the neighborhood news on a sporadic basis. I selected items mostly about relatives and families that I knew and entered them into a place on my site called Old Local News.
The following caught my eye:
September 8 1916 ARP / East West LL
A few of the nearest neighbors helped Mrs A H Vick celebrate her birthday last Thursday and it is needless to say that the old women enjoyed themselves immensely over their coffee and Lefse.
Tromsø is in northern Norway, near the polar sea, above the Arctic Circle and warmed by the Gulf Stream. The city of Tromso covers an Island in the midst of fjords and mountains. It has a population over 60000 and has been called the Paris of the North and Gateway to the Arctic because it is the service center and largest shopping, shipping and tourist port in Northern Norway. The sea provides fish. North Energy and others are involved with oil and gas drilling platforms in the Barents Sea. It has museums, a university and an airport. It does not have a railroad. It has the Hurtigruten ship line that stops twice every day to bring goods and tourists.
The land along the fjords varies from very steep mountains to areas with narrow fields along foothills where a road can exist. Picture a string of small subsistence farms that stretched along the shore with a house, some sheds and a small barn to house a few livestock. Often in the early days, the family income was augmented by jobs for the men on the sea as a fisherman or a sailor. And the wives and children tended the gardens and the livestock.
A larger farming community called Balsfjord is between the Malangen fjord and the Balsfjord where the open and rolling land is more suited for dairy farms. The Tine dairy factory at Storsteinnes is one of the largest producers of the Norwegian brown cheese (brunost). They also make their own brand of cheese, called Balsfjord, from goat's milk.
Boats were used as regular transportation to Tromsø and along the fjords. Now there are ferries, bridges and tunnels that allow some people to live out along the Fjords and drive to jobs or services in the Island city of Tromsø.
Tromsø emigrants along the Balsfjord left a settled area with a new church at Tennes that was built in 1856.
In 1862 a group of emigrants from Tromsø were led by reverend J A J Bomstad and got as far as St Peter, Minnesota, a settled area, along the Minnesota River. They were held up there because of the Indian uprising and had to wait until it was safe to move on to the frontier in 1864.
Imagine How they came to the Lake Lillian frontier prairie with no mountains, no infrastructure. No shelter, no farms, roads, stores, schools, or churches.
They brought their families and the ability to survive off the land by skill and hard work.
Pioneer settlers from Norway looked for land and lakes with their surrounding trees that they could homestead on the frontier. Trees were used to make log houses for shelter. They needed to hunt, trap and fish for immediate needs as they began to work the soil to grow gardens, wheat, oats and hay for livestock feed and build shelter, sheds and barns to establish their farms. Supplies were not easy to come by on the frontier without long treks to more established communities farther east or south to St Peter on the Minnesota River. Some of the early settlers could get things from the Ox cart wagon trains that provided for the army outposts in 1864 and 1865.
Elias was 10th child of Anders Anderson and was a friend of J A J Bomstad.
Elias and Beata Anderson with seven children settled in East LL section 5 in 1864.
The family moved into a small shack, evidently built by early trappers. The shack had a sod roof which was lined with cambric. They suffered many hardships. One morning their wooden shack burned to the ground. Here, on the wild prairie, the settler, with his wife and children, stood without shelter and with only the clothing and bedding they had managed to save from the fire. Elias and his older sons quickly set to work. They cut some rails, laid them across two haystacks, made a roof of hay and dry grass. They improvised to close up the ends, and made a "house" in which the family had shelter until they had completed construction of a log house. This shelter left much to be desired. The cook stove was still usable, but was located outdoors, because of the danger of fire. The oldest daughter, Adrianna, searched through the ashes of the burned shack looking for cooking utensils and tableware. The flour sack that contained the flour had burned away, but they salvaged as much as they could for making bread, although it had a definite scorched taste.
The hardship and exposure was too much for Beata, who became ill and never recovered. She died from malnutrition and pneumonia in 1865. She was the first pioneer woman to die in this community.
Elias died at age 49 from pneumonia in 1873 after a 3-day blizzard and a struggle to care for the oxen.
Later arrivals settled on more open prairie land without trees. This became easier in 1869 when the railroad came through to Atwater and Willmar. By then in 5 years' time most of the homestead land in East Lake Lillian had been settled by the Norwegians. The Swedes began to settle on more open land mostly west and south of Lake Lillian. The farmers planted trees around their prairie homesteads for windbreaks with the aid of the government Timber act.
Road Construction was accomplished as the township governments came into being and farmers were assessed time and or money to build them. Most of the roads followed the square mile grid.
Schools came first. One room schools were scattered in the country as needed.
A second railroad came through Bird Island in 1878.
Churches were established initially by meeting in homes and schools. The first Church buildings were under construction in 1886. 22 years after the first settlers from Tromsø.
Creameries were being established by 1893. They were often the catalyst for a small general store, a blacksmith, a feed store or the like to cluster around.
The first was at the southwest shore of Lake Lillian on the hill just north of the Andrew Anderson place. The creamery burned in 1900 and led to the loss of the remaining businesses at that site.
After that another creamery cluster started SW of LL on the west side of section 24.
The largest business cluster nearby was "old" Thorpe then 2 miles east of the present Lake Lillian just south of the Hans P Hanson place on Hwy 7. It lasted from 1896 until 1923 when the Thorpe buildings were moved
as the long-desired Luce line railroad came through some 59 years after our first Norwegian settlers came to the area.
The first Passenger train cars had gasoline engine powered generators for its electric traction motors. Passenger service was discontinued in 1947. Freight trains used Steam locomotives through the 1940’s and diesel electric units after that.
Box cars were used in those days to bring lumber and smaller shipments by Railway Express. Grain was shipped from the country elevators using “Grain doors" made of boards to span the sliding side door openings of the box cars. Gondola cars brought coal for heating.
The new village of LL grew rapidly for the first 40 years as a business center for the surrounding farm townships. There were jobs and opportunities for individuals and families in town.
August 3, 1923 ARP / ELL
H. C. Petterson, the Thorpe black smith, had his house moved last week to the new town of Lake Lillian
Hans was important to LL History. His mother Hanna was the first born of Hans Anderson. Hans started as a blacksmith and became an electrician.
Hans and Olga Petterson had 8 children. The family members found job opportunities and 6 of them settled in the expanding town of LL. Art operated a tank truck for farm delivery of oil and fuel. Clarence became the blacksmith. Kenneth was a mechanic. Hazel married Carl Erickson and they operated a restaurant, Vany married Stansie Swenson who graded the township gravel roads with his Caterpillar grader. Harvey continued the electrical and plumbing contracting business. His son Lowell Petterson, grandson of Hans, operated the business after Harvey died.
Hans wired the Leo Gauer farm house on section 15 East LL in December of 1936 just in time to light the Christmas tree for 3 of my older cousins to enjoy.
Olga was a step daughter of Hans Pete Hanson, Hans Pete came to ELL in 1884 and was the 4th born of Hans Anderson in Norway. Many Lake Lillian people were related to that family. Hans Pete Hanson's brother, Anton Hanson, was the 7th born of Hans Anderson and married to Gunhilda Sebulonsen who was a sister to my grandmother Halfrida, Mrs August Erickson. Another sister of Frida was married to Karl Hanson who was the 9th born of Hans Anderson.
Lake Lillian is a shallow lake very beautiful today with a stable level. Dry years in the mid to late 1930’s caused the lake to dry up with only a small puddle at the center. It was dry enough for locals to plant gardens into the early 1940’s. Brush and trees began to grow in the edges of the lake bed. After the drought ended inlet and outlet streams were revised to moderate the water level. The lake was quite ugly with dead trees and stumps in the 50’s.
Ditches were made and improved over time and drain tiles were trenched in to allow smaller lowlands to be farmed more reliably. Today, the government Department of Natural Resources has purchased some of the larger lowlands to restore natural wildlife habitat.
The town of 300 people served as the main store for at least 700 more from the surrounding area. Town businesses in the ‘50s included 2 dealerships offering cars, trucks, tractor, and implements. The farmers had creamery, elevator, feed, fertilizer and produce businesses. Others along the main street were The Lake Lillian Crier newspaper, The First State Bank, a post office, a barbershop, a blacksmith, 3 gas service stations, a car body shop, a lumber yard, 2 hardware stores, 2 cafes and a tavern. A butcher shop had some groceries and 2 general stores had groceries, shoes and overalls. The town had a lighted baseball diamond and a double A baseball team and a movie theater with movable seats to allow roller-skating. Other services included a plumbing and electrical contractor and bulk truck operators for gas delivery and livestock hauling. The railroad had a section crew for track repair and had a depot with an active railway express service in the 40’s. Steam locomotives were used and there was a wooden water tower along the south side of the tracks near where the elevator is now.
A municipal water tower and system was installed in 1950. Before that every house in town still had an outhouse along the alley. We did our own sand lot and recess ball games where we just used a bat for alternating picking sides for the teams. We roamed all over town and got to know which of the outhouses were the best. We used a large lawn and vacant lots for touch football or a game called pump- pump- pull away. There was 4 H and scouts.
Trucks became larger and more economical for transporting crops and livestock to market. Our landmark 1952 LL elevator stands empty today as the 18-wheeler trucks go right on by to bigger grain terminals on rail lines elsewhere. The rails are gone now but the Luce Line recreational trail remains east of Cosmos. The last diesel electric train was in the summer of 1967.
Today fewer farmers are on larger cash crop farms and they travel with better roads, cars, and trucks to Willmar and other places for a larger selection of goods and services. Most farms have no livestock and the barns are empty or gone. Some farm places have been cleared without a trace.
The town survives today with a smaller population in town and fewer businesses, including a convenience store, a bar and the bank. The fire department has a nice building that sits on the site of the old depot. A community building is used for meetings and reunions by reservation. The community has a library, publishes a monthly newsletter and supports a Fun Days Celebration every year. The United Lutheran Church remains after 4 rural churches and 2 others in town have closed. Elementary school children are now bussed to the old high school building in Bird Island and the High school kids to Olivia.
The main street was full of businesses without the gaps that you see today. It has been declining for the last 56 years as the surrounding farms have grown larger. The remaining people on the land are fewer and travel to larger communities for goods and services.
The small diversified family farms of my youth had livestock, Fences for pastures, and crop rotation to grow oats, alfalfa, corn and soy beans. Today most remaining agri-business farms are 9 times larger and specialized. Most with larger cash crop lands have no fences, barns or silos. Some operations have huge barns to confine large numbers of livestock.
So, this agricultural community has seen the progress from working the land with Oxen and walking plows. Next came horses powered by hay and oats to pull wagons, sulky plows and other implements with seats. Eventually steam engines and gas or fuel powered tractors were used to power threshing machines. Row crop tractors came in the 30’s. The last Draft horses went away after WWII when tractor production resumed.
John Deere introduced its new generation models with 4- and 6-cylinder engines in 1960 as farmers needed more power than 2-cylinder designs could produce.
The need for row crop tractors for cultivation has gone away as methods have changed with Hybrid seed and chemical weed control and narrow rows. Corn pickers have been replaced by combines with corn heads. Large tractors with air-conditioned cabs are guided and auto steered by GPS.
So now we have reviewed Lake Lillian, Minnesota over 155 years in about 20 minutes and left out a lot of detail. See more detail starting with the pioneer settlers on my website.
More recent postings to my site have focused on some of the pioneer settlers from near Tromso in Norway and Gagnef in Sweden. Some of the articles are mine. Many are posted as authored by others with Lake Lillian roots. Contributors include Inger Giaever of Tromsø and LaVonne Bomsta Hookom, Arlan Johnson, and Susan Granlund.
More family story contributions are welcome and can be uploaded as time permits.