( Photos provided by Annabel Holt. )
Ole Anundsen Lunde must have been a brave man: in 1850 he again moved on to find new land! This time he and his family were however not alone because all the Haatvedt brothers followed. It must have been a long and tiring journey - 100 miles as the crow flies but certainly more in reality, without roads and with very simple carts. These carts were called `Kubberuller' and the wheels were simply slices from very thick tree trunks. They were pulled by Oxen so trips took a long time. The travellers had arrived in what is now called MOUNT MORRIS in Waushara County.
“About 20 miles directly south of SCANDINAVIA (in Waupaca County) is a little Norwegian settlement and small village called Mount Morris. This area is also called `Indian land' and was a popular hunting area among the Indians. The founder of this settlement was a brave man from Holden in Lower Telemark called Nils Nilsen (Haatvedt)”
The above quotation comes from a letter of Oliver Hansen, a descendant of settlers in Mount Morris who came from the parish of Holt in Øst-Agder. He also gives a picturesque description of the surrounding country:
“When they came to the place that later became Mount Morris, the landscape was so beautiful, with small tree-lined lakes, bubbling streams full of sparkling trout, flower-covered meadows - where wide-eyed deer stare at the new arrivals, more out of curiosity than fear - that they decided to make their new home there, even though the earth was quite sandy. The place they chose to build is just south of where Mt.Morris church stands now”.
The nearest neighbours on all sides were native Indians, for in this part of Wisconsin the immigrants were the first white people. The Indians here were good neighbours who helped the newcomers in many ways. If the newcomers wanted to sell crops or buy `white mans' products they had to travel 25-30 miles - without roads. They traded corn and wheat with the Indians, thus avoiding a long and difficult journey.
Three more years passed before new settlers came. Among them were Peder Gunderson Fæhn and family, and
brothers Halvor and Gullick (William) Arvesen Vale. Peder's wife was the sister of the Haatvedt brothers. Nils Nilsen, married to Anne (daughter of Ole Anundsen and Kari Halvorsdatter Lunde) was the eldest son of Knut Nielsen Sætre and Margrethe Steensdtr. Haatvedt, and Margrethe's grandfather was the man know'n today as the author of the 'Black book': “Læge-bok vedkommende Mennesker, Hæster og Kjør”
All seven of Knut and Margrethes children emigrated. Knut died young and his wife also went abroad. We find her again in the church records of Mount Morris as godmother to her grandchildren. Church records also show that her youngest daughter Kari was the first written in the record as dead. She died on 15th February 1853, aged 24. Nils' brother Ole also lived here for some years before he went further north to Waupaca County. We don't hear any more about Steen, the middle of the three brothers who first came to Mt.Morris with Ole Anundsen Lunde. His sister Taran and husband Peder Gunnarsen Feen, together with brothers Halvor and Gullik Arvesen Vale settled in the same place. Halvor Arvesen Vale married Mari, daughter of Taran and Peder. Mari Feen played an important part in the growth of the town. She worked in a small hotel next to an important junction on the way north in Wisconsin: the ferry crossing over Fox River, where the town Berlin lies now (just southeast of Mt.Morris). One day the prosperous Torje Kjøstelsen Sveningen from Holt near Tvedestrand, together with his four sons used that road. He had planned to continue on further into Waupaca County, to the area north of Waushara where friends had settled but Mari described Mount Morris to them in such a convincing manner that they changed their plans and settled there! Torje purchased land for each of his sons next to a beautiful lake, later called “Norwegian Lake” in his honour. Torje was a very influential man with lots of friends and it wasn't long before Mt.Morris was populated by many people from Holla, Holt, Røyken, Sognefjord and other places. In 1854 there were 24 families in the area. Up to now they'd had to work hard to establish themselves but now they had more time to attend to their spiritual needs. Even though most of them had both hymnbook and catechism in their cases they felt the need to gather together for “the only necessaries”: the sacraments and Word of God. The next step was to create their own congregation.
The first service was held by priest H.A.Preus on 2nd May 1854, who helped also to form the congregation. Nils Nilsen Haatvedt suggested the name `Holden' and this was adopted even though there were many more in the area from Holt or Sogn. The reason, later explained, was that when Nils Nilsen said Holla in his Ulefoss dialect it resembled Holt. That settled the matter even though some felt a bit lucky. Nils Nilsen earned great respect and was one of the leading men in the district. He was also one of the few who refused to Americanise his name - there was to be no 'Nels Nelson' on his farm!
During the first year of the congregation church services were held in private homes, barns and outdoors. However, in 1859 plans were drawn up for the building of a church and on 5th July 1872 it was consecrated. From the priest's report in the church magazine: “As the church stands now it is 38ft x 28ft x 18ft. It is a frame building without tower. The interior is simple but tasteful. The pulpit is above the altar; over the entrance is a gallery.” The congregation consisted of about 70 families, which must have meant that the church was hardly big enough when it was new! After the service there was entertainment: “The ladies of the congregation provided food so that no-one would go away from the party hungry, and just as the gathering ended we were led down to an overflowing table of food in a small grove below the church”.
The church was extended in 1885 and a tower was added. Inside the church it is clear to see that it is Norwegian from the elaborately carved altarpiece and in the two stained glass windows on each side of the building. Next to the church the congregation have built various dwellings for the priest (the last in 1960) and also Norwegian schools. Everything has to be paid for by the congregation, currently numbering 300 baptised members.
There are in addition two churches that grew out of the Mt.Morris Holden community:
West Holden church was begun in 1893 and dedicated in 1903, and Wautoma Holden church was begun in 1903. These created fellowship as three congregations in a common parish until Wautoma Holden left the group and changed its name to `Hope Lutheran Church' in 1959. The two others continue the union with a shared priest: Carmala Aderman. West Holden built a completely new church in 1980 and the congregation is an active one with women's groups, and children's and youth groups. Every summer they arrange `Ice Cream Socials' which attract people from a wide area. The change from being a Norwegian to an American church has been a gradual one. All services were in Norwegian up to March 1887, when for the first time one was celebrated in English. This gradually changed and from 1937 all services have been held in English. Both congregations belong to The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Among the Americans in the area there are today c.12-1500 with Norwegian roots.