( Photos provided by Jim Holden. )
This congregation existed for only five years - 1874-79. I don't have any documented facts relating to the naming of this congregation, but I do know that Christian Fredrik Johannesen Heisholt's (Holla 1 p.393) widow Kari Andresdatter (Saga, from Landsmarka) emigrated with all her children. She sold the farm before they left so she was quite well off in comparison to most people who emigrated. She had a middle class background in common with many of the others who emigrated. The poorest of the emigrants however often didn't have enough money to travel but some were sent tickets from `over there'. The pattern of emigration is a familiar one to us now - only now the tables are turned with Norway attracting immigrants rather than sending emigrants. Much can be learned from the experiences of 150 years or so ago. Even though it's not always the poorest people who arrive on our shores, their reasons for coming are often just as important - now as then. Some of the emigrants from Norway went to America also because they had relatives there already.
Kari first travelled to Oconomovoc, west of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. This was a place that many from Ulefoss settled in and remained. My grandmother's cousin Anna Maria Kronborg (married name: Klovholt) lived there and wrote the following letter: “Dear Thea (Hovland) and family. I wish you all a Happy Christmas and New Year. Only God knows whether this will be the last year we must endure. One of our friends here fell down dead two weeks ago. He got up from the dinner table and went to the sofa, then gave out a shriek and died. He was married to Laura Kabbe from Ulefoss and was 66 years old. This is a warning to us living that we never know when we will be called home…”
After a time in Oconomovoc Kari Heisholt moved further west, to the area where this congregation was formed. She and her children took the surname Holden when they came to America and it's quite reasonable to assume that this is the origin of the naming of this congregation. Later the church merged with Lom and afterwards with Long Lake Congregation, southwest of St.James, the capital of Watonwan County. The family was active in the church, particularly Johannes (changed to `John' after the move).
When Kirsten Nilsdatter Lauvåsen arrived in 1882, she writes about the town and the conditions there in a letter to her friend Bergit Rue (later Holtet, sister of Knut Rue, Gunhild Hegland and Anne Kronborg):
“I will now put pen to paper. I've waited a long time to write to you Birgit, but now I will tell you about the journey and how we have been with our health - we are all well under the circumstances…we have seen many people: Jews Irish and German so it has been fun…but it hasn't been so good regarding food we first had bread with home-made butter but dinner wasn't good, and the coffee was nothing more than sweetened water with no taste…we were lucky enough to have coffee with a family from Valebø. I helped them with their many children and afterwards had a bite to eat washed down with coffee, but it took a long time…yes we didn't have a very good time in Liverpool in fact it was as bad as it could have been. . We were there for 6 days. It was torture to be there the nights were the worst… one night here and one night there…. the last two nights were in a house for emigrants and the beds were good enough there. We slept in a room with Anne (probably 24 year old Anna Syvertsen from Ulefoss) and another girl...we had good fun together with two girls from Bergen…we boarded the ship early in the morning and from then on had a good time. People danced and played as you can imagine. It was fun to be present but Haral (Pedersen Buverud - Kirsten's nephew) and I didn't take part in all of that. I went to bed at exactly 10 o'clock and did some knitting. I knitted a pair of stockings every day on board……….
John's wife with one of the grandchildren. She was from Lom. It is this area Kirsten Lauvåsen describes in her letter.
It's quite nice here and auntie has a lovely white-painted house and Johannes also has a nice house with a lovely wood he planted himself in the winter…he's a very practical man….I wish that you were here because you wouldn't be single for very long, the men here are all big, strong and joyous…Gulek is a clever and jolly boy while Andreas is quiet but handsome and talented…we have our hands full here every day with all the work that needs doing. You would see that for yourself if you were here, we have 40 cows and 10 calves, 3 pigs, 2 oxen and 2 horses and so much milk that it's a full-time job - yes we make butter every other day. We all send our greetings to you, not least from your friend Kirsten. Please write back to me and don't forget about America because you must come here in the Spring, Bergete”.
The letter is dated 20th July and has a postmark from Cedarville in Martin County, just south of Watonwan. This Kirsten is one of those who stayed in America. Nobody heard directly from her again, only rumours .