Wind and roots on the prairieHARDWICK — Gates at the end of a half-mile-long driveway in Section 2 of Mound Township proudly announce the Christiansen family’s century-old roots on the prairie just north of the iconic Blue Mounds. Yet, it is the farmstead that wows visitors with its spread of original buildings, from the barn that was constructed in 1929 to the brick home completed shortly after World War II. The original, one-room house is tucked between some nearby trees; and the outhouse still stands as a reminder of the olden days.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
HARDWICK — Gates at the end of a half-mile-long driveway in Section 2 of Mound Township proudly announce the Christiansen family’s century-old roots on the prairie just north of the iconic Blue Mounds. Yet, it is the farmstead that wows visitors with its spread of original buildings, from the barn that was constructed in 1929 to the brick home completed shortly after World War II. The original, one-room house is tucked between some nearby trees; and the outhouse still stands as a reminder of the olden days.
Third generation family farm owner Vernon Christiansen reflected on his father’s once-stated wishes to return to the farm in 100 years to see how much it had changed. Chances are, he’d be proud to see so many of the original buildings have withstood the test of time and continue to be well-maintained.
“My dad always said when he built these buildings that these aren’t normal buildings around here,” Vernon said. “I wanted to put metal around the buildings and give it a facelift. Every building is just as straight as when it was built.”
Makings of a century farm
Hans Christiansen and his eight siblings moved with their parents to Rock County, near Beaver Creek, in the late 1800s from Holstein, Iowa.
“They came up here with nothing,” said Vernon of his ancestors. “They had lived on the Denmark-German border. They spoke German and had a Danish spelling on their last name.”
When Hans married Minnie in 1897, they settled on a 200-acre parcel just south of Hardwick, which they rented for 15 years before purchasing on March 16, 1912.
Times were tough, however, and when Hans couldn’t pay off the bank note, he lost three-fifths of his farm — 120 acres.
“My dad bought it and paid off the debt,” said Vernon of his dad, Hugo, who was Hans’ and Minnie’s oldest son.
At the time, Hugo and his wife, Esther, had been living in the upstairs of his parents’ home.
They remained there as first a barn was built on their farmstead in 1929, followed by a garage in 1930.
“They moved in on May 3, 1930, and they lived in the garage for 17 years,” said Vernon of the building that was essentially a one-room house.
It was after the second of their two children was born that Hugo and Esther Christiansen quickly realized their tiny one-room abode needed to be replaced. However, with the country in the midst of World War II, building a new home was not an easy venture.
“The government had to give you a permit to build the house,” shared Vernon, who was just a baby at the time. “It was because of me that they decided they needed to have more room.
“When (Dad) built it, it couldn’t have electric, water, sewer and central heat —that was all because of the war effort,” he said. Carpenters were paid 35 cents to 70 cents an hour for their work.
“They wired what they had to while they were building, but they couldn’t hook anything up,” added Lona, Vernon’s wife of eight years.
Whenever Hugo questioned the government’s decision or delay, he’d write a letter to them stating his reasons for wanting to move forward with construction.
“With his sixth grade education, he could write some pretty good letters,” Vernon said.
The home was built out of brick and tile because those were products available locally during the war. The walls are 13 inches thick and contain no wood, and half of the basement is ledge rock.
The rock found just below the surface on the homestead required workers to use dynamite just to install the water line — that project was completed before the barn was built. A good view of the rock can be seen in an underground storm shelter, which has long doubled as a cave for food storage. Today, it’s mostly used to keep potatoes cool and dry.
“In 1949, we got our first refrigerator,” Vernon said. “Mom got rheumatic fever and Dad had to go down to the cave. He got tired of that after a couple of days and spent the $15 on the refrigerator.”
The sewer lines were hooked up in 1953, and a phone line was installed in the home a decade later. Electricity was brought to the farm in 1938, about the same time the town of Hardwick was wired. Vernon said the Christiansen farm was the first farm around that area to get electricity.
The farmer’s life
Both Hans and Hugo Christiansen raised cattle and hogs, and had dairy cows on pasture. When Hugo and Esther moved to their 120-acre parcel, they also raised a lot of chickens.
“Eight hundred chicks were bought every year by my folks,” said Vernon, adding that about 200 were kept as laying hens. “They had about 40 acres of oats and 40 acres of corn, and then they had some hay.”
Growing up, Vernon said they ate a lot of eggs, potatoes and chicken.
“I remember I was always hungry,” he said.
Vernon was born and raised on the farm, and has never moved from the site. He always knew he wanted to be a farmer.
“My dad got killed in 1953 when I was 11 years old,” Vernon shared. “He was killed in a tractor accident on the highway. At that time, my mother rented the crop ground out for five years and then I started farming when I was 16.”
Vernon juggled the responsibilities of farming with school, and despite missing a good share of days or showing up late for class, he graduated on time and began making a life for himself on the farm.
“My brother (George) ended up with my mother’s old farm and I ended up with this one,” Vernon said. Forty-five years ago, he purchased his brother’s share of the Christiansen land to become the owner of the entire 200-acre parcel his grandfather, Hans, had started with. Today, the farm has grown to 1,240 acres.
Vernon cherishes the family’s farming history, which is evident in the number of original buildings on the site and the collection of equipment he has maintained.
“I’ve still got the first tractor from when I started farming — a 1935 B John Deere,” he said. “I paid $35 for it in 1958.”
Another of Vernon’s prized possessions is an 1886 plat book, the first to be published in Rock County. The book lists only three towns in the county at that time, Luverne, Ash Creek and Beaver Creek. It also details populations of horses and mules, cattle, sheep, hogs, wagons and carriages, sewing machines, watches and clocks, organs and pianos.
“I’ve spent a lot of nights reading that thing,” Vernon said. “The land that was still owned by the government was called wild land.”
As soon as Vernon was old enough, he joined 4-H and bought a pair of Hereford heifers for $90 each. The next year he bought two Angus cows, and he’s had Angus cattle on the farm ever since.
“We have a cow-calf operation and feed out drug-free cattle,” he said of the operation today. Once a 1,000-head operation, Vernon and his wife and steadily downsized the herd to the 58 cows they have today. They also have rented much of the crop ground out to a couple of “young neighbors,” while maintaining the alfalfa and pasture lands for their cattle.
“I guess I always liked working with cattle,” said Vernon, who is responsible for the large fiberglass Angus steer that stands along U.S. 75, north of Luverne, with the message, “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.”
“We work the cattle together,” Lona said. “I help him with the haying; and we have a big garden.”
Lona, although she grew up in Luverne, had a much different life than her husband, having moved 26 times in her life — the last when she married Vernon in 2004 and joined him on the Christiansen farm.
Vernon lost his first wife to cancer, and has two daughters, Brenda Rieger of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Annette Kamphaus of Nevis. He has three grandchildren.