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Hanson family did more than farm in Little Rock Township

ADRIAN -- America. It is as much the land of the free and the land of opportunity today as it was hundreds of years ago, when people left their loved ones behind, boarded ships, endured days on the water and were welcomed into America, many times, by Lady Liberty.

In June 1870, Hans Christian Hanson, his wife, Anne Gorinne "Gorina" Ulden and their three children were swept up in the excitement, leaving their native Norway behind for the promise of a better life thousands of miles away.

Hans, born in Hurdal, Norway, in 1823, journeyed with his family to a settlement in Iowa County, Wis., where they lived for two years before moving further west.

"I expect it was the desire for land," said Marjorie Hanson Meester, great-granddaughter of Hans and Gorina Hanson and current owner of the newly designated Hanson century farm.

"On June 11, 1872, he came to Minnesota, filing a claim to the southeast quarter of Section 8, Little Rock Township," Meester read from Hans' obituary. The parcel is located about seven miles southeast of Adrian.

Two of the Hanson children were already young adults when they made the journey. Their son, Christian, homesteaded the northeast quarter of Section 8, Little Rock Township, adjacent to the land his parents settled, while daughter Mathilda (she married Ole Benson after arriving in America), also settled on land in Little Rock Township. The youngest of Hans and Gorina's children, Josephine Oline "Lena" Hanson, was about 10 years old when the family emigrated from Norway.

"My parents said Hans and his wife were instrumental in organizing Little Rock Lutheran Church," said Meester, adding that the church was located only about a mile east of the Hanson homestead. "The cemetery is still there. The church was disbanded in the '50s or '60s, I think. The building was sold to a congregation in Ellsworth."

Hans served as the Klokker of the church -- the person designated to lead the singing.

"To aid him in this, he had a psalmodican, it's a one-stringed instrument on the order of a dulcimer, without frets," Meester said. "We were told that he frowned on harmony, and that he believed violins and organs were the devil -- and harmony. You sang only melody."

Hans and Gorina built a tworoom house on their homesteaded parcel in 1872, with other buildings to follow later. They also established a grove of trees to the west and north of their farmsite. As for the land and livestock, Meester said they farmed the ground, had pasture land and raised an assortment of animals, as was common in those days.

Gorina died in 1898, and Hans followed a few years later, on Sept. 17, 1901. He was 78. At that time, the quarter section transferred to their youngest child. Lena, who had never married. She retained ownership for just five years, and died in 1906 from tuberculosis.

"My aunt said she was very fastidious -- even to the point of taking the sleeves out of her dresses when she washed them so she could iron them better, and then she'd resew them back on," Meester said.

Following Lena's death, the land went to the only son of the Hanson children, Christian, who already farmed the northeast quarter in Section 8. Christian and his wife, Julia, had a family of their own by then, including daughters Minnie and Jennie, and sons Hayes, Henry, Oscar (Meester's father), Carl (who died in 1918 while serving in World War I), and Albert, who died as a child.

Christian and Julia raised all of their children on the homestead in the northeast quarter, and when their youngest surviving son, Oscar, and his wife, Charlotte Johnson, were married in 1920, they moved to the farm in the southeast quarter. By then, the land was in Julia's name, as Christian had died in 1914.

Life on the farm

Marjorie Hanson Meester, the youngest of two children born to Oscar and Charlotte Hanson, was raised on the farm settled by her great-grandfather.

"I liked the whole thing -- chores and all," she said about growing up in Little Rock Township.

Among those chores were carrying wood into the house for the stove, taking out the ashes that remained and watering the chickens.

"We had everything -- cows (both dairy and beef), chickens, and they raised mostly oats, corn and some flax. And then they had alfalfa and pasture," Meester recalled.

She and her older brother, Robert, each attended country school in the western half of Section 8, Little Rock Township. When Robert reached the eighth grade and Marjorie the fifth grade, their parents opted to send them to school in Adrian.

To make the schooling possible, Robert and Marjorie had to stay with an aunt and uncle in Adrian during the school year. Their parents would bring them into town on Monday mornings for school, and pick them up when they went to town on Friday nights. The family maintained that routine until both Robert and Marjorie graduated from high school.

During this time, gradual improvements were being made to the Hanson family farm. A larger addition to the home was made in the 1930s, a kitchen was added, and then there came indoor plumbing.

"It was lovely," said Meester, who was already accustomed to the indoor plumbing at her aunt and uncle's home in Adrian.

"Electricity came in about the same time through the REA," she added. "We also had a wind charger before the REA came. It was like a windmill only it didn't have as broad a base. We had maybe 18 batteries in the basement (to store power) in case the wind didn't blow."

Following Oscar's death in 1943, then 21-year-old Robert took over farming the land with his mother. At the time, Marjorie was attending Augustana College in Sioux Falls, where she was studying to become an English teacher.

Then, when Robert and his wife, Janice Joens, were married in the early 1950s, they took over the Hanson farm and Charlotte moved into Adrian.

Together, Robert and Janice farmed the land for more than a quarter century, up until Robert's death in 1976. Janice remained on the quarter section for another year before opting to sell her 80-acre portion of the quarter section and transferring the other 80-acre parcel to Marjorie.

Since 1977, Meester has rented out her 80-acre parcel to a cousin, keeping her portion of the land in the family.

Few buildings on the Hanson century farm remain standing today. The barn was torn down in the 1980s, and the house burned to the ground about 20 years ago.

"It was sad when the house burned," Meester said, recalling that fire spread to the house after a neighbor's barn caught fire. "They were putting hay in the barn and someone was smoking," she said. "It caught fire and the wind came up and blew it to the house. The shingles on the roof were pretty dry."

A granary and cattle shed, along with a chicken house and corn crib, are all that remain standing on the farm today.

Future in question

After Meester graduated from college in 1945, she left Little Rock Township behind to make a life for herself. She taught school in Valley Springs, S.D., before marrying her husband, Judd, who had recently returned home from the Army. Judd then attended Augustana College on the GI bill before transferring to the University of Minnesota to complete his degree in journalism. He worked in advertising for Better Homes & Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa, for a couple of years before they returned to Minneapolis in 1952, when he took a job with Erle Savage Co.

Together, the Meesters raised five children -- Mark, an engineer; Eric, who works for a magazine; Alan, who works for a printing company; Mary, a nurse at Abbott-Northwestern; and Beth, an accountant. The last three of the children are triplets.

Over the years, Meester said all of her children got to experience life on the Hanson century farm. They would each take their turn staying on the farm when Robert and Janice lived there.

"They did get a taste for farm life," Meester said.

However, with their own, established careers, Meester doesn't know what will happen with the family farm after she's gone.

Meester, who lives in Edina and will turn 84 this month, said she wishes the farm would remain in the family.

"It could be, but I kind of doubt it," she said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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