America has actually known of Andrew Peterson, if only indirectly, ever since the movie The Emigrants, starring Liv Ulmann, came out in 1971. That film was based on a 1951 English translation of a novel of the Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, one in a series he wrote based on Peterson’s 1850-1898 journals. I think Andrew Peterson deserves a second look.
Peterson, one of the first Swedish immigrant in the Waconia area, settled here in 1855 on what is now for the most part the Rock Isle Hay and Sleigh Farm on Highway 5 in Waconia. He was accompanied across the Atlantic by 16 others, some of whom settled near him in what is now Carver County. Soon after he arrived, he and nine other settlers met and formed the Scandia Baptist Church, the founding church of the Minnesota Swedish Baptist Conference. The Scandia in its name referred to the village of Scandia they founded to the east of Lake Waconia near what is today the Island View Golf Course. Swedes, however, weren’t his only neighbors. Andrew Peterson did a great deal of work with a German neighbor named Fischer.
In true American frontier fashion, these Swedes and Germans helped Peterson erect many of the buildings still present on the site. On the farmstead, Peterson’s main house, north and south barns, and the smokehouse were all built by him and his neighbors. He in turn helped them build, first shanties to live in, which were later replaced by proper farmhouses, then barns and sheds. In addition to free neighborly support, bartering for services frequently occurred. At one point, for example, a neighbor altered a coat to fit Peterson, who promised to do a day’s work for him in return.
On the farm from the start occurred such activities as timber cutting, syrup making, and making runners for his sleigh. In the second year, Peterson planted beets, carrots, melons and beans. By the fifth year, his harvest consisted of 25 bushels of rye, about 24 bushels of wheat and 80 bushels of potatoes. Eventually he also cultivated an apple orchard, obtaining apple seeds and plant grafts from Sweden. He also experimented with other varieties during his time on the farm, working to cultivate apple varieties that were suited to the local climate.
In some very basic ways not much has changed for us since Andrew Peterson’s time. Many of us today are involved in the design, if not the actual construction of, the houses we purchase. Even if we are purchasing a home from previous owners, it’s fun to look at a property and imagine how you might develop it further to make it your own: This corner of the back yard would be a good location for a vegetable garden, that front yard would be an ideal setting for a rain garden surrounding some ornamental blossoming trees. Like Andrew Peterson, be creative in imagining just what your particular homestead might become. Then go out and find that house to make it happen!