Ole Roe smoked his pipe in cupola before selling barn

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Special to The Gazette

The octagon barn in the town of Amherst is noteworthy not only for its shape, but also for the stories about Ole Roe, the second owner of the farm and, maybe, of the barn. They concern the cupola.

One story is that Ole was a "slavedriver," in the words of Arlyn Peterson, nephew of Edwin, and gave his wife orders to do various farm chores. While she was doing them, he climbed up into the cupola and smoked his pipe.

(Fourth in a series)

The other story has it that, according to Lou Ann Floistad Sather, Ole climbed up into the cupola to escape his nagging, scolding wife. However true or untrue the stories are, they give the barn a depth and character beyond geometric shapes and building materials.

We know more about Ole than we do about his siblings, partly because he took over and stayed on the home farm, and partly because he lived further into the 20th century.

Vol. 51, pages 81, 82, 83 and 84 of Portage County Quit-Claim Deeds (all dated in September of 1890) record the selling to Ole of the family farm by his siblings and their spouses. (It consisted of 160 acres: 80 acres each in sections 9 and 10 of the town of Amherst.)

He paid his brother Anders and wife, Else, who lived in Jackson County, Minnesota, $133.33; an apparently single sister, Drina or Drena, who lived in Lake County, South Dakota, $133.33; his brother "Knut" and wife Hattie Isabella Roe, who still lived in Portage County, $500; and another sister, Anna, and husband Eugene Berry, who lived in Martin County, Minnesota, $133.33. It is not clear why he paid Knut and Hattie Roe so much more than he did the other siblings.

Ole Roe’s life appears to have been ordinary enough, except that he apparently had no children. He operated the farm from, as we have seen, 1890, until 1911, when he sold it to Edwin Peterson for "Thirty Hundred" dollars ($3,000), according to Vol. 97, page 355 of Portage County Warranty Deeds, dated Jan. 25, 1911.

Besides running his farm, Roe was active in at least one farmers’ organization. The March 28, 1896, Journal reported that "The Nelsonville Creamery and Cheese association has been incorporated with a capital of $2,500. The incorporators are W. T. Waller, C. O. Doxrud and Ole Roe."

Clara and Edwin Peterson were the second family to own the farm with the octagon barn.

But by the time Roe sold his farm to Edwin Peterson, he and his wife had, three years earlier, already bought a house in the village of Nelsonville, a purchase recorded in Vol. 94, page 429, dated June 11, 1908. The deed describes the property as "Lot Number One (1) in Block Number Ten (10) of Nelson’s Second (2nd) Addition to the Village of Nelsonville."

But the town of Amherst – Nelsonville was not incorporated until 1913 – tax rolls describe the plot as "Lot #1, Block #10, 1st Addition." The village's plat in The Standard Atlas of Portage County (1915), shows that the First Addition did not have 10 blocks, so Ole Roe's property had to be in the Second Addition.

(That lot is vacant now, so what the house looked like, and what became of it, are mysteries. This error, however it happened, shows once again the importance of accuracy in land records and historical research.)

Roe bought the plot and house from "H. Stoltenberg," according to the tax rolls. The warranty deed calls him "Henry Stoltenberg." He lived from 1865 to 1930, and his ancestors were unusual in the town of Amherst for being immigrants from Germany, not Norway.

Stoltenberg owned and ran a succession of businesses: a blacksmith shop, a farm implement dealership, and a restaurant, his obituary in the Sept. 10, 1930, Daily Journal says. He also was Nelsonville’s village clerk from 1913 to 1917.

When the Roes moved off the farm is unclear, but the 1910 U.S. Census lists them as already living in Nelsonville – a year before they officially sold the farm.

Also, according to Malcolm Rosholt’s Our County Our Story, Ole Roe was elected assessor of the newly incorporated village of Nelsonville in April of 1913.

Roe’s obituary appeared in the Oct. 20, 1927, Amherst Advocate:

Ole Roe passed away at his home in Nelsonville (on) October 15th, at the age of 73 years and 7 months. He had been in poor health for about a year but up to Wednesday preceding his death, he had been able to be about town. On that day he suffered a stroke which resulted in his death the following (S)aturday.
Deceased was born at Spring Prairie (Walworth County), Wis., and with his parents came to Portage County when a boy. For years Mr. Roe and wife resided on the farm now owned by Edwin Peterson, north of Amherst, but about 18 years ago retired from the farm and moved to Nelsonville. Mrs. Roe died last January. Surviving Mr. Roe are two sisters, Mrs. Rena Hogan of Sioux Falls, S.D., and Mrs. Eugene Berry of Wadena, Minnesota, both of whom are at Nelsonville to attend the funeral. Other relatives out of state here to attend the funeral are: Mrs. Hattie Roe, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Redfield and daughter of Staples, Minnesota; and Richard and Albert Roe of Jackson, Minnesota.
The funeral is to be held this Thursday afternoon with services at the Nelsonville Norwegian Lutheran church. Rev. Swenson will officiate.
About six months later, Ole Roe’s personal property was sold at auction, the Daily Journal of March 29, 1928, reported:


To settle an estate, I will offer and sell at Public Auction at the former residence of OLE ROE, deceased, in the Village of NELSONVILLE, Wis., on Thursday, April 5 At 1 o’clock P.M. ALL THE HOUSEHOLD GOODS Consisting of Beds and Bedding, Chairs and Tables, Crockery and Glassware, Sofas, Couches, Rugs, Lace Curtains, a lot of Books, one Commode, one Phonograph with 14 Records, one Favorite Hard Coal Heater, one Kitchen Range, one Oil Heater, one Ford Coupe in good condition, a quantity of Chicken Wire, and numerous articles not mentioned.

A.L. Rowe, Executor
Chas. Horton, Auctioneer
As we have seen, Roe’s wife died before he did, in January of the same year (1927). But she is a mystery, because she is called by two different names in the legal records; did he have one wife or two?

The 1900 U.S. Census lists his wife’s name as "Christina B.," and gives her age as 44 (two years younger than he); the 1910 census calls her “Kristine,” and gives their ages as 55 and 57 or even 37 (the censustaker’s handwriting is unclear); and the 1920 census lists her name as "Bertha K.," and gives her age as 67 (two years older than Ole). Both wives were born in Norway, the censuses say.

The mystery may be solved (or not) by her gravestone – in the Nelsonville Lutheran Cemetery – according to the Portage County Cemetery Locator (accessible through the Portage County Public Library’s Web site).

That stone gives her name as "B. Christine," which may explain the two names, but also gives her birth year as 1852, which may or may not jive with her ages as given in the censuses.

Her obituary, in the Jan. 20, 1927, Amherst Advocate, gives us no helpful details.


Mrs. Ole Roe, for many years a resident of the town of Amherst and for the past several years a resident of Nelsonville, died in a hospital at Oshkosh last week Wednesday after a long period of ill health. The remains were taken to the family home at Nelsonville and the funeral was held Friday, with interment in the Nelsonville cemetery. Deceased is survived by her husband.
Edwin Peterson, who bought the farm from Ole Roe, was born in the town of Amherst of Norwegian immigrant parents on Dec. 19, 1870. His obituary in the April 2, 1947, Daily Journal continues:
He was married at Arkdale (Adams County), Wis., March 20, 1902, to Clara Larson. They lived on a farm at Sheridan (near the Portage-Waupaca county line) nine years, then moved to a farm in the town of Amherst, in the Lysne (School – southeast corner of county highways T and SS) district. After a residence of 30 years there the Petersons moved to Amherst eight years ago (1939).
The octagon barn stood on that Lysne District farm. Clara Peterson died in 1963, the April 15 Daily Journal reported.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that the Petersons lost their farm to the Great Depression. The Portage County Tax Rolls show that the time for them to pay their property taxes was extended in 1935 and 1936, and the 1936 taxes were paid, on May 17, 1937, by the Federal Land Bank of St. Paul.

The land bank paid them again (for 1937) on Feb. 24, 1938, but in the following year they were paid by Carl E. Jacobson. From 1940 on, they were paid by Clifford Floistad, though he is not listed as the owner of the farm until 1947.

Clifford and Gladys Barden Floistad in about 1955. (Photo courtesy of Lou Ann Floistad Sather)

Between those years, it was owned by three other parties. First was the land bank. According to Portage County Warranty Deeds Vol. 123, Page 631, it sold the farm to Carl Jacobson.

The deed is dated Feb. 21, 1939, and the "consideration" (the price Jacobson paid) was $2,200.

But he owned the farm for only two months, and then sold it to Anna Skowen Johnson of Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, according to Vol. 165, Page 258, of Warranty Deeds, dated April 20, 1939. The consideration was a common one: "One ($1) Dollar and other good and valuable consideration."

This term was used to conceal the actual purchase price, or when some sort of a trade was involved, or when a property was willed or deeded over to a relative or friend.

Clifford Floistad finally and officially became the owner of the farm as of April 30, 1947, according to the Warranty Deed of that date (Vol. 192, page 37). He paid $2,575.00. But the fact that he had paid the taxes for eight years before that, suggests that he had been allowed to occupy and work the farm for that period.

The connections among these people are not entirely clear. Carl E. Jacobson, his obituary says in the May 27, 1955, Daily Journal, owned and managed a furniture and funeral business in Nelsonville. But of chief importance here is the fact that his wife was the former Louise Skowen, a sister of the Anna Skowen Johnson who was the next owner of the farm.

But what is not clear is the relationship between Anna Skowen Johnson and Clifford Floistad.

Was he part of their extended family, or was he only a poor young man in the neighborhood, who wanted to farm but couldn’t afford to buy a place without help. (His wife was born Gladys Barden in the town of Buena Vista; in other words, she was not part of the heavily Norwegian area of northeastern Portage County, so it was unlikely that she was related to the Jacobson or Mrs. Johnson.)

Gladys Floistad died in April of 1960, 41 years before her husband did. According to her death certificate (Vol. 35, page 422), the immediate cause of her death was "Pulmonary congestion," which she had for 24 hours; the cause of that was "Respiratory center arrest," which she had had for 48 hours; and the cause of that was "Ascending Paralysis (Landry’s) of the (spinal) cord," which she had had for two years.

According to the on-line Health Encyclopedia, Landry’s Paralysis is "a form of GBS (Gullain Barre Syndrome) that spreads very quickly." Landry’s was named for the French physician "who first described a variant of it in 1859." Her occupation was given as "housewife," and she had no Social Security number.

Clifford Floistad in 1966. (Photo courtesy of Lou Ann Floistad Sather)

Clifford Floistad died on March 8, 2001, at the age of 95, his obituary in the Portage County Gazette of March 16 reported. He had been born in the town of Scandinavia, in Waupaca County, in 1906, and was married to Gladys Barden in 1935 "at the Benson Corner(s) (Lutheran Church) parsonage."

That church still stands at the northwest corner of Highway 161 and County Trunk T in the former hamlet of Benson Corners, also known as New Hope, not to be confused with the name of the town.

According to Portage County Marriage Records, Carl and Lou Ann Floistad Sather (present owners) were married on Dec. 19, 2002, almost two years after Clifford Floistad died.

This, then, is the story, as far as we know at the moment, of the octagon barn of the town of Amherst. Somewhere, again, there is probably some information on its construction, and perhaps that of the house, and it may come to light in the future. But for now, we will have to be content with what we have.

SOURCE: Wendell Nelson, "Ole Roe smoked his pipe in cupola before selling barn," Portage County Gazette (7 May 2010), 31, 39, 43.


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