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by Alice Jensen (1982)

Like the people from many of the European countries, came some Danes; the ones who started what is today known as the Danish Settlement. We may wonder why they left their native land to start life anew in the United States, but no doubt, many heard of the opportunities here through friends, relatives, and also through the newspapers. These Danish people were Mr. and Mrs. Pete Jensen, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Peterson, Mr. and Mrs. A. Fredericksen and son Andrew, Mr. and Mrs. Svend Jensen and son Aage, Mr. George Jorgensen, Mr. and Mrs. Ole Petersen, Mr. and Mrs. Nis Petersen, Mr. Marius Simonsen, Mr. and Mrs. Nels Sorensen, and Mr. Chris Saul. They did not all come to the United States at the same time, but all of them finally came to Chicago and most of them found work in the Pullman Shops. This is where some of them became acquainted and also at the Von Meetern Saloon where they met for a glass of beer.

Mr. and Mrs. A. Fredericksen and son, Andrew, and Mr. Marius Simonsen had farmed in southern Minnesota after coming from Denmark, but found pioneering there rather hard, so they moved to Chicago. (Mrs. A. Fredericksen and Mrs. Svend Jensen were sisters.) Shortly after moving there, Mr. Fredericksen died. Mrs. Fredericksen then kept a boarding house for the Pullman employees. She later married George Jorgensen.

Children were born to some of these Danish families while they lived in Chicago. Two daughters, Johanna and Olga, were born to Mr. and Mrs. Pete Jensen; to the Ole Petersens, Ella and Harry; to the Svend Jensens, Sigrid and Ruth; to the Nis Petersens, Helene, Jens, and Christine; to the George Jorgensens, Roy; and to the Nels Sorensens, Elsie, Etler, Clara, and Bertha, and when they moved back to Chicago, Henry was born. The Pete Petersens took into (page 2) their home a little baby girl, Marie, whose mother had died. She was lucky to get into a home where she was cared for so lovingly.

These Danish folks were all quite content with their life in Chicago until a land agent told them of the opportunities they could enjoy owning their own land in Northern Wisconsin. This agent showed them pictures or slides through a stereoscope. So, gradually, they left Chicago to settle in an area southwest of Phillips, known to this day as the Danish Settlement.

It was on April 11, 1900 that the Pete Petersens, the Pete Jensens, the George Jorgensens, and Alfred Dirks, his mother and father, and his sisters Helen and Mae arrived in Phillips to make their homes on the land they each had purchased. The Dirks were German.

When they arrived in Phillips on this April morning at five o'clock, they went to the Roser Hotel where they had breakfast. They then hired a livery rig and drove the six or seven miles to the forty acres purchased by the Pete Petersens. The end of the road was at that "Farm" and, in order for the others to get to their land, they had to cross fields and wooded areas. They truly must have had the pioneer spirit to be able to face the hard work that was in store for them.

The forty acres of the Pete Petersens had formerly belonged to the Nels Johnsons, who had come to this area a couple years earlier with Mr. and Mrs. Christiansen. Prior to the coming of the Johnsons and Christiansens, a lumber camp had been there, so there were a couple log houses on their property. The log house on the Petersen land served as a home for all of this group until their homes could be built. They were wise in coming in the spring as they had a long time to get their homes built before the cold weather came.

(page 3) Immediately, all the men pitched in and built a log house for the Pete Jensens and homes of lumber for the Jorgensens and Dirks. The home of the Jensens was completed by June. That home still stands but an addition was later added that was made of lumber. Their first barns were also made of logs.

In the fall of the same year (1900), Mr. and Mrs. Ole Petersen, Ella and Harry, together with Mr. and Mrs. Svend Jensen, Aage, Sigrid, and Ruth arrived to make their home in this same area. They lived with some of the families, who had come in the spring, while their log houses were being built.

The land of these Danish pioneers had never been farmed. Needless to say, there was much hard labor involved in clearing it for crops. Most of the work was done by hand or by horse and plow.

Their farms did not yield large enough crops at first to provide for all the necessities of life, so most of the men found employment in the lumber camps in the winter or anywhere they could find work. For instance, Svend Jensen went as far as Duluth and Two Harbors, Minnesota to find employment.

In 1902, Mr. and Mrs. Nis Petersen, Helene, Jens, and Christine, and Mr. and Mrs. Nels Sorensen, Elsie, Etler, Clara, and Bertha came to make their homes here. The Nis Petersens had bought a piece of land where the Dirks lived. The Dirks then moved out of the Danish Settlement to a place where their son, Rudolph, had built a house for them. Their property was along the road which is County W today. The Sorensens built a log house on their land, which was just beyond the Nis Petersens.

The Nis Petersens stayed only one year and then returned to Chicago. Mr. Petersen felt he could do better there with less work. He worked at the same place - the Allen Wheel Works - where he had worked before he left Chicago. (page 4) At the same time he studied to become an engineer. He was helped in his reading by his daughter, Helene. After he received his diploma, he accepted a job as engineer for the Sherman Williams Paint Co. - a job he held until his death.

In 1904, Mr. Sorensen, Ole Petersen, and Pete Jensen returned to Chicago to work for one year. While working there they stayed with the Nis Petersens.

As these Danish people continued to work their land, their crops improved and finally they found themselves able to construct better houses and barns made of lumber to replace those made of logs.

Some children were born to these settlers in the Danish Settlement - Robert, Agnes, Charles and Eva to the Pete Jensens; and Alice and Marie to the Svend Jensens.

Where there are families with children there also must be schools for them to attend. At first all of these Danish children attended the Arbutus Hill School. Their first teacher was Miss Harding. Later on the Fox School was built. It was a little ways beyond the Pete Jensen and Chris Saul property. When it was built the children living closer to it went there. The rest went to the Arbutus Hill School which was beyond the Ole Petersen farm, close to County W. The children all walked to school carrying their lunch. There was no snowplowing in the winter, so they made their own trails. Often the boys on their way to school would check traps they had set.

Each of these schools consisted of only one room and they were at first heated by a long wood heater; later to be replaced by a large round one with a metal jacket around it. The teacher kept the fires going during the day. Toilets were outdoors. Yes, a pail with a dipper provided the drinking water, and a basin and a bar of soap was used to keep hands clean. Often in winter the drinking water froze as it was kept out in the cloakroom where there was no heat. (page 5) In winter, their lunch pails were kept near the wood heater to keep their food from freezing.

Danish people have always been known for their sociability and good food. They visited each other to learn some news or just to share a cup of coffee. They also liked picnics and dancing. At first, picnics were held on the Simonsen land which is now part of the Jorgensen property. Here there was a floor for dancing. Later on a piece of land was cleared on the Pete Petersen Farm, close to their house, and a floor was laid with benches all around it. Here they danced and enjoyed many picnics and Fourth of July Celebrations. Anyone who could play a violin or an accordion would furnish the music. Each family brought something for lunch, and there was usually a keg of beer. Soon a few neighboring families from outside the Danish Settlement came to join in the fun. They were not Danish people.

Christmas time was a round of dinners or parties at each place. Singing Danish Christmas carols, they walked around a decorated tree which was in the center of the living room. The tree was always lighted by burning candles, but everyone kept a watchful eye on them.

After these Danish people had their new and larger barns, dances were held in them in the summer before it was time to put in the hay.

Not all of these Danish people continued to live in this settlement. Chris Saul and Marius Simonsen did not stay long. Nor did the Sorensens stay very long before they too returned to Chicago. Mr. and Mrs. Nels Johnson and their children, Helvig, Nels, Myrtle, and Amy, who had lived across the road from the Svend Jensens, did not stay too long - possibly ten to fifteen years. Not too much is known about them after they left. The older children left home to work as soon as they were able to do so. Their property was purchased by John (page 6) Stanley and his mother who came from Indiana, but were not Danes.

Mr. and Mrs. Christiansen lived in their original log house up until her death, and then later, he left to live with a son of his in Escanaba, Michigan. Many memories I cherish of going there with my sister, Marie, on an errand and getting a piece of candy (bon-bon) or a red apple. They really were kind people and liked by everyone. Mr. Christiansen would tell how the chickadees would eat crumbs from his long beard as he sat eating his noon lunch when out cutting firewood in the winter.

About 1910, another Dane came to the settlement - Mr. and Mrs. Daly Rasmussen. His wife, who had come from England, was not Danish. The were not one of the original Danish families. Their farm bordered the Ole Petersens and Christiansen farmland. To the Daly Rusmussens three sons were born - Arthur, Herbert, and Leonard.

When Ella Petersen, daughter of the Ole Petersens, was old enough she left to find work in Chicago. There she met Louis Jensen, who was an apprenticed baker from Denmark. They were married and after their first son, Howard, was born, they came to the Danish Settlement and bought the Chris Saul property. Another son, Edwin, was born there.

You can be sure many of them dreamed of going back to Denmark, not to live, but for a visit with relatives and friends. Ole Petersen was the only one who returned for a visit. On one of these trips he met his second wife, Christine, who was on the same boat. His first wife had died.

The Nis Petersens had not sold their property when they returned to Chicago, so in 1913, Mr. and Mrs. Petersen returned in summer to enjoy a vacation there. In 1914, Helen and Christine also came. At first they came by train, but in 1922 they started to come by car when they became a little (page 7) more dependable.

While all of this was happening, the Danish settlers saw a need for some kind of recreation center. They organized and built a dance hall on a piece of land donated by the Pete Jensens. This land bordered the town road leading to the Fox School. The hall was built by the men and boys and the building material was purchased with money that was raised through social activities. The hall consisted of one large room, a raised platform for a band and stage, and a kitchen. Tables and benches were built under the trees surrounding the hall, so picnics might be held in the summer. For the children there were swings, teeter-totters, and a merry-go-round.

Dances were held here during most of the year and there were also home-talent plays, masquerades, and basket socials. Fun was had by all who took part. Many a little boy or girl slept on the stage while their parents danced and had fun.

Many people from outside the Danish Settlement and the surrounding towns attended these social functions. At times it was felt an addition was needed to accommodate the crowds. Music was usually furnished by Roy Jorgensen and Aage, Sigrid and Ruth Jensen. John Stanley usually did the calling for the square dances and he also took care of those who became a little unruly. Lunch was always provided. The Foxes who lived close by started to take part in all these social activities.

The same group of musicians who played for these dances also played occasionally at Merrill's which was along the Elk River. In summer, John Stanley would take them in a wagon and in winter in a sleigh filled with hay and having some hot bricks or chunks of wood to keep their feet warm.

Gradually, the young people started going to dances outside of the (page 8) settlement and especially after World War I when there were a few cars owned by some of the settlers. You can see how the cars started to change the social life of this community. They did not have to depend just on local functions for their fun and they met new friends elsewhere.

And what happened to the dance hall? The young people of this community left one by one to marry, to seek employment, or a career in neighboring towns or the cities like Milwaukee or Chicago. Gradually there wasn't a need for the hall and finally, in the '30's, it was given back to the Jensens who donated the land. It was dismantled and that was the end of this popular place.

Some of the farms in the Danish Settlement are still owned by the children or grandchildren of the original owners. The George Jorgensen place is owned by Agnes and George Jorgensen, their grandchildren - children of their son, Roy. The Pete Jensen place is owned by Robert, their son, who lives in Rock-Island, Illinois, but spends vacations there. The Nis Petersen place is owned by their daughters Christine Seeder and Helene Dykstra Wilson. Helene has been coming up each summer for many years. First, from her home in Chicago, and now from her son's home in Hazel Crest, Illinois. The Pete Petersen place is the home of their grandson's wife, Rauni Maderich.

The Fox School was eventually torn down, but the Arbutus Hill School, which was later made into a two-room building, is today used as the Town Hall for the Town of Elk.

The road leading into the Danish Settlement from County W is named The Danish Settlement Road. I hope it will always be called that to remember the Danish pioneers and I hope this history will help it to live in the memory of the relatives and friends of these Danish people who are living today (1982).

The original Danish people living today include the following: (page 9)

Christine (Petersen) Seeder - Hazel Crest, Illinois

Helene (Petersen) Dykstra, Wilson - Hazel Crest, Illinois

(Note: Social Security Death Index lists Hazel Wilson as having died in Feb 1996 in Hazel Crest, Illinois)

Robert Jensen - Rock Island, Illinois

Agnes (Jensen) Van Der Laske - Levitown, New York

Marie (Petersen) Maderich, Hill - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sigrid (Jensen) Hansen - Two Rivers, Wisconsin

(Note: Sigrid died Jan 14, 1995 in Two Rivers, Wisconsin)

Alice E. Jensen - Ashland, Wisconsin

This history of the Danish Settlement was written with the good help of Helene Wilson, Marie Hill, and Sigrid Hansen. I learned much that I didn't know or had forgotten while drinking a cup of coffee at Helen's and talking about the "good old days" in the Danish Settlement.


Thanks to Kathy Markowski for contributing this information, whose husband's grandmother is Sigrid Hansen, the sister of ALICE JENSEN.

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03 Jan 2010 

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