Historic local farmstead faces uncertain future

by Christopher Aadland

The fate of one of Carver County’s most historic properties remains unclear as legal issues surrounding the property are ironed out.
The Andrew Peterson Farmstead’s previous owner, Ward Holasek, deeded 51 acres of the property to the Carver County Historical Society before his death last December at the age of 76. Despite the deed, the farm has been consumed by controversy even before Holasek’s death.
After Ward’s death, the historical society assumed control of the 51 acres and a barn situated on the parcel. Ward’s sons, Rick and Wade Holasek maintained control of the 20 acres to the south — which contain most of the historic buildings on the property. But last August, Howard Bard, an attorney representing Holasek’s sons, informed the historical society it was no longer allowed to access its land through a driveway on the 20 acres owned by the sons on the south end of the property.
In October, the historical society filed a lawsuit in Carver County District Court seeking access to the portion of the site deeded to them. The sons then filed a countersuit seeking to have the society’s lawsuit dismissed and their ownership rights to the deeded part of the property nullified. The complaint alleged that the land was “procured through undue influence, fraudulent misrepresentation.” The complaint also stated Holasek lacked the ability to understand what he was doing when he signed the deed.
Part of the dispute has landed in probate court and is scheduled to be heard next month. Furthermore, an independent personal representative will also be appointed to decide how to best execute Holasek’s will, court records show.
Wendy Peterson-Biorn, executive director of the Carver County Historical Society, said they will respect whatever the courts decide, but hopes a decision is made in a timely matter so they can move forward with Holasek’s wishes for the historical society’s land.
The farmstead — listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 — was purchased and settled by Andrew Peterson, a Swedish immigrant, in 1856.
Peterson farmed traditional crops but was well known for the apples he cultivated and the Russian varieties of the fruit he experimented with on his property. In 1888 the Minnesota Horticultural Society voted to award him with an honorary lifetime membership for his work in helping to establish the apple industry in Minnesota. Peterson also founded a Baptist church on his land, which was the founding parish site of the Minnesota Swedish Baptist Conference.
But the biggest contribution Peterson made to the history of the area was journals and ledgers he kept for nearly 50 years.
Peterson documented almost everything that he encountered and all of his business transactions, which is a big part of what makes Andrew Peterson so unique, Peterson-Biorn said.
“In those journals, I can tell you the day the foundation [of the barn] went in; I can tell you what lake those stones came from; I can tell you who worked on the barn,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.”
In the late 19th century, Swedish immigrants flocked to Minnesota. The journals are an important part of the Swedish immigrant story because Peterson’s journals reflect the experience of the Swedish immigrants who settled in the area.
“Andrew Peterson personifies what the 1.5 million Swedes who came over to the U.S. in a short time experienced,” Peterson-Biorn said. “It’s not simply a farm. It’s more than that.”
Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg and based his four novels in “The Emigrants” series off of Peterson’s journals. Moberg’s series is considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th century in Sweden and was adapted into a film in 1971.
Peterson and his farm are so highly regarded among Swedes that in 2003, the Andrew Peterson Society was formed in Sweden, which is dedicated to promoting interest in Peterson and his legacy.
In 2006, four Swedes travelled to the farm to help replace the roof on a granary Peterson built.
Also in 2006, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota listed the farmstead as one of Minnesota’s 10 most endangered historical sites in the state. Then the historical society received a $7,000 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage grant to stabilize the north barn after the roof collapsed in 2010. Since then, with the help of heritage grants and donations, the society has started to restore the north barn in phases.
In 2012, a $27,140 grant was issued to begin rebuilding the foundation of the barn. In exchange for the grant, Holasek and the historical society promised the Minnesota Historical Society they would maintain and repair the building as needed to retain its historic qualities.
The farmstead became known as Rock Isle Farm after Holasek purchased 80 acres of the farm in the mid-1970s.
Work on the north barn has yet to be completed and won’t be unless the historical society is granted access to the land that the north barn sits on, or the legal issues are resolved.
A new grant was recently awarded a grant intended for the historic Andrew Peterson Farmstead, which the historical society was made aware of two days after Ward’s death, Peterson-Biorn said.
The $28,500 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Grant — administered by the Minnesota Historical Society — is designed to aid the Carver County Historical Society in the development of a long-term plan for the historic farmstead, located east of Waconia.
“I’m looking forward seeking the input of the public regarding the best use of the property,” Peterson-Biorn said.