Preserving local history: Legacy funds to benefit Peterson farm work

By Jason Schmucker
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Rep. Jim Nash and Carver County Historical Society executive director Wendy Petersen-Biorn stand outside the recently restored North Barn at the Andrew Peterson Farm site. Nash recently secured $160,000 in Legacy funds to help with restoration work on the property. (Jason Schmucker/The Patriot)

While fundraising has not yet officially begun, a campaign to raise money for restoration and repair work at the historic Andrew Peterson Farm has received a massive shot in the arm with an infusion of Legacy funds from the state Legislature.

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, introduced a bill last session that would direct some Legacy funds to the historic farm, located just east of Waconia.

Nash, a self-avowed fiscal conservative, said he had no hesitation in helping direct Legacy funds to the Carver County Historical Society for use in repairing and restoring the property.

“I’m not super-big on spending state money on things, but I looked into the Legacy Fund. The Legacy Fund was a constitutional amendment that the people of Minnesota voted to create – it was a percentage of a sales tax. (The money) goes into a fund that is solely dedicated to preserving and promoting arts, parks, history, culture – things like that,” Nash said. “I decided that I would carry a bill that would appropriate some money for (the Peterson farm) from the Legacy fund. It started as a much larger ask, but it was compromised down – it is $160,000 over two years.”

The Legacy funds will provide the keystone for the fundraising campaign, said Wendy Petersen-Biorn, executive director of the Carver County Historical Society.

“That money is imperative in that it is a beginning of a major fundraising campaign we will be doing, probably starting in September,” she said.

Petersen-Biorn said that the exact amount needed for restoration and repairs at the farm is unclear, as a report itemizing needs will not be completed until July.

“We are in the middle of a historic structures report. It will be done in about a month or so, and it will tell us exactly what has to be done to the structures to repair, restore and make them usable out there. We are guess-timating – of course we won’t know until the structures report is done – that we will need about $1 million,” she said.

Getting to that final goal will be made a bit easier through a partnership with the Wisconsin-based Jeffris Family Foundation. The foundation has offered to partially match funds raised locally for the project, as part of its self-proclaimed mission to preserve history in the Midwest.

“The Jeffris Foundation out of Wisconsin will give us $1 for every $2 we raise – that includes those Legacy funds,” Petersen-Biorn said. She noted that the foundation will match provide up to $1 million for a project – but that means that $2 million would need to be raised locally.

Petersen-Biorn said that once the historic structures report was finished, the historical society would set a realistic fundraising goal for the project. She said that to get any of the matching funds from Jeffris, the campaign has to meet its goal.

“If we fall $1 short (of the goal), we don’t get the match,” Petersen-Biorn said. “If we (aim to) raise $500,000, they would give us $250,000. But if we raise $499,999.99, we don’t get that $250,000.”

Nash said that he was glad to have a role in helping to preserve and restore not only a piece of Carver County history, but a site that holds significance for the state and for Sweden.

“Being a Scandinavian guy – I’m Norwegian, not Swedish – you look at what the guy is to both Sweden and Minnesota. You look at his books, you look at the fact that they are almost pivotal to helping understand what was going on back then,” Nash said. “I thought, well we have to help preserve it, and when you have something like the Legacy fund – it’s right there and should be used – and the people of Carver County are very proud of the farm and it is an asset to the state.”

The land that the Andrew Peterson Farm occupies has a long history. Peterson was a Swedish emigrant, who began his journey from Sweden to Minnesota in 1850. He emigrated to the U.S. from Kommen of Ydre, and he kept a journal from the time he left Sweden until the day before he died in Minnesota. Peterson’s journals were found at the Minnesota Historical Society by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, who used them as a basis for a book series called “Emigrants.”

In addition to his writings, Peterson is famous for his work to develop apple trees in Minnesota, and for his efforts to establish the Scandia Church, which began in his rural home. His farm was one of the first research stations for the Minnesota Horticultural Society, which would eventually evolve into the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

The land was formerly owned by Ward Holasek, who helped to preserve many artifacts and contributed to the site’s listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. When Holasek died in 2013, he left 51 acres of the land to the Carver County Historical Society.

Since acquiring the property, the historical society has been hard at work restoring structures on the farm and cleaning up and cataloguing debris and artifacts on the site. Work on restoring the “North Barn” – which partially collapsed in 2010 — was recently completed.

In partnership with students from the University of Minnesota, work on the historic site has also included a structural analysis of the buildings, an archeological dig, cultural landscaping and the development of an augmented reality project, where visitors can see what the farm was like back in time through a digital app.

While people can visit the site, the buildings remain locked an off-limits due to safety concerns. People interested in touring the site are encouraged to contact the Carver County Historical Society to schedule a tour.

Anyone wishing to donate to the fundraising campaign before it officially kicks off later this year can contact the Carver County Historical Society for details on how to pledge support.