Curt Brown
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Carver County pioneer Andrew Peterson was passionate about growing apple trees and keeping a diary — jotting down his daily activities in Swedish for nearly 50 years after he emigrated to the United States, up until two days before his death in 1898.

That passion, however, seemed to elude his romantic life. Consider his journal entry from Sept. 15, 1858:

"In the morning I was over at Johannes and chopped cornstalks. At noon John went with me home and started plowing for the wheat. In the evening at 5 o'clock Elsa and my expectations became a reality, a marriage."

Peterson "was a recorder, not an analyst or a sentimentalist," according to retired Gustavus Adolphus College Prof. Roger McKnight, who in 2019 wrote the introduction to an updated 748-page translation of the diaries — 44 years of which are held by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Those looking for "details of calving and slaughtering, sowing and reaping, hammering and sawing will be amply rewarded," McKnight wrote. "Those wishing to find how pioneers thought and felt will find few existentialist outpourings."

Now, thanks to a $750,000 fundraising campaign by the Carver County Historical Society, Peterson's farmhouse a few miles east of Waconia is slated for a major restoration to reflect what it looked like in 1885.

"There was a lot of stress, and COVID put the kibosh on our fundraising efforts for a while," said Wendy Petersen Biorn, the historical society's executive director.

Petersen Biorn helped woo 200 donors — including a Girl Scout troop that raised $300 in cookie sales — to reach a $500,000 goal before the matching deadline last month. That triggered a $250,000 grant to restore the house from the Wisconsin-based Jeffris Family Foundation.

Work is slated to begin soon on the house and other outbuildings on the 12-acre site. The farmstead is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays (call 952-442-4234 for an appointment).

"This place is beloved by a lot of people around here," Petersen Biorn said. "It's been a long haul, but we're finally at a place where the schools and the public will be able to use and enjoy this property."

Born Anders Petterson in southern Sweden in 1818, Peterson became known as a hard-working farmer and horticulturist after emigrating to Iowa in 1850. He moved to Minnesota in 1855 and married Elsa Ingeman when he was 39 and she was 23.

Honeymoon? Not quite. Journal entries for the two days after the wedding show Peterson cutting more corn and planting more wheat, this time with Elsa's help. A devout Baptist who never wrote on Sundays, Peterson spent the second day of his marriage attending a prayer meeting with Elsa.

The couple raised nine children on their farm near Lake Waconia (then called Clearwater Lake), eight of whom were alive when their father died in 1898 at 79. Elsa outlived Andrew by 20 years.

None of the children had kids of their own. When the last surviving offspring, Emma, died in 1943, she left the family farm to a neighbor who had cared for her. The property passed through a few hands before the Carver County Historical Society got involved. A lawsuit settlement with a subsequent owner's heirs reduced the historical society's portion of the property from 51 to 12 acres.

The Peterson farmstead has attracted notice thanks to acclaimed Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg. He dusted off Peterson's diaries in the 1940s and made them the foundation for a series of novels about Swedes settling in America, including "The Emigrants" (1949) and "Unto a Good Land" (1952). Moberg's central character, Karl Oskar, is said to have been modeled after Peterson, according to a 1972 article in Minnesota History magazine by the late Carleton College Prof. Carlton Qualey.

"The books and the Moberg connection have made the farmstead a prominent destination for tourists from throughout Minnesota, as well as Sweden," Lydia Christianson wrote last month in a story for Savage-based Southwest News Media.

Even without the literary connection, Peterson would be remembered as a master of diversified farming and a leading horticulturalist in the upper Mississippi region, Qualey wrote. The Minnesota Horticultural Society granted him an honorary life membership in 1888, elevating his reputation among the state's leading fruit growers.

Though his forte was Russian apple trees and figuring out which varieties would thrive best in Minnesota's climate, Peterson also produced grains, maple syrup, currants, alfalfa, potatoes, rutabagas, pears, plums, cherries — and grapes for winemaking.

With their deep religious faith, the Petersons favored prohibition. In an 1888 diary entry, Peterson wrote that "our people were all there" for a local prohibition festival — except for him. He stayed home to hoe around his apple grafts.

"He apparently felt no conflict of interest between this activity and the annual supply of wine produced from his grapes," Qualey wrote.

Curt Brown's tales about Minnesota's history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at His latest book looks at 1918 Minnesota, when flu, war and fires converged: