Pioneers' family celebrates 100 years on the land
The Bakken family arrived in Solon Springs on May 9, 1909. Leonard, Elise and their five children - 10-year-old Art, 8-year-old Eiven, 6-year-old Albert, 3-year-old Ruth and Dagny, 2 - took the train into town, then traveled to what would be thei...
The Bakken family arrived in Solon Springs on May 9, 1909. Leonard, Elise and their five children - 10-year-old Art, 8-year-old Eiven, 6-year-old Albert, 3-year-old Ruth and Dagny, 2 - took the train into town, then traveled to what would be their homestead.
The only building on the 160-acre parcel was a cowshed with uncovered windows, no door attached and cow manure on the dirt floor.
"When she saw the floor, she cried," said Lois Hankins, whose husband Stan is the grandson of those pioneers.
Somehow, the family managed to tuck a table, seven chairs, two beds, a cupboard/sink combo, two large trunks, a stove and the family Bible in the 14-foot by 16-foot space.
A kindly neighbor, the Sylvesters, offered them a 10-foot by 24-foot room to spend their first winter in, and the next year they built a home. The same Sears and Roebuck structure stands today, sandwiched between additions.
Leonard chose the spot because the wooded landscape reminded him of his native Norway. For 100 years, that land would sustain the Bakken family. They farmed, logged and survived, carving a place of their own. Passed down from generation to generation, that same site will welcome home the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren of Leonard and Elise this weekend.
"To us it's just a family reunion, a get-together," said Linda Hankins, whose husband Dave is also a Bakken grandson. "It's no different than a wedding, if you look at it that way."
But it will be done on a grand scale. A 80-foot by 40-foot tent, formerly belonging to the Solon Springs Lions Club, has been erected with tables assembled underneath. Stan and Dave spent an hour building the first tier of a log cabin the size of that first cowshed. About 160 relatives are expected to attend the 100-year event. They are dentists and ministers, scholars and laborers. They come from 15 different states from coast to coast.
"It's kind of exciting just knowing people are starting to come in," Linda said Thursday. They are staying in campgrounds and the St. Croix Inn. According to Linda, they have the Solon area "sewn up." The Hankins' are looking forward to gathering the family in one place.
"Just to catch up with people," Stan said.
"We've had phone calls from people, I have no idea who they are, and I'm going to get to meet them," Lois said.
They have a few big meals planned, and some special events. There will be a demonstration of how butter was made in 1909 and how clothes were washed on a washboard. A buggy wheel demonstration is also planned, as is a Saturday afternoon reenactment of the moment the family first came to the farm. Ruth and Dagny will each be represented by their great-great-granddaughters.
Leonard farmed and logged the land until a fire burned the woods down. He continued to work as a logger in the area until he died of blood poisoning in 1920. The family rallied to keep the homestead afloat. They learned to harness the natural bounty around them, selling blueberries to summer visitors from Chicago and growing huge gardens, eating venison while selling beef cows. The Bakkens were instrumental in founding Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Solon Springs. Elise's granddaughter, a minister, will give a church service Sunday, based on Hebrews 11, the faith of our fathers.
The first two generations have passed away. But many of their stories have been collected in a book by Dagny's son, who translated letters Elise sent to her brother in Norway. The hardcover book, "East of the Sun," tells of hardship and joy.
Stan said he is impressed with the tenacity of his parents and grandparents. This weekend's event, he said, is all about "the importance of family."
On Saturday night, the extended family will sit down for a catered meal in the Solon Springs Community Center. Linda is hoping that after the meal, relatives will share more stories about the Bakkens, who carved a place for themselves that has lasted a century.