Friday, November 19, 2010

History of Our House - Written by Previous Owner's Granddaughter

Maren Helen (Gurholt) Quien
By her granddaughter, Donna (Quien) Osen

My grandmother Maren Gurholt Quien was born on the farm in Scandinavia township, which her father, Peder Gurholt, homesteaded when he came to American from Televmark, Norway in 1851. Her mother was Berthe Torbjornsdatter Voie who had come from Auste Agder (Ostre Moland), Norway in 1852. The history of her family can be traced back to 1758 to her great-grandmother Tonje Tobjornsdatter Brekke.

Above c 1910 photo: Maren Gurholt Quien

Peter and his brothers all built their cabins near each other on beautiful sites with gently rolling wooded hills and a sparking little lake names appropriately “Gurholt Lake”.

Since the Voie farm to which Berthe had come was also in the neighborhood, Peder and Berthe became acquainted and were married in 1855 when both were 34 years old. They settled on Peder’s farm where in 1856 Maren, my grandmother was born. Four more daughters were born: Berthe Tomine (who we knew as great-aunt Mina or Minnie); Christina (Stina) who died as a young girl; and two babies who died in infancy.

Life was not easy – hard work to make a living, five babies, two of whom died, illnesses—so after just 16 years together Berthe died leaving Peder with two teenage daughters and their younger sister. Maren, the oldest was fifteen.

At sixteen Maren left home to go to work for a baker named Dutton in Waupaca, Wisconsin. He was not only a baker but the jail keeper as well. Mrs. Dutton also had to prepare the meals for the prisoners; they kept a few cows and chickens and have a large family so for fifty centers per week Maren’s help was very welcome.

As most sixteen year olds, she longed for nice things to share with her family so when she had worked for sixteen week and save $8.00 she bought a three drawer chest with two little shelves on top and intricately carved drawer pulls. That chest today is one of my most treasured possessions, not only because I like it very much, but also because of the story surrounding it.

Later she took a job working for an English lawyer named Brimhold in Plover, Wisconsin. Here she learned much about gracious living as the Brimhold’s had lovely furnishings and china and entertained frequently. Here she also learned to speak English very well. And it was while working here that she met Tomas Kvien (later the spelling was changed to Quien). He had recently arrived from Valdes, Norway and was working on a nearby farm. I remember as a child whenever we would go to Plover on our way to Stevens Point, “ma” (our name for our grandmother Quien) would point out the farm where he had worked as well as the big square Victorian home of the Brimhold’s. Both places had fond memories for her. Maren Gurholt and Tomas Kvien were married on June 7, 1884 when he was 29 and she a year younger.

They stayed on the farm with her father and sisters. By now Peder had added a two story addition to the house and was happy to welcome the young couple to live there. Tomas had been well educated at a military school in Norway and was an astute businessman as well as a good farmer. Life was good, in spite of the fact that Stina, who had always been frail, passed away. Mina by then felt she could leave home for a time and went to work for a family in Chicago, Illinois.

Maren and Tomas had four children whom Peder adored and they him. Soon the farmhouse was filled with frollicking good times and many are the stories I have heard about life with “Bestefar” or “Far” as they called him.

The children were Ragnhild Bertine born in 1885, Bessie Pauline in 1887, Gusta Sophia in 1891 and Peder Almer (my father) in 1893.

Times were good – another large addition was added to the farmhouse. They had fine furnishings and lovely clothes (a cousin who was a seamstress would come and stay for several weeks just to sew for the girls). Tomas was highly respected as a leader in the community. The children grew up and all graduated from college. The girls became teachers and Peder would someday take over the farm.

Peder Gurholt died in 1911 at the age of 90. He was much loved by his family. I wish I had had a chance to know him, too.

Above Photo: Maren's father Peter Gurholt and his granddaughter Ragnhild.

In 1917 Peter Quien married Ruth Danielson and they settled on the farm. My grandfather Tomas Quien and Maren moved to town and settled in the John Wrolstad house, considered to be one of the finest in town. My grandfather Quien who had come from an affluent family, always wanted the best. My grandmother was much more modest in her tastes.

Above c1910 Thomas Quien Family: Bessie, Gusta, Peter, Ragnhild, seated: Thomas and Maren Quiren

Maren (who I shall refer to as “Ma” from now on) was already 65 when I was born. When I was a child living on the farm I spent almost as much time at the house in town. Aunt Mina who also lived there became a “nanny” for me.

When I was in first grade and had just turned six, my father decided to rent out the farm and go into the then flourishing automobile and gas station business and we would move to Appleton, Wisconsin. Just when these arrangements were developing, my grandfather had a stroke and my father put his plans on hold to help out at the little “city farm” where “Pa” had a few cows, two horses, and had a milk delivery route.

This move was not easy for my mother who had to give up the farm home she loved and put her things in storage. Ma sensed this and more and more let her take over running the household so she would feel that she “belonged” there. There were never any “in-law” disagreements.

As it turned out, we never did move. My father did go into the car dealership business and later had an insurance agency as well as running the dairy.

My sister and I felt we had the best of both worlds growing up in that wonderful house, living in town and yet having the advantages of the farm. There was always something interesting in our three generation household—there were grandparents, a great aunt, parents, and often other aunts and uncles as well as many visitors. With so many women around, we didn’t have to do much housework. We were delegated to other chores, however, such as weeding the garden, “tromping” down hay, picking strawberries, apples, potatoes, and those awful prickly cucumbers. There was also water to carry in from the pump and wood to feed five space heaters and the kitchen range.

Above c1925 Photo: Thomas Quien with granddauthers Mary Jane and Donna Marie.

I don’t remember Ma ever really scolding us but she didn’t spoil us either. Each spring she would give us each a few chicks which we would call our own and take to the Scandinavia Fair in August. The rule was to have two pullets and a rooster on display. Unfortunately my sister’s chicks all turned out to be pullets. Mary Jane was crushed” Ma felt so bad for her so she consoled her by saying that one pullet had a little bigger cob so maybe the judges would think it WAS a rooster. When Mary Jane came home announcing she had won a blue ribbon Ma felt rather guilty about the deception but reasoned that the judges should have known better. Being so honest, though, I think it always bothered her a little.

During the twelve years after Pa’s stroke, she became very protective toward him and also became more of a decision maker. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1934 and had been married for 54 years when he died.

Above 1934, 50th Anniversary Photo of Thomas and Maren Quien.

After his death Ma relaxed a little bit. She was 82 years old. She still made wonderful lemon meringue pies, baked bread and made “gammel ost” and brewed al (a concoction made using hops). Both the cheese and ale were quite potent and my dad tells about how he was brining her up to Watersmeet, Michigan one fall to spend the winter with her daughter Gusta. She was bringing both ale and cheese along in the truck of the car. Suddenly they heard a “pop”. My dad or course thought he had a flat tire. What really happened was that some of the bottles of Ma’s ale had popped their corks in the heat of the trunk!

Ma now spent time both in Watersmeet and also in Youngstown, Ohio. She was in her mid-eighties but she was far from idle and her mind was as keen as ever. She enjoyed listening to H.B. Kaltenborn and Gabriel Heatter and followed the events of World War II very closely. “Den Stygge Hitler” (that nasty Hitler) she would say.

She dried the dishes and dusted the furniture to help with chores but she needed more to do. So she picked up her knitting again and feather-stitched towels and pan holders but then she went back to braiding rugs. In the last year of her life she made dozens—probably into hundreds. We had trouble keeping her in rags. People would bring her rags and she felt she should repay them by making a rug for them. Her fingers were stiff and arthritic but she kept braiding and sewing. During the war, carpet warp which she usually used to sew was hard to come by so she resorted to using store cord. She often fretted over color schemes and sought our advice. Materials sometimes had to be dyed in the big wash boiler to fit a certain plan. She usually sat in her bright cheery bedroom working on a card table. In spite of being small and fragile, she often made rugs four and five feet in diameter.

She lived to see both my sister and me married and got to know her first great-grandchildren: Kristi Maren Fossum (her namesake) and James Robert Osen.

She felt very sad when my mother died unexpectedly in August 1951 at the age of 56. She felt so sorry for my dad and kept saying, “why, it should have been me.”

My dad, Gusta, and she continued to live in the big old house and in October a small group of family and friends observed her 95th birthday. At Christmas time I brought Jimmy over for a visit which she enjoyed. On January 8, 1952 I received a call that Ma had died at about 10:00 a.m. sitting up in bed (she hadn’t felt like getting up yet) where she had just dozed off—doing what? Working on her last braided rug!

Even though I only had Ma for 31 years, living in the same house and knowing her so well have given me wonderful memories and inspiration for a lifetime.

Maren Gurholt and Tomas Kvien (Quien) are buried next to each other in the Scandinavia Lutheran Cemetery.


  1. Linda..thank you for sharing this wonderful account. For many years we lived in Minnesota farm country and I could visualize the people and the places.


  2. Most old houses have forgotten memories and then there are ones like this that warm the heart. What a beautiful history of the people who owned and lived in the house before you.

  3. What a beautiful story of Maren Quien, lovingly told by her daughter. It is so full of details. Just the kind of story you want to know about the people who lived in your house for all those decades! That is what I love about old houses. Knowing that they've stood through many generations of families, wondering what life was like, what the community was like. Linda, you are very fortunate to have this detailed information, and you are doing the house proud by lovingly restoring it.


  4. Hi Gail:

    Thanks for your message. I clicked on your site Fiathfulness Farm and my computer froze--I could not navigate up or down. I really want to read your blog. Could you report this to blogspot?

    Hope to hear back from you.

  5. Hello my dear friend Pam:

    You are a woman of high energy. Mind if I borrow some?

    I sure enjoy your website Eastlake Victorian. Pam, can you help me with an item? I'm looking for party games--that would have been played at a Victorian Christmas.

    I would love reading this subject on your website. Your research and pictures are always fabulous.

    You should offer a class. I don't live that far away. I would attend. Or perhaps you could teach a class here at my studio?

    By the way, I have another story to post written by Maren Quien's daughter Donna--the story is about getting ready for her sister Mary Jane's wedding (held here at our house November 10th, 1945). By the way, November 10th is my birthday, and Donna's mother Ruth--her birthday was also November 10th. Is that wonderful or what?

  6. Hello Linda,
    Very much enjoyed reading about your family - very touching. Would love to see some of those rugs your Ma use to make.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this account Linda. We miss the "Previous Owner's Granddaughter" very much, but reading her words reminds the four of us (her children) just how much she loved growing up in your house.
    Thank you guys so much for painstakingly restoring this home!



  8. Dear Paul:

    So happy you left me a message about your Mother Donna who grew up in this house. If you don't mind, I'm going to post another one of your mother's stories--about getting ready for her sister's wedding (sister Mary Jane)November 10th, 1945. Getting ready for the wedding they installed a bathroom in the house--repurposing the pantry room next to the kitchen. Your cousin Jeff F. sent me both articles written by Donna.

    Paul, you know you are always welcome to visit us anytime. I hope you and your siblings will please send images you may have of the old house and family members.

    I'm dedicating the long hallway upstairs to Quien family photos and Scandinavia Academy graduation certificates I've collected of your great aunts and uncles who lived here. I have Gusta's, Peter's, and Ragnhild's graduation photos. I have a beautiful photo of Bessie, and her husband Leon Pasternacki's graduation certificate from Dental college.

    Please, do what you can to send me photo images. It may take a few moments of your time, but will do oh so much to fill our house with Quien family memories and history. Linda Durrant email:

    One more thought. A local person made an audio interview with your grandfather Peter in the summer kitchen in the late 1970s. The person at the moment says he has the audio tape, but cannot find it. I keep on his tail every once in a while reminding him how wonderful it would be for you kids to have a copy of the audio of your grandfather Peter. I'll keep trying. Let's keep in touch Paul.