Set in Stone: Wohlfort House

A tale of two houses

Wohlforts kept expanding their farmstead of stone south of Scandia

By Cynthia Scheer – Telescope News
www.thebellevilletelescope.com

A thirty-something Swedishman and his 14-year-old wife settled about 150 years ago on a piece of land about a mile south of Scandia. Thure Wohlfort and Louise Erickson Wohlfort established a 600-acre farm complete with several large stone buildings that still stand todayn The property remains in the family today with the Wohlfort’s great-granddaughter, Joan Wallace, of Merriam.

The Wohlforts lived in a dugout located near the banks of the Republican River for the first year after they were married while their first home was being built. That first home, which was built in 1870 and is now 145 years old, still stands. So does the 130 year old barn and the 122-year-old second stone house. The second house is known in the area as the Wohlfort House.

The Wohlforts, who had three children, lived in the 1870-built small two-story house for about 23 years. The home’s main level was only one room, and an entrance to the second level was gained by wooden steps located outside the house on the east side. Wallace said Thure and Louise Wohlfort lived on the home’s main level while their children slept upstairs. The cooking was done in the basement.

In 1885 the Wohlforts built a large barn east of their stone house. The barn housed the draft horses, among other things. The barn still stands and is still used today, Wallace said.

The Wohlforts built in 1893 their second stone house a few dozen yards to the southwest of the first stone house. Wallace refers to the newer stone home as “the big house.” The large threelevel home had indoor plumbing and was modern for the times, Wallace said. The home also has large windows and light switches “everywhere you turn.” There are five bedrooms on the top two levels. But there is no fireplace in the house, Wallace said, because she suspects her great grandparents were tired quite tired of fireplaces after spending many years in the tiny stone house.

Olansson cares for farm

Wallace refers to that first stone house that the Wohlfort’s built in 1870 as “Chris’s house.” She said Chris Olansson, who came to the United States from Sweden as an indentured servant, was employed by the Wohlforts. Olansson, who was born in 1886, spent most of his adult life on the Wohlfort property. He did most of the farming with teams of horses.

Wallace said that when Thure Wohlfort died in 1916, his daughter, Bess, who never married, took over the farm. She was three years older than Olansson.

Olansson did most of the farming for Bess.

When Bess died in 1955, the Wohlfarts’ other daughter, Carrie Sandell, took over the farm. She had married Harvey Sandell in “the big house” several years before. Carrie Sandell’s ownership in the property was short, Wallace said; she died a year after her sister. The farm then became the property of Herbert Sandell, who was the son of Carrie and Harvey Sandell.

Carrie and Harvey Sandell. Herbert Sandell, who was Wallace’s father, spent a lot of time on the Wohlfort place. Before college, Wallace said, her father would spend his summers on the farm helping Olansson do farm work.

Although he never moved to Scandia, Sandell visited frequently and brought his children along. Wallace said she remembers petting the knees of the large draft horses, whose names were Tootsie and Wootsie.

“Chris nicknamed them Carrie and Bess,” Wallace said.

Wallace said she remembers well Olansson’s broken English and the way he would use gestures to overcome the language barrier. She also remembers him helping her bridle horses.

Both Wallace and Jan Erickson Janasek, who is distant relation to Louise Erickson Wohlfort and who grew up near the Wohlfart farmstead, recall memories of Olansson driving to town in an old car at a speed of about five miles an hour. Janasek said Olansson, like Bess Wohlfart, drove so slowly that the dog wouldn’t even chase his car.

Olansson “earned his keep” after a lifetime dedicated to the farm, Wallace said of the bachelor, and he was allowed to live in the small stone house until his death in 1967. He is buried near the Wohlforts and Sandells in Riverview Cemetery at Scandia, Janasek said.

The end of an era?

In the 1970s Herbert Sandell named the Wohlfort property “SK Ranch” after Sandell and Kunze. Kunze was the last name of the man who was renting and caring for the property.

Sandell was living in Manhattan by that time but made monthly visits to the Wohlfort home, Wallace said.

“They would stay for a week or bring friends up and have parties,” she said of her parents and their love for rural Scandia.

After her father’s death in 1993, Wallace become the new owner of the property, which now includes about 1,100 acres, all of which were acquired generations ago.

The farm is now rented by Brian Larson, and Wallace said the basement of “the big house” is occupied by renters.

“It’s always kind of nice to have someone in the house for security reasons,” she said.

The upper stories of the house are reserved for family.

Wallace said the continued family ownership of the Wohlfort farmstead will likely end with her, although she has no plans for what will become of the place.

But she does love “the farm,” as she refers to the property, and she does have plans to make some repairs to the home, including repairs to the front porch. “I chose the farm [when my dad died], and I like to go up there and spend time,” she said.

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