One Hundred Years in America

On June 8, 2019, this Borreson family will mark 150 years in America. That day in 1869, Elias and Kari Borresen came into port at New York City aboard the ship Britannia and debarked to find their way to Wisconsin.

To mark that day for myself, I decided to assemble a book of photos spanning the first one hundred years the Borresons lived in America. I used Shutterfly to assemble, edit, and finally print the book which I entitled ONE HUNDRED YEARS IN AMERICA: A Borreson Pictorial History, 1869-1969.

The book is 8″ x 8″ with a color photo on the cover, five on the back (see below), and 56 pages. It contains about 105 photos from those years, many of them appearing in this blog at some time. I have added commentary for nearly all. Nine chapters cover the following topics: the early years, house and home, farming, church and community, schools, sports and leisure, weddings, family and social, and cousins. Two later photos also are included, folks at 1985 reunion and at a 2009 cousins gathering.

The book is dedicated to the memory of Emil and Gina Borreson whose lives (one or both) span all but 12 of this hundred years.

Here’s the front cover:

And here’s the back cover:

For more information about the book, contact me, Glenn Borreson.

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Bertinus Becomes a Citizen

Looking through copies of some items cousin Carol shared with me that had been in her father Bennie’s possession, I realized I could post a few more photos and other documents as well. Since I have just blogged about the Estenson trip to America, this document is especially appropriate: Bertinus’s naturalization papers.

Notice that the date is October 29, 1877, just two and one-half years after Bertinus’s arrival in America at the Port of Philadelphia in May 1875. He wasted no time declaring his new loyalties to the United States!

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An Estenson Journey to America

According to Aunt Clara in the Borreson-Estenson family history Homestead, Bertinus Estenson and his family had a contract to sail from Norway April 15, 1875. He was 33 years old. With him were his parents, his brother Peter, and step-brother Bordinus. They left Stjørdal, Norway, arrived in Philadelphia in May, and then on to Wisconsin. I decided to make another attempt at tracing their journey.

Stjørdal being near Trondheim, that city was likely their point of departure (and that is where Clara found the contract-to-sail date in the police records). So I began by assuming Trondheim. On the Norway Heritage site, there were five ship arrivals in Philadelphia in May 1875, one each week May 3 through May 30. All the ships were part of the American Line, and all had departed from Liverpool, England.

If the family actually departed on April 15, and their trip took a typical length for those years, they may have arrived in Philadelphia May 10, one of those five dates. That might have made their transportation the S/S Indiana, a steamship of the American Line.

The Estenson family may have sailed on that ship, but first they would have needed a ship from Trondheim to England.

Another page of the Norway Heritage site listed Norway departures from Trondheim. On that list only two ships departed Trondheim and came to port in England. The first, the S/S Leif, departed Trondheim, stopped in Bergen, and landed in England (listed with a question mark). The second, the S/S Tasso (1), departed Trondheim, stopped at Bergen, Christiansund, and Aalesund, and finally landed at Hull, England. There likely were other ships not listed.

If they arrived in the Port of Hull, England, in April 1875, they had to travel by rail to Liverpool for the next stage of their journey. Norway Heritage adds this: “Because of the risks to the town’s health from the large numbers of European migrants passing through the port, the North Eastern Railway Company built a waiting room near Hull Paragon Railway Station in 1871. This waiting room had facilities for the emigrants to meet the ticket agents, wash, use the toilet and take shelter from the weather. At no time throughout the age of mass migration did the authorities in Hull provide purpose built emigrant lodging houses for the migrants.”

The Railway’s Emigrant Waiting Room

This article continues: “Most of the emigrants entering Hull traveled via the Paragon Railway Station and from there traveled to Liverpool via Leeds, Huddersfield and Stalybridge (just outside Manchester). The train tickets were part of a package that included the steamship ticket to Hull, a train ticket to Liverpool and then the steamship ticket to their final destination – mainly America. Sometimes so many emigrants arrived at one time that there would be up to 17 carriages being pulled by one steam engine. All the baggage was stored in the rear 4 carriages, with the passengers filling the carriages nearer the front of the train. The trains took precedence over all other train services because of their length and usually left Hull on a Monday morning around 11.00 a.m., arriving in Liverpool between 2.00 and 3.00pm.” The distance between Hull and Liverpool is about 125 miles. 

In summary, the Estenson family journey to America may have included:

  • Departure from Trondheim April 15, 1875
  • The ship Leif or Tasso, perhaps, to the Port of Hull, England
  • A brief wait in the Hull Paragon Railway Station waiting room
  • The North Eastern Railway train 3-4 hours to Liverpool
  • The Atlantic crossing on, perhaps, the S/S Indiana
  • Arrival in Philadelphia, May 1875, maybe about the 1oth.

So, that may be the Estenson family route to America, or something like this.




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On the Green Bay and Western Railroad

When ski jumping was in its heyday in Trempealeau County, the railroad was ready to step up and transport passengers to the excitement.

On page 68 in my book LOOK OUT BELOW! Ski Jumping in Western Wisconsin’s Trempealeau County, I included an ad from the January 11, 1912 Whitehall Times and Blair Banner. That ad gave the train schedule for spectators wanting transportation to the Sunday, January 14, ski jumping tournament in Tamarack south of Arcadia in Trempealeau County. There were stops in seven small towns before arriving in Arcadia at 10:00 a.m.

Recently I found a copy of the old Green Bay and Western train route through Jackson and Trempealeau Counties that helps visualize that trip. Here it is:

Green Bay and Western Railroad

This copy is from Rolling Through Time: Trempealeau River Valley Towns and Trains, prepared by The Trempealeau County Historical Museum Board of Directors (probable year 2,000). Here are the departure times Sunday, January 14, as the train goes west:

  • Merrillan, 8:00 a.m.
  • Alma Center, 8:10
  • Hixton, 8:26
  • Taylor, 8:36
  • Blair, 8:54
  • Whitehall, 9:14
  • Independence, 9:31
  • Arrive Arcadia, 10:00 a.m.

Twenty-five cents additional would get folks transportation between the depot and the Tamarack ski hill. Beginning at 5:00, the train would make the return trip leaving from Arcadia.

By 1927 ski jumpers from Blair, Pigeon Falls, and Whitehall (including Borresons) were competing at Tamarack. Whether the GB & W still making spectator runs then, I don’t know, but ski jumping was big enough in 1912 for the company to give this a try. By this time, the GB & W had been operating about four decades.

1873 had been the big year for rail construction in Jackson and Trempealeau Counties, completing a route across Wisconsin. According to the above booklet, “On Dec. 18, 1873, the first regular passenger train from Green Bay to East Winona began. It took 10 to 12 hours for the 209-mile one-way trip.” This railroad route would go on to determine the plotting and success of towns like Taylor, Blair, and of course Whitehall, all adjacent to the tracks.

Hixton Depot

It was likely the spring of the same 1873 year that Elias Borresen and his family made the final step of their immigration, departing Onalaska, Wisconsin, to make their home in Fitch Coulee, not too distant from Whitehall. The next year, 1874, nearly a quarter of a million bushels of wheat were shipped by train out of Whitehall. Perhaps Elias was among those wheat producers.

As you can see by the map, there was also a nine-mile railroad from Blair to Ettrick, the Ettrick and Northern. Beginning December 1917 it operated for two less-than-ten-year periods, ended by the convenience of truck shipping. It was the shortest independent rail line in Wisconsin.






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Syverine at Northern Colony

A very different chapter in the Borreson family story was the stay of Syverine Marie, Emil’s older sister, at Northern Colony or the “Wisconsin Home for the Feeble Minded” at Chippewa Falls. In an earlier post, I indicated the possibility that her basic problem may have been more a major hearing loss than mental issues. If she had been born deaf or lost her hearing in infancy, that would have impacted her development significantly.

Last fall I contacted the Wisconsin Historical Society which I learned had archives with old records from Northern Colony. That search ended quickly when I was told the records I wanted were lost, probably there, but misfiled. Bummer. When I recontacted them this week, I received a quick response that a staffer had found them. Now I was excited!

My contact in Madison proceeded to send me all they had on Syverine for her stay at Northern Colony. It turned out to be handwritten records on one side of one sheet of paper. For ten years! Amazing! Obviously, here was minimal bureaucracy.

So what did I learn?

At the age of 39 years, Syverine was admitted February 1, 1909, her father Elias of Pigeon Falls listed as her guardian. She was located in #2 “B” at the home. She was five feet, two inches, and 209 pounds. Her hair was black, her eyes gray, complexion dark and skin condition good. Her behavior and cleanliness were also listed as good. Remarks? “Don’t speak English.”

Wis Home for Feeble Minded, built 1909

Further remarks about her [maybe near her admission date]: She was described as heavy and clumsy but quiet and good natured,… She was willing to do what little she could,[which seemed to be, as I read it] operating a floor polisher.

The next comment was from June 1910: “Condition not changed.” Thereafter, there was approximately one update each year, anywhere from three or four words to the same number of brief phrases or sentences. No changes were reported four times. In May 1912 she was “gradually deteriorating” but “good natured and contented.” She was about the same in November 1915 but “keeps physically well” and continues her work polishing floors. By February 1918 she had recovered from an eye infection called “erysipelas” and “has become quite thin.” On October 18 of that same year the last comments were that she “died from organic brain disease 6-28-18. Contributing cause – acute indigestion. Remains shipped to Whitehall for burial.”

According Aunt Clara Cook’s Homestead family history, Syverine’s death certificate indicated she came down with an acute case of meningitis June 20 and died seven days later.

So, we know a bit more but mystery remains. There is a grave marker for her in the Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church Cemetery with her parents Elias and Kari, but – but there is no record of her burial according to the church records. An error of omission perhaps? And we still don’t know how her hearing loss affected her mental development.




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A Death in 1909

Do a search in this blog for “Emma Borreson” and you’ll read news of our grandfather Emil’s sister who married Carl Olson in 1907, moved to South Dakota with her husband, and then died by drowning in 1909.

When I was searching historic newspapers on the Chronicling America website, quite unexpectedly I discovered news of her death in three South Dakota town newspapers (Pierre, Watertown, Mitchell) and one of these I am posting here.

mitchell-capital-25-mar-1901-image-1This item is from The Mitchell Capital, Mitchell, South Dakota, March 25, 1909. One of the other newspapers indicated her home was seven miles north of De Smet and that she was twenty-nine years old.

The article raises at least one question with me – the reference to a brother being in the house. According to both Clara’s account in Homestead and a news item from that time in the Whitehall paper, Emma’s brothers Emil and Charlie traveled to South Dakota to bring the body back to Pigeon Falls for burial. The above article makes it appear that a brother was already there. Could it be that Emil or Charlie was visiting when this tragedy took place? My own guess is that there is an error, that the news item should refer to Emma’s husband instead of a brother. Whoever it was surely must have dealt with a burden of guilt and “what if’s.”

It’s a sad story, another example of the hardships our pioneering ancestors endured.

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A Hospital’s Roots in Pigeon Falls

Yesterday as I was perusing a history of Gundersen (Lutheran) Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I came across a surprise: the meeting for its founding was held in Pigeon Falls!

Pastor Emanuel Christophersen, who married Emil and Gina Borreson in October 1899, was host the same month to a group of Lutheran pastors who met at his home for the specific purpose of founding a hospital. Among the eleven clergy were Pastor Soren Urberg of Blair and North Beaver Creek, as well as Pastor Otto Albert Myhre of French Creek at rural Ettrick. On October 5, 1899, these eleven pastors and five lay persons made up the original corporation of the hospital in La Crosse. The pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran in La Crosse, Andreas Kittelsen Sagen, was the key organizer.

The Christopherssen home in Pigeon Falls

The Christopherssen home in Pigeon Falls

Motivated by Jesus’ love and words “I was sick and you visited me” (Matthew 23:36),  these pastors believed that faith always reveals itself in good works. And the care of the body was important as well as the care of the soul. Their action reminds me of all the missionaries of the same era who had success by building hospitals and bringing in doctors and nurses, thereby demonstrating that they truly cared for the whole person.

That same October 5 these men elected officers and trustees as well as forming an executive committee authorized to do whatever it required to build a hospital. That included raising funds, acquiring a site, and hiring an architect. They acquired land on Front Street (later South Avenue) for $8,000 from the C. and J. Michel Brewing Company.

img_0856Although all these men were from Norwegian churches, very quickly they realized their work needed a broader base. In January 1900 the first annual meeting of the corporation amended their initial articles so as to include German Lutheran congregations. All their efforts eventually resulted in a new hospital building dedicated November 27, 1902.

I found it fun to read that the beginnings were in Pigeon Falls the same month our grandparents were married by one of the incorporating pastors.

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