Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kongsberg, Rural Eleva

I haven't made a trek into the rural corners of the Badger State in a long time, but yesterday was such a beautiful fall day that I decided to head back down to Trempealeau County to look for the abandoned Kongsberg Church and cemetery. I've been searching for it for about two years and after five hikes through the brush along a county road, I'd almost given up on it.

I had come across the name of the church in 2012 from a small history book in an antique shop. Already the name piqued my interest. I'm always keen on discovering cultural artifacts from the state's ethnic and immigrant past. Kongsberg is a Norwegian town southwest of Oslo, so, I thought, there must be a remnant pocket of old Norwegians in that area of Trempealeau County. I thought I'd find a old quaint rural Norwegian-American church to photograph… and I did:

But this isn't Kongsberg. It's the East Bennett Valley Church south of Eleva, another rural Norwegian-American church located in the adjoining valley to the Kongsberg Church. East Bennett Valley Church was built in 1896, around two decades after Kongsberg, so it gives us at least an inkling of what Kongsberg might look like, especially perched atop a picturesque hill as the Norwegians often did.

What we know about the Kongsberg Church is contained in the History of Trempealeau County volume, but unfortunately much of that information is listed with question marks. It belonged to the Norwegian synod and was organized in 1879 with sermons delivered by Pastor H.A. Heyer. Its congregation peaked in 1883 with 168 members. A year later the congregation at Kongsberg was gone.

It appears that the church was abandoned and torn down and the congregation dissolved following tragedy in the community. That tragedy and the ruins of this nineteenth century church remain hidden in the woods of the rural valley.

We hiked through the area with some directions from the historical society and finally stumbled upon the abandoned cemetery surrounded by tall lilac bushes:

Only a few tombstones remain, but it's certain that there are plenty more buried under the leaf litter. Some of the tombstones are written in Norwegian - giving us a glimpse into the rural isolation of these Norwegian immigrants from the English-speaking mainstream and the tenacity of language in religious domains. The stones also tell us about the plight of the nineteenth century immigrant to rural Wisconsin. They all record a death year of 1879 and they are all children.

From historical documents, we know that a major diphtheria epidemic swept through the congregation in 1879 taking many of the children. The sad story is recounted on the tombstones of the Hoff children ages 2, 4, 6, and 7. All died in September or October 1879. I couldn't imagine the loss that that family endured. 

Diphtheria is an infectious disease and causes fever, sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes. Breathing is complicated and was a common cause of death in nineteenth century Wisconsin; we now have a vaccine against it. For the congregation at Kongsberg, the diphtheria epidemic was disastrous. Five years later the church closed its doors. All that remains are the few tombstones and some of the foundation stones giving an indication of where the church was located and its size.

It's a beautiful, meditative, quiet place in rural Wisconsin that has long been forgotten. 130 years later the forest is slowly reclaiming the marks of these pious pioneers, while remnants of their plight and sadness are still recognizable among the leaves and brush.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whole mess of rhubarb

Just bought a whole mess of rhubarb... several pounds, in fact. They're cut up and in the freezer right now and are awaiting canning as rhubarb compote, strawberry rhubarb jam, and strawberry rhubarb pie filling.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Crown Prince Shawl

I finished the Crown Prince Shawl! I had been wanting to knit more Estonian lace since last year and the Crown Prince has been in my Ravelry queue for a while. The 7-stitch nupps were trouble at first, but became pretty easy by the end. I decided not to do the border in the pattern, but rather knit on one of the border in the back of the book... which by the way was the lovely Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush and published by Interweave Press. I knit it up on size 5 (3.75 mm) with KnitPicks gloss lace in the Winter Night colorway:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Winter canning

I've recently become addicted to canning... right after I bought a book on canning for Christmas, followed by a trip to the Pennsylvania Farm Show. I've already done up some apple butter, pickled garlic, and red beets. Today was all about lemons: Lemon Ginger Marmalade and Lemon Honey Prune Butter. I'm trying to finesse my canning skills/skillz so that I'm ready for the summer!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Slouchy sockhead hat

On a recent trip to Minnesota, I stopped at one of my favorite yarn stores Color Crossing and picked up some Malabrigo sock yarn in the Impressionist Sky colorway. I love how it's blue, combinations of light and dark and spots of white add a pattern to the whole hat. It's from the pattern by Boho Knits.

It's for a friend teaching English in Japan for the year.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Entrelac baby blanket

I loved making this blanket. It was my first attempt at entrelac... and luckily the pattern looks much more complicated than it is :-)

The sewing of the backing and the hand-stitching for the binding was a bit of a challenge, but proved to be very meditative for me. AND (!) it's now made me want to get back to quilting!

It's for a colleague's newborn and is based on a pattern and concept by Nikki, In Stitches:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hemlock Ring Blanket

I was in Pennsylvania over Christmas and was able to get a few things cast off for knitting. One of coolest things I've knit in a long time was the Hemlock Ring Blanket by Jared Flood. It's now draped over the loveseat in my living room. Yarn: Cascade 128 Superwash Multis in the Grapes colorway.