Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ole Peterson & the Peterson Family (3)

Part Three - Olaus and the Next Generation
If you missed Part 1 of the story, go here . . .
If you missed Part 2 of the story, go here . . .

The family of Peter Olsen Moe and Anna Augundsdatter Lad came to Wisconsin from Norway in 1864 and eventually settled in the Town of Blue Mounds. Their eldest child Ole, who went by the name Ole Peterson had come over a couple of years earlier. After a brief stint in the Union Army, he would set down roots in Blue Mounds and would be a founding father of the Village of Mount Horeb. By the turn of the century, large parts of his farm would be absorbed into village limits. After his death, Ole would leave a large family in the Blue Mounds / Mount Horeb area to carry on. One of children, Olaus would build a house just a few doors down from the Peterson farmhouse, operate his own business and raise his family.

Present-day north-central Mount Horeb showing the heart of the former Ole
Peterson farm with the farmhouse (toward the top). Also note Ole's Main
Street house, the Olaus Peterson house and Peterson Plumbing and Heating.
Olaus Peterson, 3rd Generation living in Wisconsin

Olaus Peterson, also sometimes known as Olaf, was born in 1878 in the Town of Blue Mounds. Just two years before his birth, another child named Olaus died at the young age of three. In Norwegian tradition, the next born son would inherit that name. His sister Lovina was born two years later, followed by his bother Alfred. A year after that, his mother, Martha, would die as a result of complications of child birth. This left Ole Peterson with a rather large family that included nine children with ages varying from 2 to 16 years old. How did he manage this large family? Recent discoveries and some speculation on the part of family researchers have concluded that Olaus, his younger brother Alfred and some others might have been living at a nearby farm. That farm was the home of Betsy Peterson (no relation), whose husband had died some years earlier.

The 1890 census records might have shed some more light on this, unfortunately, those records do not exist. The 1900 census shows two Peterson families listed next to each other but as separate households. In one is Ole and his daughter's Mary and Lovina. In the other is Betsy along with boys named Peterson, Henry, Olaf and Alfred. The place listed is Mount Horeb and the boys are listed as sons under Betsy. None of them are actually Betsy's sons as the names and birth dates prove that they are the son's of Ole. The one listed as Peterson is a mystery; he is not Peter the son of Ole as that Peter was married and farming on his own by then; nor is he one of Betsy's children. By 1900, two of Betsy's actual sons were operating her farm in the Town of Blue Mounds. The three boys, Henry, Olaf and Alfred were all adults by 1900 and working. The fact that the two families are listed right next to each other on the census page might lead one to think they were living side-by-side but that may not have been the case. Were the three sons of Ole living with Betsy in a separate home, on her farm, at the Ole Peterson farm, at the Ole Peterson home on Main Street? None of these questions have been fully answered but it does seem as if the two families relied on each other for an extended period of time. There also seems to be no internal family knowledge of this situation but in and interesting footnote; later in life, Olaus would buy the Betsy Peterson farm and own it for a number of years (he would never farm it but rented it out).

Excerpt from the 1900 Census showing the Ole Peterson / Betsy Peterson entries.

Olaus Peterson married Augusta Kahl (b.1880, d.1960) in 1901. Augusta was the daughter of Henry Kahl (b.1852, d.1927) and Elizabeth Ostenberg (b.1858, d.1931), both of the Town of Blue Mounds. Henry's parents were George Henry Kahl (b.1817, d.1866) and Elizabeth Hinkel (b.1820, d.1862). They came to Blue Mounds in the late 1840's from Birkenbringhausen, a small town in Hesse-Kassel, Germany and settled in "German Valley" in central Blue Mounds. The Kahl family is still numerous in the area to this day as four Kahl men come over from Germany (two in the late 1840's and two in the 1890's). Elizabeth Ostenberg's parents also came to Wisconsin about that same time. Her mother was Elizabeth (or Martha Elizabeth) Bilse (b.1835, d.1892) also from the town of Birkenbringhausen and her father was Frederick Ostenberg (b.1816, d.1880) from Elberfeld, Rhine Province. Frederick Ostenberg and his brother Charles both farmed in Blue Mounds in the mid-19th Century. Charles and much of his large family (including a number of boys) headed to Nebraska in the 1880's and although many of Frederick's children stayed around Blue Mounds, they were mostly girls, so the Ostenberg name disappeared from the area. Read more about Frederick Ostenberg here.

Augusta Kahl and Olaus Peterson on their
wedding day in 1901.
The Olaus Peterson family lived on Grove Street just a few houses down from Ole Peterson's farmhouse. One block farther south at the south-west corner of Grove and Main Street was Peterson Plumbing and Heating.
From the July 1913 Mount Horeb Times: Olaus Peterson's new house is about ready for the plasterers and then comes the finishing touches. Mr. Peterson will have a very cozy home when completed and handily located near the business places.
The 1890 census lists Olaus occupation as tin-smithing and that seemed to have been his introduction into the plumbing and heating business. He would, eventually, open a full-service business in the building at the corner of Grove and Main Street. This became much more than just plumbing and heating. They would sell everything from hardware supplies to Allis-Chalmers farm machinery and even Dodge cars. On the second floor was tin and metal workshop which served the core plumbing and heating business. Son's Leonard and Olin and even son-in-law Vernon would all work at the business at some point. Leonard would make it his career.
From Aunt Phyllis (a granddaughter of Olaus): I remember going upstairs of the shop and picking up the solder drops on the floor - which I wonder if they were lead - I am sure they were - but I never ate them but there was something fascinating about all the different shapes of the drips lying on the floor. I don't know what I did with them. I don't remember Lenny being in the business, but when Bruce and I rebuilt the little house in the country - Lenny was working there then and (I think I told you) he and/or grandpa drew up the plans for the heating system and the local heating man couldn't do it for what grandpa charged us so grandpa and his man did the work. I remember putting newspapers in the wall behind the water to the sink (outside wall) and grandpa thought that was something - that I would insulate that area!
Peterson Plumbing and Heating, on Main Street at
the intersection of Grove Street, in Mount Horeb.

The Olaus Peterson House on Grove Street in Mount Horeb

The Children of Olaus and Augusta

  • Son Leonard (b.1903, d.1968) married Esther Gilbertson (b.1906, d.1994) in 1931. They raised two children in Mount Horeb and Leonard worked in the family business for 30 years. They first lived on Academy Street in a house that Leonard designed. Later, they would move to a home on Fifth Street that had belonged to Esther's parents. He also studied engineering and was a registered professional engineer in Wisconsin. Leonard and Esther are buried at Union Cemetery in Mount Horeb.
  • Daughter Corella (b.1905, d.1970) married Vernon Hermann (b.1898, d.1948) in 1924. They lived in Mount Horeb at 108 South Fourth Street, raised four children and ran a bowling alley/bar in town. They were divorced in 1939 and in the 1940 census, Vernon is noted to be living in Beloit. After that, Corella would work and raise her children with the help of the extended Peterson / Kahl family. She would marry James Comiskey (b.1923, d.2006) in 1948. In addition to the bowling alley, Corella also dabbled in construction, collected real estate and peddled antiques. Corella is buried at Union Cemetery in Mount Horeb in the same area as Leonard, Olin and their parents. Vernon is buried at the Middleton (Junction) Cemetery with his brothers, sisters and parents.
Vernon Herman and Corella Peterson on their wedding day
in 1924. Leonard Peterson (center) is the best man and Leona
Ward, a cousin from the Kahl side is the maid of honor.
  • Daughter Evelyn (b.1913, d.1999) married Aldro Schaack (b.1911,  d.1999) in 1938. They raised two children and lived in Verona, then Mineral Point and finally, Darlington, Wisconsin. Evelyn had a teaching degree and at various times, taught High School. Evelyn and Aldro are buried at the Verona Cemetery on the east side of Verona.

The gravesite of Evelyn Peterson and her husband Aldro
Schaack at the Verona Cemetery in Verona, Wisconsin

  • Daughter Isabelle (b.1915, d.1989) married Wilburt (Burt) Wittwer (b.1914, d,1992) in 1938. He was the son of Albert Wittwer and Freida Spring and grew up in the Monticello / New Glarus, Wisconsin area. They lived in the Madison area and raised two children. Isabelle and Burt are buried at Sunset Memorial Gardens on West Mineral Point Road in Madison.
  • Son Olin (b.1917, d.1964) never married. He served as a Sergeant in the 7th Fighter Command of the Army Air Force in Word War II. In mid-1942, he was noted to be in England but then, at some point, was deployed to the 7th which served in the pacific. After the war, he may have first worked at Peterson Plumbing and Heating but eventually, he would live in Madison, working as a plumber. He died unexpectedly at the age of 46. He is buried near other family members at Union Cemetery in Mount Horeb.
Olin Peterson, circa 1942.
Olaus and Augusta would live out there lives in Mount Horeb. They were married for almost 60 years. Augusta would die in 1960 and Olaus about a year later in 1961.
The Obituary of Olaus Peterson from the Wisconsin State Journal: Olaf Peterson, of Mount Horeb, Dies at Age 83 - Olaf Peterson, 83, Mount Horeb, former partner in the Peterson Plumbing and Heating Company, died Saturday in a Madison Hospital. He and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1951. She died in 1960. Funeral services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday in the Immanuel Lutheran Church. Friends may call at the Gesme funeral home, Mount Horeb, after 3:00 p.m. today. Survivors include a daughter, Mrs. Burt Wittwer, 302 W. Sunset Court, Madison; and a son, Olin, 301 West Main Street, Madison. Also surviving are two other daughters, Mrs. James Comiskey, Mount Horeb and Mrs. Aldro Schaack, Mineral Point; another son, Leonard, Mount Horeb; a sister, Mrs. Lavina Bakken, Mount Horeb; a brother, Alfred, Mount Horeb; 10 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
As is common in the history of all places, some family names remain and some disappear. That is the case with the four families of this line - Peterson (and Moe), Kahl, Bilse and Ostenberg. The Kahl name is still common and the Bilse name survives while the Ostenberg name disappeared from the landscape almost 100 years ago. The Peterson name has also all but died out even though there are still some descendants of Ole Peterson in the Mount Horeb / Blue Mounds area. In a common refrain, children and grandchildren have moved-on and settled elsewhere but it is interesting to note that many of those have maintained a connection to the town and recognize it as an important placed in their family history. The Village of Mount Horeb just celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2011. It was in 1861 that the name came to be with the establishment of the Mount Horeb Post office. One year later, Ole Peterson would arrive in America. He would come to the area and plant himself next to that fledgling community. From there forward the Peterson family and the village would be forever entwined.

Additional Information:
Read about another Dane County related family, the Hermanns here.

Research Notes: Information for this report comes from a number of sources: United States and State of Wisconsin Census records, historical publications, other vital records and other on-line sources. In addition, much of the information is from the personal papers of the writer, the research of other family members and work of researchers in Norway who uncovered and made available a massive trove of information.


  1. I have a violin made by Ole Peterson that my grandfather in Duluth got and I was wondering if any family might know of him making violins. Mine was made in middle 1920's I believe in hallock,mn. .my name is LOFTEN and my grandpa was benson. My email address is and phone number is 501-249-9004 ask for Vern

    1. Vern,

      Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting. Unfortunately, this would not be the same Ole Peterson – there were so many with that name (very common). I hope you find that family someday.