Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alfred Peterson - Short Biography

Alfred Peterson of Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

A young Alfred Petersen
Alfred Peterson (who also shows up in some records as Albert) was born on March 29, 1882 in the Town of Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. His parents were Ole Peterson and Martha Breisnes. Ole had come to America in 1862 and settled in Blue Mounds where he first farmed 80 acres on section 10 and then over 200 acres on section 11 at the western edge of the fledgling community of Mount Horeb. About a year after Alfred’s birth, his mother would die from complications of childbirth. This would leave Ole to care for a large family, including a number of young children. It is likely that Alfred, his brother Olaus and perhaps some other children went to live with a women named Betsy Peterson. She was a widow and had a farm near the Ole Peterson farm.

You can read more about Ole and the rest of the Peterson clan in the three part series: “Ole Peterson & the Peterson Family.

By 1905, Alfred, along with his brother’s Olaus and Henry where living in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin with their sister Lovina and her husband John Bakken. This was soon after Ole’s death and was a time of great change in the lives of the Peterson children. A year later, in 1906, Alfred would take his inheritance and try his hand at homesteading. At 24 years old, he would pack up some meager belongings and head out into the prairie on his own. He would end up in the Town of Pleasant, Stanley County, South Dakota. Located near Midland and not too far from Pierre, Alfred's homestead was right in the center of the state.

In addition to working the homestead, Alfred was known to make a little extra money on the side ferrying travelers from the train station to a hotel in Midland. That is where he would meet his future wife, Mary Stevens. She was working at as a waitress at the hotel, in part, to combat the boredom of life on the frontier. She was the daughter of Benjamin Stevens and Mary Phelps and was born on April 14, 1890 in Hedrick, Iowa. Her family had also ventured to South Dakota to try their hand homesteading.

The stark prairie landscape of Stanley County, South Dakota

Alfred and Mary would be married in 1909 and lived in Alfred's sod/tar paper shack. Two sons, Wallace and Waldo where born on the prairie. In the case of Waldo, Alfred left in a snow storm to get the midwife and missed the birth entirely. These would certainly be hard times for the Peterson family. The land was not great for farming and the great plains could be a very unforgiving place, especially in the winter. Sometime around 1911, after many crop failures, Alfred gave up on the homestead and returned, with his family, to Wisconsin. Before he left, he fulfilled the five year homestead obligation and took title to the property. According to a 1913 addition of the Mount Horeb Times, Alfred sold his 200 acres of South Dakota property in 1912. The family was in Mount Horeb for a few years and then in Stoughton, Wisconsin where Alfred worked for the Stoughton Wagon Company. Son Kenneth was born in Mount Horeb and daughter Dorothy was born in Stoughton.

By 1920, the family was back in Mount Horeb in a house they owned and Alfred was working as a house painter. In 1924 he built the Parkway Theater and Dance Hall. The Parkway was located at the corner of Main Street and Grove Street in Mount Horeb (the building survives) and showed movies, featured live music and hosted dances. Alfred would operate that business until about 1940.

Alfred's painters license
Parkway Notice

The children of Alfred Peterson and Mary Stevens:
  • Wallace (b.1910, d.1951) - he suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and died at the age of 41.
  • Waldo (b.1911, d.1994) - he married Florence Hottman in 1938. They lived in the Madison area and raised three children.
  • Kenneth (b.1916, d.1983) - he married Hilda Johnson in 1939. He worked for Kroger Grocery for 37 years and he and Hilda raised five boys in the Madison / Lake Delton / Wisconsin Dells area.
  • Dorothy (b.1918) - married Vincent Handel in 1941 and raised two children. As of this writing, Dorothy is still living in southern Wisconsin.
Alfred Peterson (left) with the Kenneth Peterson family. Kenneth and Hilda
Johnson  are to the right, their five boys are in the center and Alfred is on the
left. Photo taken at Alfred and Mary's 50th wedding anniversary in 1958.

The Alfred Peterson family first lived on Fourth Street and then moved to a house at 104 North Grove Street. This was on the former Ole Peterson farm property, right behind the Parkway Theater and next to the house owned by Alfred’s brother Olaus. Along with running the Parkway, Alfred would continue painting houses. With the exception of some winters spent in West Palm Beach, Florida, Alfred and Mary would live out the rest of their lives in Mount Horeb. He would die on November 21, 1971. Mary would die on January 04,1994 at the age of 104.

The gravesite of Alfred, Mary and son Wallace at
Union Cemetery in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin

Additional Information:
Read about the "A Big Peterson Reunion" here
Read the story "Peterson - Moe . . . What's in a Name?" here

Research Notes: Much of the information for this report was provided by two Peterson cousins who are grandchildren of Alfred Peterson and by my own personal papers. Additional information was obtained from the United States Census, various records and other on-line sources.

This is one of a series of short biographies of individual ancestors. These are undertaken, from time-to-time, when enough information becomes available about an individual.

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