The Julius Maas Home in Johnsonville Township, Minnesota

My Recollections

 

 

 

by Albert Maas

December 2001

 Two and a half years after arriving in the United States, my grandparents, Julius and Emilie Maas, settled on a farm about nine miles north of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. They purchased the 160-acre farm, which was located in the northwest quarter of Section 17, Township 110 north, and Range 38 west in Johnsonville Township, Redwood County, from Fred and Alvina Steffen on October 19, 1897 .

This account of the Johnsonville Farm House is seen through the eyes of a four (or five) year old boy, just getting acquainted with the big outside world, through the eyes of a young school boy, and through the historic records placed on file by someone in the past. The young school boy, who walked one and three quarter miles to and from District 59 each school day (uphill both ways and sometimes through six foot snow banks) is the same as that four year old -- me. Yes, that farm house was the base for a good start in life and the base from which a one-half gallon syrup pail with sandwich, cookie or cake, and an apple was carried to school. (A nail was always carried in the pocket of the overalls, the official school uniform, to open the lid of that important lunch pail at noon )

The original two-story farmhouse no longer exists, but a photograph taken in about 1906 shows Grandpa Julius and Grandma Emilie sitting on the porch with some of their children. Frank (my dad) and Hattie are sitting on the deck next to the house and Bill is sitting on the deck just to the front and left of Grandpa. By this time Bertha, Anna, and Carl were already married. It isn't known if August, who would have been about 21 years old at the time, was at home or not or if he might have taken this photograph.  (Click on photo for larger image)

Grandpa Julius lived on the original homestead until his death on December 29, 1912 .  Grandma Emilie stayed on the farm and continued to farm the land with the help of her sons, Frank and Bill.  On December 29, 1916 , my dad, Frank, purchased the farm from his mother and the following June he married my mother, Martha Wandersee.  Grandma Emilie and Uncle Bill left the newlyweds and moved to a new farm about two miles to the northwest.

Four of us siblings, Arthur, Mildred, Erwin and I, all made our earthy appearance in that house. This was, of course, natural because our mother lived there and we wanted to be near her.

The house was situated on the northern part of the homestead yard with the garden to the east and beyond that, all at the lower part of a gentle slope, was the pasture. The well, with the pump and black single-cylinder engine, was located in the center of the yard. The barn, with the horse barn at the lower side, because of the slope, and the cattle barn were just to the south of the well. The garage and tool shed were to the west of the well and made up the northern part of a complex which consisted of the chicken house, small machine shed, and a small two-car shed. The farm yard, or homestead, was close to the middle of the quarter section of land. Therefore, the driveways from the west and from the north were quite long and presented mud and snow problems at various times of the year.

The front of the house, as shown in the picture, faced south. So, as we look at the picture, we are facing north. The kitchen door is the one to the west, a screen door as shown, through which most of the traffic passed.  As one came out of the door and walked around the west end of the house, the pathway went by a concrete slab which covered the cistern and was a place for the washing machine and other household equipment. In continuing in that direction, just inside the first row of trees, was another essential facility, a small green two-holer outhouse. This was furnished with Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs, which had been replaced in the big house by updated versions. The softer pages were read and used first and then the glossy pages were pressed into use.

In that general area, just beyond the clothes line, were two other small houses, one designed and designated as a woodshed for storing winter fuel (wood and corn cobs), and the other as a smoke house in which the Wurst was preserved.  And what a delightful aroma those smoked sausages made.

From the middle room, which served as the dining room and the parlor, there was a doorway in the back wall that opened to the stairs that led to the second floor.  At the top of the stairs was the room in which Art and I slept.   It was also the room where the shipping box brought from Germany by Julius and Emilie was stored.  Tanta Selma's room was above the downstairs bedroom, the room just back of where Grandma and Grandpa are seated in the picture. Her room could only be reached by going through the middle upstairs room.  Tanta Selma, a very special sixteen year old young lady was my mother's sister. She, along with Uncle Walter, her brother, became very important and close to me and to my seven brothers and sisters. They lived with Grandma Wandersee and Uncle Paul, about 12 miles to the east of us. A visit to Grandma's place, and a visit from them, was always a highlight of our lives. So, Tanta Selma's room, when she stayed with us, developed an aura and a special meaning to us.

A small storage room over the kitchen was also reached from the middle upstairs room. There is a special story that I remember about that little storage room. Seed corn ears were hung from the rafters to dry (so I was told). One time when people, including my parents, were visiting in the kitchen just below, they heard the ears of corn dropping to the floor of that room. When they investigated there was fire that had started somehow and was burning the dried corn leaves so that the corn ears fell to the storage room floor with a clatter. With buckets of water they put out the fire and certainly saved the whole place from being burned to the ground.  I can still recall that the storage area smelled of smoke and there were charred areas on the rafters, a continuing reminder of that fire.

Lighting was with kerosene lamps. Water was carried in a pail from the farmyard pump, which was located to the south of the house, about two-thirds of the way to the barn. Rain water was pumped with a cistern pump connected to the cistern. The pump was part of the sink and associated fixtures at which hands were washed. Cooking was done on a wood-burning range, although sometimes the only fuel available was corn cobs. Many very delicious and hearty meals came from that part of the kitchen equipment.  The chickens in the picture must certainly have passed on to glory by way of the cook pot.

An early and lasting memory related to the kerosene lamp was engraved in my young mind when I was about four years old. It was evening, dark, and we were getting ready to go someplace for a visit. My excitement propelled me to dash about vigorously looking for my mutze (a cap) which seemed to have been misplaced. I ran into mother and startled her so that the kerosene lamp she was carrying was shaken precariously. This ignited a lecture and scolding from my wonderful mother who made it clear that if she had dropped the lamp there could have been a fire. So, if your mother is carrying a lighted kerosene lamp, walk, do not run.

In the late 1920's the house was moved and replaced by a new house, which is still standing on that spot. The kitchen was moved to the hog yard where it served as a corncrib and storage for hog producing equipment. It was also the place where Art and I experimented with rolling corn silk in wallpaper and smoking it. The experience was not all that we expected because the rolled corn silk would sometimes burst into flame and when the concoction produced smoke it did not taste good at all. We preferred to use cigar butts and some of the unburned tobacco in Dad's washtub ashtray.

With that as a part of the base, our education in life continued.  The living room/parlor of the house was moved straight west to the wood lot where it served as a granary. I recall many hours of tending the fanning mill in the process of cleaning seed oats and other grains for seeding. I also recall carrying sacks of oats from that granary to the holding box in the horse barn. (We had eight hay burners that required daily inputs of hay and oats to keep them ready for the field work.)

On the north side of the old house/granary was attached a lean-to that was our version of a machine shed. In fact, my first car, a 1932 Model A coupe, was housed there at times. The grain binder and the corn picker, among other pieces of farm equipment, were usually stored there.

This farm became the hub for several Maas farms bought by Julius and his sons in the ensuing years. The farm just north across the road, in the southwest quarter of Section 8, was bought by August Maas and the farm remains in the family today as the home of his son, Ernest. Just across the road to the west of Uncle August's farm in the southeast quarter of Section 7 is the farm that Carl Maas bought in 1912. When Uncle Carl and family moved to North Dakota , that farm was bought by Walter Andersen and through the marriage of his daughter, Alice, to my brother Art, it returned to the family and is now occupied by Art and Alice 's son Bruce Maas and his family. A fourth farmstead on the southwest quarter of Section 6 (about a mile diagonally north west of the Carl Maas place) was bought and farmed by Uncle Bill.  When Bill and Lilly were married in 1920, Grandma Emilie moved again to live with the August Maas family in their newly-built farmhouse.

Aunt Hattie married Gustav Steffen in 1910 and they lived on a farm near Sanborn , Minnesota . Gustav was the younger brother of Fred Steffen who sold the original Johnsonville farm to Julius and Emilie.

My parents, Frank and Martha Maas, farmed the original homestead until his death in 1943. It was then operated by my mother with the work done by Erwin and others of the family who continued to live there.  The present owner of the Johnsonville farm is Robert Rasmussen whose daughter, Rose, is married to another Maas descendant, James Schmiesing, my sister Marjorie’s son.

"In My Father's House are many Mansions", is a pleasant statement in that great spiritual guide book. Those mansions are completely indestructible and in no way subject to the changes and ravages of time. The Johnsonville Farm House, now a memory, was a wonderful place to begin life, but the Mansion in My Father's House is where all of us will be reunited and live ongoing memories.

 

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