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Finding the past ... log by log

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Nearly 150 years after Ole Knudson laid the first log of a cabin that would house his wife and young children near Norway Lake, his great-grandson stands in the doorway of the quiet cabin and gazes at the same rolling hills and wetlands that greeted the Kandiyohi County pioneers in the eastern morning light years ago.

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Everything is different, yet everything is the same.

The original cabin, which had been hidden under numerous and expansive additions as the farmstead grew before it was left vacant in the mid-1960s, has undergone an entire log-by-log removal and rebuilding restoration.

It's a project that spanned four years and involved hundreds of hours of labor by cousins, neighbors and friends.

Marc Reese, who coordinated the renovation of his great-grandparents' cabin, is amazed that one man could build such a sturdy, large cabin by himself with hand tools and oak trees from his woods -- when it took so many hands, power tools and heavy equipment today to take the cabin apart and put it back together again.

Ole Knudson was "strong, skilled and incredibly intelligent," said Ed Huseby, who worked alongside Reese during the entire project.

The cabin's solid construction, with log corners that were so tight a playing card couldn't fit between them, told a lot about the man who made it, said Huseby. "You got a feeling for the personality of Ole," he said.

"I really feel I got to know him without meeting him," said Reese of his great-grandfather.

Inside the cabin lay stories -- almost legends -- about Ole Knudson.

He is said to have walked to St. Cloud to purchase an 80-pound grind stone that he carried home on his back so he and his farmer-neighbors could sharpen their axes and other tools.

Not known for his hunting and trapping skills, he managed to kill a fox one winter, walked to Spicer (then known as Columbia) and traded the pelt for a stamp so he could send a letter home to Norway.

A family from West Lake huddled with the Knudsons in the cabin the first night after the Dakota uprising in 1862 that left some of their neighbors dead. The next day they joined other settlers in the safe boundaries of the Isle of Refuge, a small island on Norway Lake.

The first year on his farm was difficult, to say the least. Poor weather, combined with numerous blackbirds, destroyed his crops, according to family stories. There was little to eat that year.

Hard work by Ole and his wife, Aasa, and the ability to "think big" helped them overcome obstacles, including the death of a baby boy in 1860 whose grave has been lost in the nearby farm fields.

Those stories of strife, perseverance, sadness, victory and a simple beauty made complex through the eyes of history seem to hover over the cabin -- and that long look to the east.

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