Voices of Minnesota

Nansen Agricultural Historic District Oral History Project


DATE: May 1999

INTERVIEWER: Barbara W. Sommer

Following a recommendation in 1997 by the Minnesota Legislature to identify agricultural historic landscapes in a corridor from St. Cloud to Rochester and to develop strategies for preserving them, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Minnesota Historical Society identified the Nansen Agricultural Historic District as an intact landscape. The Nansen district is an area of about 4,800 acres in western Goodhue County, Minnesota, whose agricultural landscape has changed relatively little since the early 1900s and which has retained many features from the late 1800s. Features such as the district's roads, buildings, orchards, fences, and drainage ditches, and the sizes and shapes of its farm fields, illustrate human responses to topography, water, climate and vegetation during the area's agricultural development at the end of the nineteenth century. In preparing a preservation strategy, the SHPO assessed development pressures on current landowners and studied changes in the agricultural economy. The SHPO staff also conducted public meetings to receive comments, compiled information on current uses of the land, did field surveys with maps, photographs and drawings, and prepared a nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.

The Society's oral history office worked with SHPO staff to create further documentation on the Nansen district. The oral history office conducted several oral history interviews with long-time residents of the district in order to gather historical information on the valley. In these interviews, the narrators discuss the history of the valley in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including descriptions of its cheese factory, farming practices, woodlots and springs, social connections, church affiliations, and language variations.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS: 5 hours 53 minutes

TRANSCRIPTS: 102 pages