Oakdale Farm: A Minnesota LandmarkNovember 17, 2014
By Tessa Carey,
I’ve visited Oakdale Farm several times, especially since I recently joined the kinfolk that built this notable landmark in central Minnesota from the ground up. I’ve had Christmases, bridal showers and annual hunting weekends there. But this past weekend, we decided to spark conversations around the farm and how it came to be, and dive into some books that hosted several artifacts and very special memories. Here’s a piece of the journey I took this weekend discovering the progression of Oakdale Farm.
It all began with Ole Sarsland, a brave and exploratory man who voyaged from Norway and settled in Winchester, Wisc. — 12 miles north of Oshkosh — in 1848. After enlisting in the military and a spell of living in our sister state, he and his family travelled by covered wagon and steamboat to make their home in what is now Kensington, Minn. They were the first settlers in Solem Township, Douglas County. Ole’s daughter, Julia, married Christian Nelson, who happens to be the grandfather of my new husband’s grandfather, Vernal Nelson. The farm they created has been a family treasure ever since, and here are some recollections from family members that span over more than a century.
There are two Civil War soldiers who died and are buried on the property; the legend is that they crossed territorial lines that belonged to the neighboring Native Americans when they were intoxicated one night and were killed. The family would often give muskrats to the Native Americans as a peace offering, because they enjoyed eating them. Say what?!
Ole Nelson, son of Christian Nelson, became the next-generation owner of the farm. Ole and his brother Paul built a dance pavilion in 1918, which became quite the attraction on Saturday nights for all of the surrounding towns. They had their opening day on July 4 — the event featured two orchestras and a grand fireworks show. Everyone could find Oakdale on Saturday night – everyone wanted to go out dancing! You could get a hamburger and lemonade outside of the pavilion for 15 cents, and on Sundays they hosted boat rides, picnics and ball games. A lot of love stories are said to have begun at the Oakdale pavilion.
Closed after the Depression years, the pavilion reopened in the late 1930s as a popular roller-skating rink. By the 1950s they were solely raising turkeys.
Here’s a photograph of Vernal and his wife Marlene (new grandma and grandpa!) roller-skating in their high school years:
Oakdale now has many years of award-winning turkeys raised under their belt, along with service and education that has been priceless to Minnesota and their community that is unmatched. This place is a treasure!