Axel Jorgenson and Ellen Marie Oleson, Shakopee’s Watchmaker (1863)

By David Schleper

Axel Jorgenson was born Aksel Jørgensen on December 1, 1818 in Gjerstad in Aust-Agder County in southeast Norway and was baptized in the Gjerstad parish church five days later. Axel was the eldest of four sons and a daughter born to Jørgen Akselsen (1783-1864) and Karen Margrete Nilsdatter (1794-1866).

According to Mark W. Olson, the Gjerstad area of Axel’s youth was known for iron works and for the cutting of logs and floating them to destinations via streams and lakes, occupations with which he would pick up. In 1846 Axel, by then a blacksmith by trade, moved to nearby Tistedalen (today called Halden) in nearby Østfold County, on Norway’s southernmost border crossing with Sweden. In Oslo, Norway on April 28, 1850 Axel Jorgenson married a certain Ingeborg Marie, age about 31, and five days later on May 3, 1850, the newlyweds boarded the brig Incognito in Christiania (Oslo), Norway bound for New York in the United States. The copper clad ship, built in Drammen, Norway in 1849 was owned and captained by S. Christopherson, and arrived in New York City on July 13 or 17, 1850 with 132 passengers, by name probably all Norwegians, including steerage passengers Axel Jorgenson and Ingeborg Marie. After the ship’s arrival in New York Ingeborg Marie was found no more in connection with Axel Jorgenson. Her fate unknown, she most likely died in the first year or two after arriving in America.

Jorgenson probably traveled America’s water routes, eventually making his way to the frontier Territory of Minnesota sometime in 1850-1851. In the summer of 1851 the U. S. Government negotiated the Treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota with area Dakota Indian tribes. Sometime during late 1851 or early 1852, before the treaties were ratified by the U. S. Congress, Jorgenson sought out and claimed a large parcel of choice land on the north side of the Minnesota River at the junction of the Minnesota River, Carver Creek, and Spring Creek, a site situated some 32 miles upstream from St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jorgenson there built a crude claim shanty house, which he loosely called a hotel, and situated it just above the Minnesota River bank on First Street near Broadway, a Carver location and street today covered by a flood dike. Jorgenson’s claim has been variously called Gotteborg, Lukenborg, Luksenborg, and Fulton. Jorgenson’s claim shanty was a 14’ x 18’ dirt-floored upright board and batten (or log) shanty “hotel” with four large windows. Said to have been called Hotel Luksenborg it was intended to augment his business of hauling logs, lumber, and supplies to and from St. Paul on a barge in the Minnesota River, and is said to have also served as his home and blacksmith shop, according to Mark W. Olson.

During early 1854 an immigrant from Guldbrandsdal, Norway, Peter Kleven, one of the founders of nearby East Union, was employed in cutting logs on Jorgenson’s claim, remaining on the claim alone while Jorgenson floated logs downstream on his barge. Jorgenson’s barge was described by early area settler Ole Paulson as an old, dirty, heavy, flat-bottomed boat, which could float downstream, but if not towed upstream by a steamboat, would have to be propelled with long poles. Jorgenson seems to have offered prospective settlers free lodging and transportation from St. Paul up the Minnesota River to virgin land around his claim area in return for them helping to propel his barge. It purportedly would take three long days of hard poling work against the river current to reach Jorgenson’s claim in the future Carver County. Among those Jorgenson transported to Carver County for land claims were some of its earliest homesteaders in the future East Union and Dahlgren Township area, including Peter Kleven, Nils Anderson, Ole Paulson, and Johannes Hult and his wife Katharina, and Hult’s brothers Andrew and Peter Hult.

In February 1854 former Minnesota Territorial Alexander Ramsey and Levi Griffin visited Jorgenson’s claim and decided to purchase the 415 acre tract on behalf of the investors of the Carver Land Company which consisted of Ramsey, Griffin, Charles D. Gilfillain, Joseph E. Fullerton, Joseph W. Hartwell, James K. Humphrey, and Matthew Groff. This land purchase later became the town of Carver.

In October 1854 Levi Griffin and his wife took up residence in Jorgenson’s claim building while Griffin built a general store with a residence above. Levi Griffin later donated Jorgenson’s shanty to the community, which was then used as the first private school building in Carver County, the first designated public school building in Carver County, and the first schoolhouse for Minnesota School District #1.

Evidence is strong that Jorgenson’s old building survives, in whole or in part, in the stable located at 309 Oak Street in Carver, the parcel of land to which it was moved around 1858-1862. Axel left Carver, but remained in Carver County for a time. At a meeting of the Carver County Board of Commissioners on March 3, 1856 the recently created Carver County in the Minnesota Territory was divided into five election precincts and 3 assessment precincts. Axel was made one of the first three assessors of Carver County, being chosen for the third precinct, which comprised San Francisco Township, which was then serving as the Carver County seat of government.

By December 1863 Axel planned on moving to Shakopee in Scott County, Minnesota to take up business doing clock and watchmaker repair work. In the Minnesota Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1865 Axel was advertised as a watchmaker and jeweler on Holmes Street in Shakopee, Minnesota.

In Shakopee in Scott County, Minnesota on June 6, 1868 Axel took out a marriage license and married Ellen Marie Oleson, an immigrant from Vadsø in Finnmark County in northern Norway, who was born about 1840 and who arrived in America in 1865.

The couple lived in Shakopee for the first years of their marriage. The 1870 United States Census for Shakopee mentions that Axel was a watchmaker and legal citizen of the United States with $2730 worth in real estate and $600 in personal property value, a tidy sum for the period. He is listed in 1870 as being married to Ellen M. Jorgenson, age 30, who is described as a housekeeper and not yet a legal citizen. Both are listed as born in Norway and having no children or others listed as living in household. In May 1871 Axel had lumber on the ground in Shakopee in preparation for building a one-story building for his jewelry and silversmith business.

Axel and his wife Ellen were involved in a domestic dispute in 1874, prompting Axel to put an item in the weekly Valley Herald newspaper of November 4, 1874. The item read: “Notice is hearby given that my wife Ellen M. Jorgenson has left my bed and board without cause or provocation and that I will pay no debts of her contracting after this date. Dated August 26, 1874, Axel Jorgenson.”

Whatever the issues, Axel and Ellen seemed to have resolved them and got back together, but perhaps not immediately. The 1875 Minnesota Census shows Axel living in Waconia in Carver County, but Ellen does not appear with him. About 1877 the couple moved to Stockholm Township in Wright County, Minnesota where they lived for the rest of their lives. Axel, Levi H. Griffin (one of the original investors in the Carver Land Company who purchased land for the future city of Carver from Axel), Griffin’s wife Eliza, and Griffin’s mother Nancy H. Griffin were all involved in a 19-year-long dispute with the Minneapolis-St. Louis Railroad in the Carver County and Scott County courts over land bought and sold in Scott County. Local court judgments were made in 1859, 1864, and 1873, before the case was finally settled on July 22, 1878 by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In late 1879 or early 1880 Axel and Ellen Marie Jorgenson adopted a son who they named Axel Peter Jorgenson. Axel Peter was born at Stockholm Township on Nov. 9, 1879. The infant’s 29-year-old mother died 24 days after his birth, perhaps from childbirth complications, leaving her widowed husband with two other children to care for.

In the 1870s and 1880s Axel Jorgenson was engaged in cutting and selling lumber in Stockholm Township. Axel was one of many involved in the Minnesota Commission of Fisheries’ task of stocking various species of fish in many Minnesota rivers and lakes. During 1885 Axel stocked 40 carp on February 6; on March 28 he and 13 others stocked 425 carp, and on November 16 he stocked 20 carp.

In December 1886 Axel’s family home in Stockholm burned, destroying all his papers, notes, and other valuables. Axel died in Stockholm Township about 1899. His widowed wife, Ellen Marie, lived in the eastern part of Stockholm Township where she owned a farm and served as postmaster with her son, his wife, and a granddaughter living with her in 1900. Ellen Marie died on February 10, 1910 at the home of her son Axel in Keystone, Polk County, Minnesota and was buried in the family plot in the Stockholm town cemetery after services at the Stockholm Lutheran Church. Son Axel Peter Jorgenson died in Meeker County, Minnesota on October 6, 1948.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *