No one knows for sure the exact date that Andrew Olson built his two story house near Malmo although it probably dates from around the 1890s. Elsie Haglund, Andrew’s granddaughter, knows her mother was born in the old house in 1889, so the place was obviously built prior to that.
One thing is certain, after all these years, the old log house with its nine-foot ceilings is still standing tall and proud, even though it has been recently purchased and moved just down the road from the spot upon which it was originally built. The house is still standing today on the dirt road between the Norman Eklund residence and Horse Haven Ranch in Aitkin County, just east of County Road 30 and is still occupied.
The alluring virgin forests and free land are what initially drew Andrew from Grandy to the Mille Lacs area. “This area was solid white pines then,” Elmer Eklund, Andrew’s grandson, noted. “And that’s what he built the house out of.” Elmer lived in the house as a child from 1914 to 1918 and added some details to its history.
“All the logs were hand hewed, and Andrew invented a special rig to lift the huge pine beams that support the roof,” Elmer said. He still has his grandfather’s broadaxe.
“His broadaxe has a curved handle so he could stand alongside the log and follow his chalk line. But I still don’t know how he could make such a straight cut,” Elmer said.
According to his granddaughter, Gloria Habeck Schutoff, Andrew met his wife Kerstin on one of his many trips to Aitkin for supplies.
“Kerstin had been crippled as a child and was humpbacked,” Schutoff noted. “The local Indians always treated her as something special. They brought her fish and venison before anyone else got any.”
Kristen died in the summer of 1891, and Andrew buried her on the land near the old house. “He could stand a lot,” Elmer said. “He lost a wife; he lost a daughter to diphtheria. He had to dig both graves. Things had to be done in those days. You had to be strong.”
The best pictures of the early pioneers don’t come from photographs but from the stories and anecdotes passed down through the years. If the stories are accurate, Andrew Olson was indeed strong as well as strong-willed.
“Once he was out in the meadow on a hay rake,” Elmer said, “and the wheel came off. Andrew lifted it up where the wheel was, and while his horse pulled, he walked alongside holding up the hay rake.”
Andrew’s size and strength are part of his history and his mystique. He was over six feet tall and all muscle, according to those who knew him.
“He ate oatmeal three times a day,” Elmer said, “and he had two medicines he took every day.” One of them was a liniment of some kind for sore legs and the other, taken by the spoonful, was called Kuirko. “It was a tonic of some kind. Could’ve been 95 percent alcohol, I suppose,” Elmer said.
Pioneers like Andrew had to be men with many talents and lots of nerve to come to the wilderness and try to make a living and raise families. Besides building log homes, Andrew worked for the railroad and the logging camps in the winter, dug ditches and wells and built barns.
Most of his life, Andrew worked from dusk to dawn, “He never could sit still,” Elmer said, “even when it got so he couldn’t walk. Once my brother and I had to catch him in the field because he wanted to got to work. He could barely walk, and we had to carry him back home.”
Pride was another quality of the early pioneers. Maybe that explains why Andrew built things like the old log house–things to last, things to remind us.