1900s Farming in Washington County Minnesota

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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This story is from Ruth Zwald, written by her father, Robert Zwald, and submitted as part of our Wisdom From Our Elders collection of self-sufficient tales from yesteryear. She compiled her father’s stories in his own words, and they are posted in eight parts. Read the other parts:Growing Up on a Farm; Catching Frogs for Money; One Room School House; Borrowing Against Life InsuranceChanges in Agriculture; Courtship and Marriage and The Wisconsin Farm.  

It is Christmas Day 2004. We had a big Christmas dinner and gift giving party here last night. Everyone was here except Ruth and her two kids. We even had Irma’s brother, wife and two kids from San Salvador. It was a great party, thanks to Grandma; with too many presents and too much to eat. I have enough nuts to last me through the winter.

As I write this, I’m closer to 88 years old than I want to be. As I looked the gang over last night, I wondered what they all would be doing before they get to my age . . . how many kids – where they would live – if they would ever be this close to each other again down the years. Every one of the kids and grandkids used the same highchair that I used as a baby.

Before I was born: My German-American Family
My dad, Charles Andrew Zwald, born in 1875, came from Wurtenburg, Germany in 1887, when he was twelve years old. His father was from Switzerland. They settled in Garner, Iowa. My grandpa’s brother stayed in Philadelphia. My mother, Elisa (Trautz) Zwald, born in 1880, came from Hockenheim, Germany in 1885, at the age of five. Her family settled in St. Paul, Minnesota. My mom worked at Albrechts Furs before she was married, sewing fur coats. My parents met at a church conference in St. Paul, and only saw each other a couple of times before they were wed. They were married on April 18, 1911. They began their married life farming in Garner, Iowa. My sister, Marcella Zwald, was born on September 10, 1912. German was spoken in my home. My sister could speak German until she was 5 years old. Then World War I broke out, and you had to speak English.

I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 15, 1917. I came in to the world at my grandmother’s home, which was on Beech Street in St. Paul, at 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning. My sister, Marcella, was in Sunday School at the time. Boy, that was a long time ago.

At that time my folks lived in Centerville, then moved to Prescott, Wisconsin on 80 acres. But my mother had her family living in St. Paul, and she missed them so much that in 1920 they moved to a 120 acre farm in Woodbury, Minnesota. I was three years old. One of my first memories is of a black & white dog being there. I wanted the dog, but he ran away. At the time that we moved you had to take a ferry across the St. Croix River – there was only the railroad bridge at that time. Moving to Woodbury was a bad experience. You see, my Dad moved up from Iowa, the “corn country.” Most of my life I wanted to go to Iowa to farm some of that good land. Minnesota and Wisconsin were more grass and cow country.

Photo from Ruth Zwald: Marcella & Robert Zwald, 1918.

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