Chapter III: Up to Manitou Heights

THE St. Olaf’s School continued for three years in the temporary quarters down town. During those years the indefatigable Pastor Muus, with the support of neighbor pastors Bøckman and Quammen, was waging a vigorous campaign for the school, collecting money for a permanent site and a more substantial plant. Many stories have gone the rounds about how this pioneer pastor, in his determined, convincing approach, assessed his parishioners according to their means. If a man owned eighty acres, he asked of him $100, and if 160 acres, $200. It is an interesting historical fact that unprecedented blessings came to these generous donors in crops such as they had never before seen. Up to forty-four bushels of wheat per acre.
Mr. Harald Thorson’s early offer of land in the north part of town had been rejected. (The Rosary Parochial School was built on that site in 1927.) Other locations were investigated. A high hill far to the west of town, one hundred and thirty feet above the Cannon River, still covered with big woods, came in for consideration.
One day in the winter of 1875 Professor Reque and Mr. Thorson drove off the road to take a close look at the wooded heights. On account of the heavy brush and deep snow they were unable to drive up the hill. Leaving their horses about where the intersection of St. Olaf Avenue and Lincoln Street now is, they made their way on foot. The location seemed to them very desirable.
It was after negotiations were begun for the securing of this property that the students went up, on a holiday, to have their first picnic there. “This exploration would have been impossible for the ladies had it not been for the woodmen’s road, winding along to the corner of the present campus (1906) where there was an attempt at starting a stone quarry. There was also a rude but near the entrance to the campus.” Wild and difficult of access as these woods were, they had been entered before by a few students who found them an ideal place to practice their orations—a la Demosthenes. Little did those forerunners dream of the oratory that was to sound from those heights down through the years!
While Mr. Thorson was attending a meeting of the Norwegian Synod, at Decorah, Iowa, in June 1876, he received a telegram from his book-keeper informing him that Mr. Cutler, the owner of the land, had called to say that if Mr. Thorson wished to purchase the property, he would have to secure it at once with a first payment. A hurried consultation resulted in a return message authorizing the payment. The consideration was one thousand two hundred and fifty dollars for thirty acres — a twenty acre lot where the Main now stands, at forty dollars an acre, and ten acres to the west at forty-five dollars an acre. Soon thereafter it was learned that the Roman Catholic congregation had been interested in the hill as a possible site for a cemetery!
At the time, the location seemed rather far from town for a school. It was literally “in the woods.” Later one man remarked: “When I heard that you were going to build on that hill, I thought you were making a mistake, but I see now that the Norwegians are farsighted.”
The erection of the new brick building was undertaken in June, 1877. The plans were worked out by Long and Haglin, architects from Minneapolis. The contractor was Charles P. Anderson of Northfield. The corner stone was laid on July Fourth. For this auspicious occasion there were built a speakers’ stand and seats for the audience on the edge of the clearing west of the scene of operations.
The ceremony opened, appropriately, with the singing of Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Pastor Muus gave the address of welcome — in Norwegian. The Reverend H. A. Preus, President of the Norwegian Synod, gave a talk, also in Norwegian, taking for his text Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Pastor Muus thereupon read and translated a Latin document, “In Nomine Jesu.” This official paper was then placed in a tin box inside the corner stone, together with some minutes of the Norwegian Synod, the current issues of three Norwegian weeklies, and some freshly minted coins. By some misunderstanding the stone had been placed in the northwest, instead of the southeast, corner.
At noon a picnic dinner was served in the woods. In the afternoon President Mohn gave a talk, in English, and congratulations were extended by President Strong of Carleton and President Larsen of Luther College.
Except for the roof on the tower which was not laid till 1884, by September, 1878, “the Main,” as it was soon to be called, stood completed, sentinel-like, on the very brow of the hill, against a solid background of dense woods. It was fully paid for.


       The name “Manitou Heights” was proposed by a group of faculty members. When the valley to the south of the hill was acquired, it was given the kindred name “Tawasentha.” As late as 1891 the more Scandinavian-sounding name “Breidablik” was suggested, but received no ratificacation. In the case of the valley, however, the name “Norway Valley” has come into common use, so that now either name seems acceptable.
On September 10, 1878, the St. Olaf’s School took possession of the imposing mansion on Manitou Heights. President Mohn had requested that the students come early that autumn to assist in the moving. The school was “somewhat larger than a good-sized ideal Rooseveltian family,” and the moving was to be a truly family affair.
The dedication of the building was solemnized on November sixth, the fourth anniversary of the school. The Reverend H. A. Preus, who had laid the corner stone on July Fourth, began the ceremonial with the reading of Deuteronomy six and the offering of prayer. The dedicatory address was delivered by Pastor Muus, in Norwegian. The afternoon program consisted of an address in English, by Professor L. S. Reque of Luther College.
The school had not only been elevated to higher ground and a more commanding position, but had moved from cramped, humble quarters to a spacious castle. “Castle Inheritance,” Frida Bue entitled her poem for graduation in 1902. Three stories there were and a full basement. There were entrances on all four sides on the ground floor — all used — and two in the basement, on east and west sides. The classrooms — nine of them — were on the second floor. Number seven, the southwest corner room, was set aside as a chapel. On the first floor President Mohn had his office in the southwest corner room and his living quarters in the southeast corner rooms. Professor Ytterboe’s office was at the first door to the right of the west entrance, and his living rooms to the left of the north entrance. The first door to the right of the north entrance opened into the girls’ waiting room. Next to it was the music room. During the first year girl students occupied rooms in the northwest corner on the first floor. At times the steward and stewardess also had a room on this floor. There was room for much on that ground floor!
The third floor was the boys’ dormitory, accommodating as many as seventy-six boys. Several of the larger rooms housed eight or ten boys, with one of their own members as proctor. With unsteady heating and no storm windows, the rooms had often to be abandoned for warmer class rooms below for study. Especially the boys in the corner rooms with their two outside walls and a window in each, found little comfort “at home.”
In the basement were the kitchen and dining room for the boarding establishment, as well as separate ones for the president’s family. The boys’ wash room was the first room to the right of the west basement entrance. There was a guest room provided in the basement, too, for a while, but it was so small and narrow that a certain frequent visitor of corpulence had to step out into the hall to put on his coat! The main point to observe here, it seems, is that there was a guest room! Provision for guests was one of the main concerns for many years, first in the Main and later in Ytterboe Hall.
The large, wide passageway in the basement served as store room for the boarding establishment. Supplies were piled on long, open tables. This was placing temptation right in the path of ever-hungry boys and girls. Maybe it was because of the openness of the arrangment that a little pilfering now and then was not considered stealing, either by the culprits or by the authorities. The girls tell of how they used to slip a potato surreptitiously into each coat pocket to bake on top of the hard coal heater in their parlor! One especially bold might even snatch a chunk of meat. Then there was a “spread!”
In the earliest years on the Hill there was generally a married couple who served as custodian and matron and were called steward and stewardess. Mr. and Mrs. Sunde served in this double capacity for five years and endeared themselves to the St. Olaf family. Mr. and Mrs. Tonseth were another couple thus employed.
The first “unprotected” maiden lady who served as matron did not fare too well. It was very bad when the boys shot her pet dog and almost broke her heart. But, when they poured syrup on her chair so that she stuck to it, she had had enough. She resigned.
Mrs. Gjellerup is kindly remembered as the matron who introduced salads into the bill of fare. She had once been connected with the culinary department at the court of Denmark. Little did it bother her that people laughed at her broken English. When she said, “My gutts are good gutts” (“gutter,” boys) they might smile a little, but it was the thought behind the words that mattered. What rankled with the girls was that she definitely favored the boys.
Custodian Old Tarje was a genial fellow. All one had to, do to get on the good side of him was to give him some tobacco. The girls, as well as the boys, were quick to win his favor in this way, especially when they had heavy parcels to carry from town and were desirous of a ride home in his hayrack.
The lone building on the Hill was not a lonesome place. Indeed, it was a community quite complete in itself. Wonderful how adequate it was! Oh yes, there were accessories — such as the windmill and the meat house close by on the west, the huge woodpile hard by, and, over the drop of the Hill to the southwest, a barely discernible, small structure, to and from which there seemed to be continually moving lines of boys. The bashful, embarrassed 19th century young maidens walked as far as possible to the north edge of the Hill and studiously avoided glances in the southerly direction. A few rods northwest of the school building was to be seen the open air gymnasium. For a considerable period every fall a horsepower treadmill was a fixture of interest on the Hill. Three men and a team of horses were kept busy cutting the winter’s supply of wood for the many stoves on the four floors of “the Main.”
It was not long, however, that the Main stood solitary on Manitou Heights. The temporarily abandoned wooden structures down town were destined for further use. The generous Mr. Thorson, at his own expense, had the two frame buildings taken down, hauled up on the Hill, and rebuilt as one building, in the thick of the woods, about thirty rods northwest of the new building. The rebuilt structure was 48×38 feet, with a roof sloping from center top to all four sides. There was a double door at center front on the south, and a single door at center back on the north side, with halls straight through, upstairs and down. The exterior was painted a tan color with brown trim. Narrow wooden awnings over doors and windows — with their twelve panes of glass — relieved the plainness of the building. At a side of the front entrance a lantern, with reflector, gave promise of at least a faint ray of light over the four front steps. The door key was of such gigantic size that it might well have served as a weapon of defense!
On November sixth, 1879, the old-new building was dedicated with proper festivities, and christened “Ladies’ Hall of St. Olaf’s School.” “True to its feminine nature it had its name changed, having been simply called a ‘schoolhouse’ before it was wedded to the main.” Some persistent attempts were made to give it the more fanciful name Ivy Hall, but the name did not cling. Neither did the ivy.
The dedication sermon was preached by the Reverend Muus, in the chapel room of the Main. For the dedicating service the assembly marched in line through the woods to the Hall, with the preceptress and school girls in the lead.
In juvenile vein, Professor Felland once penned this fanciful sketch:
“You have probably all heard of the good old King of Norway, Olaf, who after his death was looked upon as a saint on account of the wonders which are said to have occurred at his grave, and for which he is called St. Olaf. He lives at present in Northfield, Minnesota, where he has built a large house to dwell in. He is very fond of boys and girls, and wants them to come and stay with him, so that he can make good Christians of them, just as he tried to do when he was King of Norway, besides teaching them many other useful things. In the summer he sends them away out in the country to enjoy a rest, and in the fall he calls them back again. He is dead long ago and so you must not expect to see him in person. It is only his spirit that dwells here, and he employs a number of men and women to do the work for him. Besides his main residence he has also built a house for the girls to stay in by themselves.”
With two buildings on the wooded Manitou Heights, apart from the buzz and activity of a growing western town, there began in earnest the development of the institution which was the first among the Norwegian Lutheran schools in America to grant a B.A. degree to a woman.

As It Was In The Beginning


To Be Read First, Please
The Big Woods
On the Banks of the Cannon
Up to Manitou Heights
The Hall in the Woods
From Dawn to Dusk
A New Tree Grows on Manitou
In and Out Among the Trees
Boughs and Branches
The Woods Recede