History of the Little Fork Lutheran Church

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Written by: Michael Enzmann

In the early 1900’s, settlers in the area began looking for a way to fulfill their spiritual needs. As the only means of transportation were the river and walking, they began having Sunday gatherings at the homes of local settlers – Hans Hollen, Peger Engene, Andrew Scott, Ingvald Twite, John Christianson, Gilbert Haugen, Andrew Vick, Andrew Tonheim, Peter and Theodore Burtness, and Alfred Holter. We have a picture showing a group of about 50 people gathered for church services at the Peter Burtness home in 1904. A classmate of Peter’s, Reverend Einar Wulfsberg, then a Pastor in Duluth, led this service. During that year Reverend Wulfsberg continued to hold meetings at other local resident’s homes.

The next year Reverend Herman Sauer replaced Pastor Wulfsberg. The first baptism was that of Ella Burnette, daughter of Ingvald and Helena Twite. She was born 18 Aug 1905 and baptized 20 Aug 1905.

With the coming of Reverend Sauer, steps were taken to form the Little Fork Lutheran Church. Organization took place in December, 1906, at the Alfred Holter residence. Once the congregation was organized, they formally called Reverend Sauer as their first pastor.

After years of holding church services in homes and school houses, a building committee was formed in 1914 to find a permanent home. The building committee was headed by Andrew Scott. They started out gathering monetary and other contributions. They agreed on a location for the new church, the corner of what are now the Wein and Samuelson Roads, and purchased 2 acres of land from John Carlson for $40.

An audit near the end of 1914, with the church nearly complete, showed the building cost at that point $815.38.

The first services in the new church were held 23 April 1915.

Once the church was completed, land was cleared for a cemetery. The cemetery at the church was first called the Oakland Cemetery. Although historical references indicate the cemetery clearing would have begun in 1915, there were 3 burials recorded in 1914. The first burial was Mollie Holter in February, followed by Gustav Ness in September, and Olaf Haugen in December.

In 1924 the Little Fork Ladies Aid began meeting the first Thursday of every month. The first Watchnight service was held 31 December 1924. Esther Scott Refsdal was prominent in creating the Luther League and Ladies Aide. Esther Scott Refsdal and Sigri Holter Scott were the active Sunday School teachers.

Rural life was tough on pastors. Roads were just being built so transportation was by boating on the Little Fork and walking trails. The pastors, most fresh from seminary, couldn’t afford horses. Early pastors were Pastor Sauer, Pastor C. N. Peterson, Pastor G Rohn, Pastor K.B. Vaaler, and Pastor Norman Madsen. Pastor J.I. Fadum was the first long term pastor serving from April, 1917 to 1928 although he didn’t move his family to Cook from Virginia until 1922.

Little Fork Lutheran continued to be well attended as it was the only Lutheran Church in the area and many of the settlers, immigrating into the United States from the Nordic countries of Norway, Sweden and Finland, along with Germans, were of Lutheran heritage.

When Pastor Fadum was called to Little Fork Lutheran, there was no formal Lutheran Church in Cook. Pastor Fadum, seeing a need for a church in the village, called a meeting of Cook residents at the home of Lara Leding on 12 Sep 1926. At this meeting Trinity Lutheran Church was formed. Pastor Fadum served both Little Fork and the new Cook congregation until the Cook church building was completed in late 1927. In 1928 Pastor Olav Refsdal took over as pastor at the Little Fork Church. Some of Pastor Refsdal’s children married during Pastor Refsdal’s tenure at Little Fork and several families with Refsdal heritage remain in the area.

Following the departure of Pastor Refsdal, an agreement was made to share Pastoral services with Trinity Lutheran in Cook. Pastors serving both churches were Reverends Eksland, Johnson, Footney, Jacobson, Eikland, and Fritz.

The final business meeting of Little Fork Lutheran was held at the home of Amanda Carlson on 2 January 1947. At that time it was voted to merge with Trinity Lutheran thus ending the life span of this rural church.

With the merger, some important fixtures from the Little Fork church were relocated to Trinity. Over the altar you can see the outline where the beautiful painting, now in the Trinity Narthex, was once hanging. The worn baptismal font is located in the Trinity Narthex near the stairs to the basement. The bell pealing from the Trinity Bell Tower once was located in the steeple of the Little Fork Church. A picture of Reverend Refsdal’s last confirmation class, taken 20 April 1930, hangs on the wall in the lobby across from the church offices. The piano was also moved to Trinity at the original location in Cook. It was used for Sunday School in the basement and unfortunately was destroyed in the 1952 flood.

During those early days, most marriages took place in people’s homes. There were only 3 marriages during the 32 year life span of Little Fork Lutheran – Albert & Millie Ditman, Carl & Val Carlson, and Harry & Elma Enzmann.

Church services were held every other Sunday. During the cold season, one of the local members would rise early and start a fire in the small stove located in the middle of the church. A long stovepipe exiting on the north side chimney served to transfer every bit of heat possible. With the high ceiling, the church remained ice cold during the winter. The pastor would sometimes gather the congregation around the stove for the service, probably to keep his teeth from chattering while he gave his sermon.

Following is a list of people who contributed money and labor to construction of Little Fork Lutheran:

Mrs. Mathilda Westling
Mr. Shopansky
Ed Olson
Peter Engene
John Buro
Ed Erickson
Peter Burtness
Gust Larson
Werner Bergren
Theodore Burtness
Carl Eid

William Holmbo
Gust Buboltz
Andrew Vick
Alfred Holter
Ole Leding
Ingvald Halseth
Gilbert Haugen
Knute Lien
Ingvald Twite
Hans Hollen
Ben Anderson

Ole Aune
John Carlson
Martin Ness
Andrew Gustafson
John Torkgren
John Christiansen
John Wien
Henry Knutson
Andrew Scott
Andrew Tonheim
Albert Ditman
In (date not found) the property was donated to Field Township to become the Field Township Cemetery. Since then the church roofing was replaced and the church was re-sided. Modern materials were used so the church cannot be designated a historic site, but it retains the beauty of a small rural church from the early 20th century. As of September, 2014, Field Township is in the process of covering the decaying plaster ceiling with sheet rock to prevent further deterioration, will texture the ceiling to match the plaster walls, and paint the entire interior to match its original color. The township has further plans to replace the decaying doors and repair the triangular transom windows above the front doors. Fill is being hauled in to the north side of the cemetery and the fence will be completed once that lower area is brought to grade. This will insure it remains a part of the heritage of Trinity Lutheran Church and Field Township.

As you wander the cemetery grounds, be sure to note the cross with symbolic crown of barbed wire on the east side. Note on the headstones many of the names familiar to the members of Trinity. A very interesting web site, findagrave.com, has burial information, much uploaded by local resident Judy Holter. Drill down through the selections – United States, Minnesota, St. Louis County, to find Field Township. There are currently 160 listings many containing pictures of the headstones. There are a few burials in the cemetery known to local residents that were never recorded.

There is an interesting note on the first recorded burial, Mollie Holter. Her grave is one of two in the cemetery facing north and south. When you find Mollie’s headstone, a square pillar, note that her burial data is engraved on the south side while the data of her husband, Ole, is located on the east side. The engravings also reference the direction of their graves.