Sorenson Home

The land on which the Sorenson House was built was originally sold by the United States government through the Land Office at Menasha, Wisconsin to Nicholas Wollmer on January 12, 1855 and was registered on February 22, 1858.  The certificate was signed by U.S. President James Buchanan and noted that Wollmer received 41.37 acres of land located at the northeast quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 4, Township 18 North of Range 22 East.  The land was purchased for $1.25 per acre -a total cost of $51.71.

On January 24, 1855, only 12 days later, Wollmer sold the land to Erick Erickson Renne for $51.71, the same amount he originally paid for the property.

The property, which included what is now known as the Sorenson House, was purchased from the heirs of Erick Erickson Renne by Jens Peter Sorenson on May 21, 1901 for $2000.  It is not known exactly when the home was built or by whom.  The Old World styling of the original home would indicate that the house was probably built between 1855 and 1870 and it is likely that Erick Erickson Renne built the home since it was located on his property.  However, information handed down from the Sorenson Family suggests that it could also have been built by Michael Neitzel, a neighbor on the property just south of the Erickson Renne property.

According to a family history entitled “Cousins Picnic,, compiled by Jens Peter Sorenson’s grand-daughter, Grace Sorenson Guetschow, Jens Peter Sorenson was born on January 1, 1844 and his wife, Dorothea Nelson (or Nielson) Sorenson was born October 4, 1836. They came to the United States from Denmark where they both worked on a large estate. At the time of their marriage, Dorothea had a child, Christen, born April 1, 1870. Guetschow was not able to find any information on his father. Jens and Dorothea’s first child, Peter, died when he was two years old and was buried in Denmark. The couple eventually had four other children: Mary, born October 22, 1876; Soren Peter, born February 18, 1878; Christian, born in 1879; and Carl, born August 10, 1882.

The Sorenson Family came to America in September of 1889. Jens Peter’s brother, whose name is not recorded, had only one son, Peter Sorenson. He was the first member of the family to come to America arriving in New York in September of 1886. He worked for a while in the new land then sent for Christen, who was a young man at the time, to come and join him. They worked until they had saved enough money to send for Jens and Dorothea and their family. Shortly after Jens and his family came over, his brother Nicholai joined them. He spent only a short time in Wisconsin and then moved to Oregon taking their nephew, Peter Sorenson, with him.

Living just north of Valders, Wisconsin, Jens and his sons tilled fields and saved their money until they were able to purchase the property from the Renne heirs, located just east of Valders (where Spancrete Company is located today). Already in their late 50’s, Jens and Dorothea finally realized their dream of owning their own farm.

Christen married Lena Halderson from Valders in 1900 and moved to Chicago. The couple had seven children: Philip, Isabel, Myrtle, Florence, Virginia, Blanch, and Kermit. They moved back to Valders in 1910 and lived with Jens and Dorothea. In the summer of 1918, they lost two of their children, Blanch, age four and Kermit, age two. The cause of death was listed as being from eating green apples. Christen died on September 1, 1937 at the age of 67.

Mary also went to work in Chicago where she met and married Eric Hegg and had one daughter, Myrtle in 1911. Mary died in the 1940s.

Christian went to live with Mary in Chicago. He died in the Chicago typhoid fever epidemic in 1898 and was buried in the West Church Cemetery in Valders.

Carl Sorenson married Pauline Christianson from Gjerpen, Wisconsin in 1910 and lived on a farm about three miles east of Valders. They had three children, Arlene, Claude and Viola. Carl died on December 26, 1958 and Claude took over their farmstead.

Soren Peter dropped the name Soren and was known as Peter Sorenson. He went to work for the Manitowoc and Western Railroad that was being built at that time between Manitowoc and Menasha, eventually becoming Section Foreman. He married Martha Gilbertson from near Gjerpen on June 25, 1902 and bought the farmstead from his parents making an agreement to pay his brother and sister for their share of the property and to provide a home and care for his parents for the rest of their lives, including paying their medical bills and funeral expenses.

In addition, Peter was required to pay his parents $25 per year payable in four equal payments on the first day of August, November, February and May, and grant them free access and use of all of the outbuildings on the farm. In case of any default in this bond agreement, Jens and Dorothea would receive $1000 from their son and daughter-in-law. With this agreement, Peter and Martha lived upstairs in the house during the early years of their marriage and Jens and Dorothea lived downstairs with Carl.

Peter and Martha’s first child, Eleanor, was born in the home on May 12, 1903. It was at this time that Peter decided to build a new house across the tracks from his parent’s house. (The railroad ran through the middle of the farm.) Children Alice, born April 6, 1905; and Walter, born November 5, 1906; were born in the new house. Walter died on February 22, 1907 at only three months of age from pneumonia. Since the barn and other farm buildings were located closer to the old house, for the sake of convenience, Peter and his family exchanged houses with his parents and Carl. Peter and Martha had seven more children: Joel, born December 8, 1907; Clarence, born November 1 ,1909; Harry, born September 14, 1911; Gilbert, born August 24, 1914, and died on April 17,1915 at only eight months of age, cause of death was not noted; Grace, born October 19, 1915; Dorothy, born September 18, 1918; and Margaret, born November 23, 1922.

Shortly before Harry’s birth, on August 16, 1911 Dorothea had a heart attack while on a walk to Valders. She died immediately. Jens Peter died of a stroke on May 27, 1912, just nine months after his wife.  The new house was moved to Valders and Peter’s half-brother Christen and his wife, Lena lived in it until they sold it and bought a farm near Clarks Mills. Later Alice Sorenson and her husband, Ted Skattebo would rent and live in the house for a number of years.

In her family history, Grace Sorenson Guetschow remembered asking her mother how she and Peter had met. Martha had responded that when the railroad was being built, a spur line was put into a graval pit near her home. Peter knew where she lived and one night, after choir practice, he jumped on the back of their buggy as Martha and her sisters were leaving for home and asked her for a date.

Peter was only 12 years old when he came to America with his family. It is recorded that they were met, upon their arrival in Manitowoc in 1890 by Mr. Osuld Torrison, owner of the O. Torrison Company Mercantile Store. Apparently Mr. Torrison used to meet the Scandinavian people when they first came over and this was noted by the family as being quite unusual since in Denmark, as in most European countries at the time, people with money, property or position did not associate with the “common” people. Torrison helped the family get settled in Valders as there were quite a number of Norwegians in that community and the Danish family was able to communicate with them. For many years, the Sorenson’s were the only Danish family in Valders.

Since he was already 12 years old and did not speak English, Peter did not go to school and never learned to read or write English. He had, however, received a good elementary education in Denmark and was fluent in Norwegian. An energetic and hard-working man, Peter built sidewalks in Valders, plowed gardens, worked as a grave digger, made fence posts and cord wood and did any other job that he could pick up in addition to running the farm. He was very proud to be a citizen in his adopted country and would tell his children that if they couldn’t make a living in America, they wouldn’t be able to make a go of it in any other place in the world. He died on October 17, 1937.

The old house and land were sold by Martha Sorenson, following Peter’s death, to Herbert and Sophie Schisel on April 10, 1944. They owned the property until May 3, 1962 when it was sold to the E & M Corporation of Milwaukee. The property was sold again on December 19, 1976 to Spancrete, Inc. of Milwaukee and is still owned by them today.  The house, however, was not wanted by Spancrete and was scheduled to be destroyed. Eleanor Sorenson Vetting, after learning that her childhood home was going to be destroyed, approached the Manitowoc County Historical Society along with her husband Hugo, to see if the organization would be able to help either move the house or keep it from being demolished.

It was decided that the home would be restored to the way it was around 1901 when the Sorenson family purchased it. Part of the kitchen flooring and wainscoting on the lower half of the kitchen walls had to be replaced, as well as almost all of the windows.

An open front porch was added, similar to the original porch, and new rough board vertical siding was placed over the original logs of the home. Inside, peeling paint and old wall paper were removed. The Sorenson daughters and their husbands worked throughout the restoration process and helped in selecting furnishings for the house.