In 1855, German settlers built a cabin on land that is now Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Six generations later, one of their descendants is fighting to save it.
Today, the cabin sits on a few acres in rural Nerstrand, a few miles from its original location, moved by the original owners a year after it was built. It’s the land that Darlene Calvert, of Faribault, grew up on, right next to the 164-year-old cabin.
After being passed down through generations, Calvert took ownership of the cabin this July. Property owners Deborah Ristvedt, Calvert’s second cousin, and Eric Ristvedt agreed to sell the cabin for $1. But there was a condition: she has 90 days to remove it from the property, one way or another.
Calvert, who now lives in rural Faribault, grew up in a Nerstrand home with no running water or electricity. She and her family lived on land originally settled by Paul George Wolf and Anna Elizabeth Vogel Wolf, immigrants who came from Bavaria with Paul Wolf’s family in the 1850s.
The Wolfs built the original cabin on land now a campground in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, establishing themselves as the area’s first settlers. A year later, they moved their family and the cabin a few miles away to rural Nerstrand, where the cabin now stands.
When they moved the cabin, it had to be disassembled and reassembled log-by-log. In its new location, they built an addition twice as big as the original cabin, which now stands a story and a half with wood siding.
Paul Wolf died within the year, when a tree snapped and killed him, leaving Anna to raise seven children on her own.
For Darlene, the site is imbued with the lives and history of these ancestors. She recalls stories of how the family lived alongside local Native Americans in a period before the influx of European settlers led to conflict. The Native Americans loved potatoes, she said, which aren’t native to North America. A family legend tells of a lone Native American man who heard of the family’s willingness to offer bread to hungry strangers — but when he entered the house and saw seven children inside, he handed the bread back and left.
“To me, it shows how they tried to get along,” said Darlene.
As Wolf’s descendants built a new barn, house and other buildings on the property, the cabin fell into disuse. By the time Darlene was growing up, it was mainly a playhouse. Then, over the years, buildings were torn down to clear out the property, with Darlene’s childhood house becoming a practice burn for the Nerstrand Fire Department in 1989.
The current property owners just want the cabin gone. Since there’s no one living nearby to watch the isolated cabin, it poses a risk, said Darlene.
“They wanted to give it to Darlene because they knew she was the person with the desire to make this thing into something immortal,” said Dean Calvert, Darlene’s husband.
The Calverts are in the early stages of talks with the Department of Natural Resources and the state park to get the cabin moved.
Katie Foshay, state park manager, said it’s too early to know how soon the cabin could move, or if the park has the place or funds to move it at all.
“Nothing’s set in stone yet. We’ve just been talking with them, but there’s no answer to whether or not it’s feasible. We’ll know more in the coming weeks,” said Foshay.
Scott Haugen, acquisition and development specialist for the Department of Natural Resources, confirmed that the potential move is currently under consideration, and that it’s too soon to estimate how much the project might cost.
“Division field and park staff toured the cabin site this week to do a condition assessment and answer questions. Currently, our approach is to evaluate the proposal to determine what role, if any, the cabin could play in the amenities and attractions at the state park,” Haugen said via email.
If no one can take the cabin, it will likely be taken apart, with the wood reused for furniture and other vintage-style pieces. The purchase agreement requires Calvert to pay all removal costs.
The Calverts are hoping to speed things along by collecting letters of support from community members expressing desire to see the cabin moved to Nerstrand, which they plan to pass to the DNR.
Darlene envisions the cabin as either an educational interpretive center with information about 1850s life, or a rustic overnight camping experience to bring in revenue for the park.
“Sometimes, when I come to this cabin, it’s like time stood still. You can go back to what it might have been like in 1855, and I’d like to share that kind of experience with people who are prospective guests for the park,” said Darlene. “How many parks can say they’re getting a cabin back after 164 years?”