When Manitou was young and strong
(So ancient legends do us tell)
He set about to make a home,
Where all good Indians could roam,
And peacefully in pleasure dwell.
He searched the shores of Michigan
For every pleasant cove and glen,
For towering cliffs and headlands bold,
For islands fair as toys of gold,
To make a paradise for men.
He brought these treasures to a place-
Door County is its present name.
And here he worked with skill and might
To make a land of keen delight,
And stocked it well with fish and game.
When all was done he marked one spot,
Immaculate it seemed to him;
Where curving shore met limpid sea
In one full sweep of harmony.
What place was this? Ah! Ephraim!
Ephraim is preeminent in several other things besides scenery.
It was the first platted village in the county.
It had the first public school in the county.
It had the first organized congregation of white people in the northern half of Wisconsin.
It had the first resident pastor in the county.
It has the first church built in the county, this now being the oldest church in continuous use in the entire northern
half of the state.
It is the home of the oldest Moravian congregation in the West.
The history of the Ephraim community starts down in Milwaukee in the year 1849. At that time there was a man by
the name of M. Olson from Farsund, Norway, who lived there. There was at that time no Scandinavian congregation
in Milwaukee, but this Olson was a splendid singer and used to gather his countrymen together in their homes for
common worship. As Mr. Olson was in sympathy with the faith and practices of the Unitas Fratrum - the United Brethren,
or Moravian, as they are commonly called, he wrote to the Moravian organization in Norway to see if a minister
of that faith could be found who would come to Milwaukee and take charge of the work which he had started.
There was in the Lutheran Missionary School in Stavanger, Norway, a young man by the name of A. M. Iverson. He
was born in Kristiansand, Norway, in 1822 and was now about ready to go to Africa as a missionary for the Lutherans.
Having, however, long been in sympathy with the Moravian, he paid his obligations to the missionary school for
the instruction he had received, and came to Milwaukee in the spring of 1849.
Mr. Iverson proved himself a diligent and efficient worker. After a few months' work quite a number of deeply religious
people were gathered together in close fellowship ready to unite in a Moravian congregation. The headquarters of
the denomination at Bethlehem, Pa., were advised of this and they sent one of their elders, a Rev. Mr. Fett, to
investigate the matter. Mr. Fett reported most favorably about Mr. Iverson and his converts and permission was
given to organize.
The organization of this first Moravian congregation in the West was solemnly effected Monday, October 22, 1849.
As this is the organization of the Moravian congregation now at Ephraim a list of the original members is given
below, most of whom later moved to Ephraim:
Andrew M. Iverson and his wife Laura.
Andrew Nelson and his wife Anne Christine.
Zacharias C. Wathne.
Hans Peder Jacobs (Jacobsen).
Thomas (Tonnes) Davidson.
Rasmus W. Hanson.
These were all grown people. Twelve were Norwegians, four Danes and two Swedes. The following spring, May 7, 1850,
Mr. Iverson was ordained in Bethlehem, Pa.
On his return from his ordination Mr. Iverson in New York met a man who was to most powerfully influence the little
congregation in Milwaukee and later shape the history of Ephraim. This man was Nils Otto Tank, a capitalist and
retired missionary of the Moravian Church, a man of powerful physique, dignified and benign of countenance.
Mr. Tank was one of the most interesting men who have ever come to America and his history reads like a fairy tale.
The following is a brief account of this remarkable man:
Nils Otto Tank was born in 1800 on his father's estate near Frederikshald in the southeastern part of Norway. This
estate is one of the finest in Norway and full of romantic associations. In its spacious halls royalty has often
found a comfortable resting place and many cabals of state have here been constructed and unraveled. It is now
the residence of Peter Anker, one of Norway's wealthiest men.
Mr. Tank's father, Carsten Tank, was a man of many varied interests. He was the owner of more than a hundred estates
and farms, besides factories, shipyards, sawmills, and mercantile establishments. His men cut timber in his forests
far up in the hills and his vessels carried it to all parts of the earth. Besides this he was also a statesman
of most recognized ability. When Norway in 1814 separated from Denmark and set up an independent monarchy, Carsten
Tank was chosen to manage her affairs as prime minister. His official title was chief of the first department of
state, but this means precisely the same thing. In other important political activities of the time, Carsten Tank
was also a leader.
I have told this much about Carsten Tank that you may understand his attitude toward his son Nils Otto. Prompted
by a family pride which was the result of generations of active participation in the forefront of commercial and
political activities, it was natural that he should desire this last son of the house of Tank to maintain the traditions
of the family and possibly transmit its illustrious name to posterity with new laurels. Norway was just then beginning
a new era of national independence and there were great possibilities of gaining commercial power and political
prestige. Yes, rumor insists that this old statesman in planning for his son let his thoughts even soar to the
topmost pinnacle of national honor, and aspired to place his son upon the throne as king!
In our prosaic times such wild flights of ambition seem wholly impossible, but they were not so a hundred years
ago. In those troublous times of Napoleon, when kings forthwith were deposed and commonwealths traded like horses,
this was no impossible ambition. Especially was this true in Norway, which had no ancient monarchial line of recognized
standing. When Christian Frederik in 1815 abdicated the throne it passed to the senile and childless Carl XIII
of Sweden. Soon he would die and then the throne would pass into the keeping of Bernadotte, the French general
whom King Carl had hired to fight his battles for him. Why, reasoned Tank, the old statesman, should a foreigner
who looked upon warfare and killing as commerce and who sold his military prowess to the highest bidder, why should
such a man be more eligible to rule the Norwegian people than one of its own nobles? A sturdy chief of its own
soil was what the country needed! And possessing as he did almost unlimited resources he felt that none was nearer
to it than his own son Nils Otto.
Such were the plans which prompted father and son when Nils Otto about the year 1818 went abroad. His mission was
to visit the leading universities, to be introduced at the different courts of Europe, to mingle in the gay life
of foreign capitals and thus secure that worldly wisdom, perfection of polish and, if possible, family alliance
with some prince of the blood, which would further his chances to become a member of the royalty.
In all this young Tank proved an apt pupil. After a protracted stay at foreign courts and capitals Nils Otto had
acquired most perfect manners and extensive accomplishments and was about to start home to play his part in the
intrigues of the court. In the art gallery of the State Historical Society there is a portrait of him painted in
Dresden, Germany, in 1820, which gives a good idea of what a winsome, gallant young cavalier he was at the time
Then it happened that far up in the mountains of Saxony, in the little Town of Herrnhut, he looked into the deep,
serious and soulful eyes of Marian Frueauff, daughter of a clergyman among the pietistic brethren who inhabited
Forgotten were his father's wise injunctions, the dream of royalty, the pomp and power of court, and worldly honors
and ambitions. His love was unconquerable and in a few weeks he journeyed home with his bride.
But his father, the proud old statesman, had forgotten all about love and romance. He saw only his dreams of founding
a dynasty shattered by the amours of his son, and lost was his sweetness of life. With scornful upbraidings he
gave his son the choice of rejecting his plebeian wife or being himself an outcast.
The old Greeks pictured the god of love as a pretty, dimpled boy whose arrows were intended more for mischief than
harm. But that was in the golden age of simplicity.
If we in our complex age should delineate him we would have to make him two faced like Janus, of which the obverse
would show a grim taskmaster compelling the greatest sacrifices of his luckless subjects. The penalties of a heedless
marriage are often great, but seldom greater than those which Nils Otto Tank had to pay. Wealth, position, family
ties, a father's love; yea, even the possibilities of a kingdom faded away when he married Marian Frueauff.
In addition to marrying out of caste, Mr. Tank at this time also rejected his father's religion and hereafter became
an active worker in the humble Moravian faith, first as teacher and later as missionary to the slaves of Surinam,
South America. Henceforth for many years we see Otto Tank, who had been reared amid the bonmots of brilliant salons,
humbly and patiently teaching the gospel of salvation to tawny heathen in the distant tropics.
During his student years, young Tank had been much interested in mineralogy, showing considerable promise in this
field. In far away Surinam this scientific knowledge played him a good part, for he was instrumental in discovering
the extensive gold fields which later made Guiana's name famous. But the wealth he appears to have gained by this
discovery was of little comfort to him, for the deadly climate was too much for his wife, whose remains are buried
there. In 1847 he left for Europe.
Tank now lingered for some time in Holland, where in Amsterdam he made the acquaintance of a distinguished clergyman
and scholar, the Rev. J. R. Van der Meulen. This gentleman was the descendant of a long line of prosperous art
collectors and bibliophiles, and his house was filled with a wonderful collection of antique furniture of most
artistic workmanship, choice plate and paintings, rare bric-a-brac, and thousands of volumes of ancient books and
manuscripts of inestimable value. Considerable wealth had also come to him through his wife, formerly chief lady
in waiting at the court of Holland, and daughter of the famous General Baron von Botzelaar, who, in 1797, had repulsed
Napoleon at Willemstadt. For this service the baron was munificently rewarded by the crown. In Catherine, the last
representative of this distinguished family, Mr. Tank found a congenial companion and she became his wife in 1849,
shortly after her father's death. Thus all these Dutch treasures became a part of the Tank household.
As Mr Tank felt himself looked upon as an outcast by his ultra aristocratic family and former friends in Norway,
he had no desire to return to his native land. Instead he turned with his bride to America, the new land of opportunity
and equality, and here in New York he at once met Mr. Iverson. From him he learned that the Moravian faith had
made an opening among his countrymen in Milwaukee. He also heard that these people were very poor and longed to
obtain farms where they could till the soil as they had been used to in their native land.
These tidings interested Mr. Tank mightily. It is reported that he brought with him $1,500,000 and he believed
he saw the finger of providence indicating the field for the use of his abilities and means and hastened to obey.
He at once offered to go with Mr. Iverson to Milwaukee and there buy land sufficient for the needs of the new congregation.
This offer was accepted with tears of joy by Mr. Iverson Arrived in Milwaukee, Mr. Tank without delay bought a
span of fine horses and a large traveling carriage and with five companions toured the state. For six weeks they
traveled all over the southern part of the state, visiting Whitewater, Madison, Watertown and other localities.
However, for a long time no large tract of vacant good land could be found. Finally he purchased 969 acres of fertile
timber land on the west bank of the Fox River, now largely comprised in the eighth ward of the city of Green Bay.
Hither he invited the Moravian colony of Milwaukee to come and settle, and promised free lands to all. This offer
was received with joy by his countrymen, and on the first day of August, 1850, the whole colony moved to the new
settlement - some twenty seven persons in ail, including the pastor, Rey. A. M. Iverson.
Tank's first work was to lay out a number of lots on both sides of what is now State Street, in Green Bay. Surrounding
these, larger (ten acre) lots were laid out. These building sites were then, according to Moravian custom, apportioned
to the colonists by lot. The farmlands surrounding the village were later to be surveyed. A park covering about
two acres was also laid out on the banks of the river; this was to he the site for the church. Meanwhile, the north
room of Tank's cottage was solemnly consecrated as a place of worship. The congregation, together with the village,
received the name of Ephraim; that is, "the very fruitful."
There was a very large two story building on the premises erected by Eastern Episcopalians as a mission for the
Indians.' This house was vacant at the time. Mr. Tank fitted this out with the necessary furniture and here for
six months the entire congregation dwelt in comfort and fellowship. The housekeeping was managed on the communistic
plan At 5 o'clock in the morning the morning bell roused all. At 5:30 another bell called them to prayers. After
breakfast the men separated and went to work at the various occupations which Mr. Tank had found for them; some
to clear land, others to build houses and shops, while others went out on the lake to fish. Being a man of education,
Mr. Tank also made immediate arrangements for a school. One room was fitted out for educational purposes and here
five of the young men were enrolled as students in a home missionary class. Mr. Tank taught science and history
while Mr. Iverson taught religion. This was the first Norwegian academy in America. It was Mr. Tank's plan to expand
this school into a college where his immigrant countrymen could study medicine, law, theology and science irrespective
of creeds and thus become fitted to take an active part in building up the new land of their adoption.
The prospects of the congregation and colony now looked so bright that many others joined the church. The following
were one Sunday in October, 1850, added to the membership, Mr. Tank, who had in the meantime been ordained, officiating:
Gabriel and Christopher Wathne, Mads Johanneson, Inger Olson, Malene Wathne, Birgitte Behrentson, Tobias Morbek,
Jens Hetland, Abraham and Catherine Aanenson (Oneson), Elias and Karen Rasmussen, Anthoni and Maren Thompson and
Hans Peder Hanson and his wife Elizabeth.
I have spoken with old men who followed Mr. Tank from Milwaukee to their new home in the wilderness. They have
told me of their joy in their new found rural liberty, of the ardor which animated them as they entered upon their
work of building up their homes and of the great hopes they had in the future of their communistic colony. It was,
they said, a continual song of rejoicing, with each new day a stanza of bliss.
The founder, too, entered into his communistic plans with enthusiasm. He meditated on them as he wandered through
the serene silence of the woods, and pondered on their ultimate fulfillment as he sat in his cottage on the banks
of the peaceful Fox River. He thought of his extensive travels in many lands, of his father's royal dreams, of
his long service as missionary in tropic Surinam, and felt that here in the primeval wilderness of a new continent
the Lord had shown him his true field of work.
Perhaps, he thought, lie was to be permitted in some slight measure to emulate the shining example of that great
man of God, Count Zinzindorf, who had founded the religious community he supported, and whose influence had gone
to the outermost parts of the earth. His countrymen were every year coming by the thousands to America, destitute
and friendless: he would help them out of the bounty with which the Lord had blessed him. There was no established
church to minister to their spiritual wants: in his community they should find a well ordered service and sanctuary.
Their children needed education and religious training: in his schools they, should be amply provided.
In imagination he saw the timbered solitudes give way to well tilled sunny fields; thrifty villages, noisy with
the laughter of romping children; busy factories filled with contented workingmen. He seemed to hear the full toned
hymns of praise from crowded churches, and saw devout young men in his Bible school studying the word of God, preparatory
to a missionary life. As plan and prospect opened. before him, it seemed to him vastly greater to be the steward
of God for the relief and help of the needy in a far away land, than to be the envied and uneasy head of a petty
But alas! all this was not to be! Ever since Peter and Paul in the first fullsome days of the faith "withstood
each other to the face" in vainglorious thirst for clerical supremacy, it has seemed that grim discord has
been the firstborn child of church fellowship. Such was also the case here. The young pastor of the congregation
was a zealous and well meaning man; but because of wide temperamental differences he failed utterly to comprehend
Mr. Tank's character and aims. I spoke with Mr. Iverson several times before he died in Sturgeon Bay a few years
ago and he told me that he never could understand what a man of Tank's wealth and opportunities really meant by
settling in this wilderness. He naively suspected him of scheming to enrich himself by introducing the obnoxious
tenant system of Norway of which he had seen so many intolerable abuses in Norway. He therefore demanded that Tank
deed the lands to the settlers at whatever price could be agreed upon. As this was contrary to Mr. Tank's communistic
plans he refused to do so. Moreover, being of an aristocratic temperament he refused to go about justifying himself.
Iverson, feeling his responsibility as shepherd of the flock, communicated his distrust to the communists and urged
them to withdraw. In this he was easily successful. They had unbounded faith in their ardent spiritual leader,
were from the same part of Norway, and, like him, were very suspicious and emotional. To many of them the whole
thing seemed like a dream. To have a strange man from the upper crust of European aristocracy, with fabulous wealth
at his disposal, suddenly appear among them, offering to give them lands, schools, churches, was too good to be
true. Somewhere in the whole scheme, they thought, there must be some tearful snare. The result was that in the
spring of 1851, after eight months of communistic life, after presenting to Mr. Tank an unacceptable ultimatum,
the whole colony withdrew.
A couple of attempts were now made to move the colony to Sturgeon Bay. There was at that time only one settler
at Sturgeon Bay - Mr. Oliver Perry Graham - and nearly all the land was open for settlement. These attempts would
have been successful but for Mr. Iverson's opposition. He went to Sturgeon Bay on the ice in the winter of 1852
and saw that the timber on the shore was all evergreens. Being of the belief that evergreens grew only on poor
soil he dissuaded most of the colonists from going there. The disappointed colonists, becoming more and more disconsolate
in the meantime, struggled to eke out a precarious living by doing odd jobs.
Among the men that had joined the Moravian colony at Fort Howard was a man by the name of Ole Larson (father of
William Larson, now a prominent business man in Green Bay). He was from Skien, in the southern part of Norway.
In the spring of 1852 he, with Even Nelson from Porsgrund, Norway, and Peter Weborg, the first man to emigrate
from Lom, Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, set out on Green Bay with a boat to find a good place to start as fishermen.
At Fish Creek they found Increase Claflin, the only settler in the northern part of the peninsula. He told them
that the fishing among the islands near by was excellent. Consequently they settled there, Nelson and Weborg taking
claims a short distance north of Clan, while Larson went a little farther north and settled on Eagle Island.
Late in the fall of 1852 Ole Larson returned to Green Bay on a business trip. He told Mr. Iverson of his new
home, of the excellent fishing and of fine hardwood timberland on the mainland inside of Eagle Island. About the
same time Mr. Iverson received $500 as a loan from Bishop H. A. Schultz in Bethlehem, Pa., to be used in buying
land for the colonists. Greatly cheered by the receipt of this money and by the news brought by Larson, he determined
to go and see the land that Larson had described. About the first day of February, 1853, when the ice was safe
for traveling, he set out afoot accompanied by H. B. Jacobs, Abraham Oneson and Gabriel Wathne. After a march of
three days they arrived at Eagle Island. Mr. Iverson describes his first impressions of the site of the Village
of Ephraim as follows:
"The next morning we felt a little stiff after our long walk on the ice but soon I was out of the house and
gazed to the southeast toward the land at the head of the deep bay. Soon I discovered that although the trees along
the shore were evergreens the timber behind was hardwood and quite different from the timber at Sturgeon Bay. With
delight I looked for some time and ruminated: Perhaps our loved little congregation should be planted here on this
land by the romantic bay and with the high cliff opposite so grand in appearance? After morning worship and a good
breakfast we set out with Larson in the lead over the smooth ice across the beautiful bay, a distance of about
two miles. I had in my morning prayer prayed to the Lord earnestly that our investigation might be crowned with
success and that we might find a good place for our congregation. With this hope I now hastened forward, well supplied
with maps and diagrams. I set my foot upon the land for the first time in the name of Jesus, silently but with
strange feelings. We found after we had come to land, right close to where I later built my own house, that there
was a belt of mostly small evergreens, mixed with deciduous trees along the shore. But this belt was not broad.
Soon we came to a beautiful stretch of timber, mostly hardwood (maple, beech, ironwood, with some basswood and
oak), and the farther east we went the more beautiful was the forest, the trees so high and straight and so open
it was between them that it seemed to us that without clearing a road one could drive forward with horses and wagon
without hindrance. About a half a mile back of the shore Brother Jacobs removed the snow, which was about a foot
deep, and dug into the soil with a stick of wood. He brought his hands up full of black soil which he said was
not only good but rich for farming. Ole Larson praised it no less. Strangely enough Brother Jacobs did not this
time strike any stone and least of all did we dream of that layer of limestone which lay only a few feet under
"From the east we wandered north about a mile and found the same kind of soil and the most beautiful hardwood
timber I can only compare the trees to gigantic organ pipes, and from the tops of these trees there came to us
a soft murmur which struck my ears as a good omen. That we all felt enthusiastic in a high degree is easily understood.
Well satisfied, we turned westward again toward the shore until we came to an abrupt break in the surface of the
land. But Larson pointed out that there were many places where the land was less steep where roads could be laid.
"When we reached the shore Larson pointed out to us that we ought to find marks upon the trees showing where
the section line ran. After some searching we found this down by the shore close to where later our church was
built. While the brethren made this mark more conspicuous to the eye I stepped aside among the small evergreens
and kneeled down upon the white snow. The Saviour only knows how deeply I prayed for the first time upon the spot.
I received assurance that right here would our Lord plant his little congregation and never forsake it in spite
of all humble circumstances. I returned to my companions and told them I was solemnly assured that here was the
place for our congregation and to this they fervently agreed. Well satisfied we in the afternoon returned to Larson's
comfortable house, where a good dinner awaited us. Before partaking of this I first sent up to the Lord our fervent
thanks for his mercy and guidance which we had just experienced. After dinner followed an animated conference in
which we by the help of our diagrams found that our $500 would enable us to take up a tract of land a mile wide
on the shore and running back three quarters of a mile."
Mr. Iverson now made a trip to the U. S. land office at Menasha, where he bought 424 3/4 acres for a total cost
of $478. He then platted the tract into village lots about an acre and a half in size with larger farm lots in
the rear. In this he largely followed Mr. Tank's plat of the proposed village near Fort Howard. He and the congregation
also adopted the name of Ephraim, which Mr Tank had chosen, for the new village.
One day in May, 1853, a vessel tied up to the river bank at Fort Howard to convey the colonists to their future
home. The day was radiant with the promise of spring, but it was the darkest day in Mr. Tank's life. He saw the
unfortunate emigrants hurry down to the vessel with their few earthly possessions. Their children carried their
simple, home made tools; their poor wives struggled with the heavy emigrant chests; and the men shouldered their
sacks of potatoes and grain, and brought their few cows and chickens on board. As Tank looked on their honest faces,
pinched with poverty, and saw the heavy movements of their limbs, stiffened by excessive labor, now about to carry
them off to greater privations and toils, they appeared to him as wayward children, sulkily denying themselves
a gentle father's care. How his heart yearned for these people! How gladly would he have gathered them in his arms,
like a hen gathering her chickens under her wings, but they would not!
He could not follow these people. They had spurned his gifts and to urge further kindness upon them would but confirm
them in their suspicions. Their paths and his had no future crossing. Nor would he return and take possession of
the ancestral halls in Norway. His complacent relatives, snugly intrenched in pharisaic conventionalism, had with
sarcastic pity seen him abandon the honors and pleasures of a brilliant career to become a missionary to the slaves
of South America. They would see little additional honor for him in being jilted by a lot of praying emigrants.
Better a secluded life on the banks of the Fox, where there was time to meditate on the futilities of life. So
there Tank remained until his death, with the exception of a few trips abroad for the education of his daughter
During the summer of 1853 all the colonists lived on the island. By careful gleanings from many sources I am able
to give the names of practically all of these first settlers as follows:
Rev. A. M. Iverson.
Capt. Andrew Nelson.
H. P. Jacobs.
Gotfried Matthes (German).
All of these were married men with the exception of the last named.
These all lived on Eagle Island during the first summer. A number of temporary shanties were erected to house the
colonists and for a while the little island was quite populous. Meanwhile the people divided their time between
fishing, clearing land and housebuilding. Writing forty years later, Mr. Iverson describes the first day'philanthropy,mainland
"I remember so distinctly the first morning when we began to clear land. There were eight of us who rowed
over from the island. Arrived at my lot, I kneeled among the bushes and prayed earnestly to the Lord that he would
bless the work and here plant and water his own congregation. When I for the first time swung my axe over my head
it was with a vivid realization of the psalmist's words when he exclaims. 'Here has the sparrow found a house and
the swallow a nest.' Soon the first tree crashed to the ground. I had two young men to assist me. We worked with
rare energy and soon our perspiration flowed like tears. In the afternoon heavy columns of smoke were seen to rise
from four different places in that we sought as much as possible to burn up the brush as fast as we made it."
About the middle of November the greater number of the colonists moved over to the new Village of Ephraim, where
four houses by this time were erected. The first to be finished was the one built by Zacharias Wathne. This was
a very humble dwelling and stood on the hillside east of Mr. Wilson's present home. The second was Mr. Oneson's,
which stood on the site of the Hillside Hotel. The third was Mr. Iverson's, which is still standing in its original
shape and size. At that time it was considered a most excellent and roomy house, being 36 by 21 feet in size. Even
Nelson and Peter Weborg erected this house without cost to Mr. Iverson and made a very good job of it. Some of
the other colonists made shingles for it, while Iverson personaly made the doors, windows and other trimmings.
It is now one of the two or three oldest buildings in the county.
H. P. Jacobs had built a pretty good house in Sturgeon Bay. This he tore down, marked the logs and thereupon towed
them to Ephraim. His house was recently torn down to make room for the Anderson Hotel.
That winter there was 3 1/2 feet of snow on the level. For thirty miles north and south of the little settlement
the forest reigned unbroken, inhabited only by wild beasts whose growls were often heard in the night. There was
no postoffice or store within 75 miles and no church within 200. But the colonists lived comfortably without these
necessities, eking out their slender provisions by hunting and fishing and meeting regularly for divine worship
in Iverson's roomy sitting room.
The next summer the little colony was augmented by a large company of Norwegian immigrants who were directed to
Eagle Island by a friend of the colony who lived in Chicago. These new arrivals were Anders Nelson (Lindhjem),
the father of banker C. L. Nelson of Sturgeon Bay; John Thoreson, Soren Hanson (Este) with his grown sons, Henrik
and Andrew Hanson; Hans Hanson Omli with his grown sons Hans and Andrew O. Hanson, Ingebert Torgerson, Jorgen Amundson,
John Anderson (Mach), Torkel Knudson (Nevlungen) and Ole Sorenson. These all arrived at Eagle Island August 24,
1854, on the steamer Columbia, owned by J. M. Craw of Washington Island and found lodgment in the little shanties
erected by the Moravian colonists the year before. Unfortunately they brought with them the germs of the dreadful
Asiatic cholera and an epidemic broke out among them. They had no physician and no remedies of any kind. One after
another got sick and many died. No less than seven cholera victims were buried on the island.
These people were all from Larvik, in the southern part of Norway, and were very different from the Moravian colonists
in many ways. Strong of brawn if not of brain, they all began to carve out farms from the Government lands northeast
of Ephraim (with the exception of Henrik Hanson and Ole Sorenson, who took farms within the present limits of the
Peninsula Park). To begin with they had but little interest in religion and preferred to spend their leisure, in
the fashion of the times, in boisterous carousings. John Thoreson, who early became a dominant personality in Liberty
Grove, usually had a barrel of whiskey on tap and all visitors were invited to help themselves as if out a water
barrel. The story is told that once some of these hearties had been to Ole Sorenson on a visit. It was dark, they
were drunk, and they were prowling along the edge of Eagle Cliff trying to find a place to climb down and reach
the beach. Torkel Knudson, who was very strong, suggested that they take John Anderson, who was tall and lank and
use him for a sounding line. If he could reach the incline below they figured it would be safe to slide down. This
proposition was adopted with acclaim. Torkel seized John by the heels and dropped him "overboard." The
first time this was done they tried it just above the big cave and poor John, the protesting sounding line, was
frightened into sobriety by finding himself dangling head down over a perpendicular cliff 150 feet high.
Such doings naturally shocked the pious Moravians greatly. Little by little, however, these people came under Iverson's
gentle influence and many of them became very good church members.
There was as yet no public school in Door County. However, Ole Larson's talented daughter, Pauline, volunteered
to teach the children, staying for a few days in each house where all the children could gather. This plan was
put into use in the spring of 1854 and worked very well. This was the beginning of the public school system in
Door County. When Mr. Iverson in the spring of 1858 was elected the first superintendent of schools, he organized
the first school districts of northern Door County (which was then all included in the Town of Gibraltar) as follows:
Fish Creek, district number 1; Ephraim, district number 2; Egg Harbor, district number 3; Bailey's Harbor, district
number 4. At Ephraim the first schoolhouse was built on the hill at the east end of Mr. Iverson's lot and Pauline
Larson was engaged as teacher at the salary of $16 per month for a three month term beginning in June and ending
in August. Miss Larson (later Mrs. Martin Johnson) was also the first Sunday school teacher and was a most efficient
assistant in all the activities of the congregation.
Mr. Iverson each year made many missionary journeys to Sturgeon Bay, Fort Howard, New Denmark, Mishicott, Marinette,
Milwaukee and Chicago. While most of these trips were laborious journeys on foot through trackless woods and swamps
he came in contact with many pioneers seeking new land and in this manner many were directed to Ephraim. Among
those who were thus directed to Ephraim were Peter Peterson, Aslag and Halsor Anderson, Carl Nelson, John Eliason,
Martin Johnson, Knut Helgeson, Thomas Goddletson (Gudleikson) and Nels Lindquist with his five sons. All these
later well known' and sturdy pioneers came in the years 1856-58.
By this time so many people had settled at Ephraim that Mr. Iverson's sitting room was insufficient to accommodate
all those who came to attend the regular religious services. But the people were very poor and could not provide
the money to build a church. In the summer of 1857 a gift of quite a respectable amount was received from Rev.
H. A. Schultz, which he had collected in Bethlehem, Pa., to he used for a church building at Ephraim. This was
such an encouragement to the people at Ephraim that they with much self denial managed to subscribe a considerable
sum and the building of the church was begun. With their characteristic veneration for sacred things it was agreed
that their little temple of worship should not be built of the rough logs of the forest, such as they had used
in the construction of their humble homes, but must be built of sawed and planed lumber of excellent quality, in
such a manner as would dignify the church for religious use for generations to come. Accordingly Captain Clow of
Chambers Island was sent for to go to Cedar River, then the principal lumber port on Green Bay, with his little
flat bottomed schooner, Pocahontas, after a cargo of lumber. Iverson writes: "He soon came, but was alone
on board, so that on the trip I had to serve both as deckhand and cook, as well as supercargo, which was all very
interesting." The congregation wished to build the church on the ten acre church lot on top of "Mount
Ephraim" but due to the strenuous insistence of two members it was built on the village commons just in front
of the present creamery. They managed to get the church enclosed and roofed that fall (1857) but were then obliged
to drop the work for lack of funds.
The fact is the little settlement was very near starvation that fall and winter. Their small crops in 1857 were
a complete failure, due to excessive heat and drought and in dismay the colonists looked forward to the winter
with nothing to eat. There were no obliging merchants in the neighborhood then to extend credit in the time of
need. The bank at Green Bay would not lend a dollar on their real estate. The mills of Sturgeon Bay and Cedar River
were shut down due to hard times. They were almost without clothing and shoes. There was not an overcoat in the
settlement. Their summer garments, made up largely of worn out grain bags, were now in tatters. They thought of
the hardships of the winter before when the vessel that was to bring their provisions had frozen in and they had
nothing to live on but potatoes, molasses and a little corn and fish. Now their potato bins and corn cribs and
grain boxes were empty. What were they to live on?
In this dire extremity Mr. Iverson launched his little sailboat and started for Green Bay. When he came there he
hunted up a Mr. Gray, a good natured Irish merchant who owned a large schooner. To Mr. Gray he told of the dire
plight in which the colony was placed and said that if Mr. Gray would advance the most necessary provisions and
clothing, the colonists would pay for it by getting out as many cedar fence posts as Mr. Gray wished. This proposition
was accepted on condition that all the men of the colony should come personally before Mr. Gray and enter into
the required contract. With great joy the colonists heard of this plan and they all went to Green Bay and signed
contracts with Mr. Gray. Personally Mr. Iverson signed a contract for 2,000 fence posts. He was also appointed
foreman by Mr. Gray to superintend the condition and delivery of the posts.
The following winter there was great slashing of cedar on the lowlands of the village Mr. Iverson personally cut
most of his 2,000 posts and carried them on his back to the shore where they were piled up. As there were no horses
and only two oxen in the settlement most of the others did the same. They were the choicest lot of fence posts
that Mr. Gray ever received.
This venture in fence posts, although a backbreaking job, proved a profitable one. When final settlement was made
in spring the settlers had quite a little balance left for improvements. Peter Peterson at this time (1858) opened
a store on the west end of what is now Oscar Wilson's lot and Aslag Anderson built a pier. This proved a great
convenience for shipping forest products.
About this time occurred the first lawsuit in Ephraim which was also one of the first in the county. The justice
of the peace was Zacharias Morbek, a man of ready gifts but of a domineering personality who had things pretty
much his own way in politics. A certain man north of Ephraim was brought before the justice accused of assault
and battery upon his (the defendant's) wife. The testimony developed that there was quite a mistake in that it
was proved that the defendant had not been guilty of beating his wife but his cow. This, however, made no difference
to the learned judge. With ready decision he declared that both offenses were well known to law and that it was
plain that the defendant was guilty of cruelty to animals which covered both specific offenses. He therefore sentenced
him to sixty days in jail and ordered the constable to take the prisoner to the jail in Green Bay. In the commitment
furnished to the constable the justice recited the facts and concluded: "A. B. having made complaint to him
in writing that C. D. did assault and beat his wife, and the testimony offered on the trial showed clearly that
the defendant is guilty of cruelty to animals under the laws of this state: Therefore, it is the sense of this
court, duly empaneled and sworn, that the defendant, C. D., be committed to the county jail for the term of sixty
days and the jailer be directed to feed said C. D. on bread and water, and may the Lord have mercy on your poor
In the spring of 1858 the colonists were overjoyed to receive a visit from their old friend and benefactor in Bethlehem,
Bishop H. A. Schultz, who was accompanied by his daughter. They stayed for a couple of weeks, made the acquaintance
of every settler, and so kind, sympathetic and noble were they that it seemed to the humble colonists that they
were visited by angels from heaven. Finally the day of parting came and they were all moved to tears. It was Bishop
Schultz's plan to go by boat to Fish Creek and there take the steamer for Buffalo. That morning, however, there
was a little sea on the bay and Bishop Schultz who had a strange fear of the water said it was impossible for them
to embark in a small boat in such weather. At that time there was no wagon road to Fish Creek but only a wretched
trail through the timber which led across two swamps where there was always a couple of feet of slimy water standing.
It was decided to try this trail. All went well until they reached the first swamp. Here Mr. Iverson proposed to
follow an invisible little path that went through the underbrush to the north. Mr. Schultz, however, was persuaded
it would be impossible for them to find their way through that jungle. Finally it was decided that Mr. Iverson
should carry Miss Schultz through the swamps while the bishop followed, making a desperate attempt to balance himself
while leaning on Zacharias Wathne on a string of fallen trees that lay on one side of the path.
During the spring and summer of 1859 Mr. Iverson as usual made many missionary trips to Sturgeon Bay, Fort Howard,
New Denmark, Chicago and other places in Illinois. Upon these trips he told of their hopes in Ephraim of completing
the church. He was able to take up so many contributions that the work was resumed. Doors and windows and seats
were ordered from Green Bay, a steeple was built and the church was thoroughly painted and plastered. Mr. Iverson
personally made a massive, well constructed pulpit. Through a gift from Bethlehem they were also able to purchase
and hang up a bell. On the 18th day of December, the day set for the dedication of this first church in Door County
and Northern Wisconsin, the church stood complete and immaculate, free from debt.
This 18th day of December, 1859, was probably the greatest day that Ephraim has seen. A heavy snow had fallen the
night before but nevertheless, when the new church bell tolled for the first service in the trim little church,
slowly moving oxen were seen to come from every direction bringing full packed sleighs of worshippers. They came,
the Thorps, the Minors, the Claflins, the Barringers, the Weborgs, and all the others from the west; the Nortons
and Jarmans from the south; the Dorns, the Hempels and the Langohrs from the east; the Amundsens, the OmHs, the
Audersons, the Kniulsons and others from the north; and last, but not least, the village congregation itself. When
the last bell rang the church was filled to the last seat, a well instructed choir was in the gallery, and the
memorable service began. With more than the usual fervor their pastor this morning preached, and the congregation,
stirred partly by his ardent address and partly by their own ruminations, was moved to tears. Now as they sat in
their own well built house of worship it seemed to them such a great achievement that they could hardly believe
it. They had suffered so long in toil and tribulation, in cold and sickness, in hunger and nakedness that this
dedication of their own church seemed to them to inaucurate a new era. For ten years the congregation had been
buffeted about, moving from place to place in the wilderness like the children of Israel but suffering far greater
hardships than they. No manna here daily fell from heaven to feed them - they had to toil for it in the forest
primeval. When their wives or their children were sick there was no golden serpent hung on high upon which they
might look and get well they could only pray in anguish over their afflicted ones. Here no grand ceremonial cheered
them on from day to day with impressive pomp and the sound of trumpets - they had to work out their own material
and spiritual salvation in solitude and humility.
Poor, brave, self denying, suffering, pioneer fathers and mothers! Like the seed corn planted in the ground perishing
unseen to produce the luxuriant life that springs from it, so these pioneers buried themselves in the wilderness,
killed themselves with hard work that their children might have a competence. But the children of this new land,
how little they often appreciate the sacrifices of their pioneer ancestors! They remember only in disdain their
father's rags and bent back, their mother's wrinkles and rough hands and forget that these are the price of their
This date in fact marked an epoch in the history of Ephraim. While for many long years it continued in its isolation,
like an oasis in the desert, separated from ether settlements by vast stretches of untracked forests, it prospered
and grew. In 1864 the founder of the settlement was called to another field but he was succeeded by Rev. J. J.
Groenfeldt who did not suffer the light that had been lit on "Mount Ephraim" to grow dim For almost sixty
years now that church bell has tolled each Sunday morning calling the people to worship from far and near. For
almost sixty years a minister of the gospel has stood in its pulpit, calling upon the people to turn their thoughts
from material to spiritual things. Such things as these make for steadfastness of character, for high standards
of living. The dance hall and its devotees have never found an opening in Ephraim. No saloon has ever poured out
its foul stench, coarse jests and vulgar laughter upon this community. While the village and its people are far
from perfect, it is a clean, sweet place to dwell in with high ideals and sterling honesty.
In closing this account of the early history of Ephraim a word of appreciation for Mr. Iverson must be added. He
was not only its founder, he was also its nurse and educator. He made Ephraim what it is. Like a mother watching
over her little baby so Iverson worked for Ephraim with unceasing diligence and love. This comes out strongly in
the splendid narrative of his pastoral labors which he wrote almost forty years later when he was an old man on
the brink of the grave. Nothing could be more tender, more sympathetic, more loving than his account of his pastorate
in Ephraim. The reader gets a most vivid impression of a faithful little flock, living together in most primitive
conditions but rich in pentecostal blessings, unselfishly dividing their incomes. Often his narrative reaches sublime
heights of pathos. His account of the death of his friend Tobias Morbid, his story of the conversion of his daughter
at the Christmas tree festival and of her later death are exceedingly touching. At no time is there any self commiseration
in his narrative for the sacrifices he made. He tells in straightforward terms of his work and of his perilous
journeys over land and sea and ice at a time when there was not a mile of road in the county.
Most fortunate indeed was this community in the wilderness to have a man like Iverson as its spiritual guide and
friend! He shared their physical labors with them, he untangled their business difficulties, he watched by their
bedsides and eased their pain with homemade remedies, he prayed for them and with them at all opportunities.
May Ephraim always be true to the memory of its founder!
There is little to add to the history of Ephraim. The Moravian community so well started by its founder has continued
to prosper. About 1860 Peter Peterson, the Ephraim merchant and old time friend of Reverend Iverson, for an unknown
reason turned against him and began to work for the establishment of a Lutheran congregation. After about fifteen
years he succeeded and the new congregation flourished for a time. It is now, however, almost extinct.
Among the well known present old settlers of Ephraim are three families which have not yet been mentioned because
they came a little later. These are Jacob A. Smith, Ephraim's silent patriarch and lifelong merchant who came in
1868 and has ever since been an efficient leader in the community; Martin Olson and his son, O. M. Olson, who came
in 1866 and Fordel Hogenson, who came in 1873.
Ephraim is now famous in many states for its superb scenery and pleasant tourist accommodations. This business
began about the year 1900, although many summer resorters were accustomed to spend their vacations here before
1) Disappointed in philanthropy, Mr. Tank now turned to business, chief of which was his share with Morgan L. Martin
and others in building the Fox River Canal from Green Bay to Neenah. Millions of dollars were spent on this enterprise
of which Mr. Tank was the financial agent. When Mr. Tank died in 1861 his library numbering more than five thousand
volumes was presented by Mrs. Tank to the State Historical Society in Madison. Information gleaned from some of
the old Dutch books in this collection, in 1899, helped to settle the boundary dispute between England and Venezuela,
thus doing its part in averting a possible war with Great Britain.
For further information about Mr. Tank the reader is referred to my address on Tank delivered before the State
Historical Society in 1908 and printed in its Proceedings for that year, pages 146-154.