When pioneer farmer Andrew Peterson purchased land near Lake Waconia in 1856, he could not have envisioned that it would be tangled up in lawsuits, claims and counterclaims in the 21st century.
Most of the historic farmstead — 51 acres — was deeded to the Carver County Historical Society in late 2012 by its most recent owner, Ward Holasek, who died two months ago at age 76.
Holasek’s two sons, who own an additional 20 acres at the southern end of the property, have refused to allow access across their land on a driveway that leads to the society’s 51-acre parcel. The society’s land, which includes a historic barn being restored in phases, has received four state legacy grants ranging from about $7,000 to nearly $28,000 from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
The site is east of Waconia on Parley Lake Road just off Hwy. 5.
The sons, Rick and Wade Holasek, claim that the society’s deed should be nullified and the 51 acres returned to the family, saying their father didn’t fully understand what he was doing when he donated the land. “In the end, it will come out that he was a very confused, very vulnerable adult man who didn’t quite follow what was going on,” said attorney Howard Bard, who represents the sons.
But the Historical Society strongly disputes that claim.
“I don’t know what he could have done to make it more clear what his wishes were about giving the land to the community,” said Wendy Petersen-Biorn, executive director of the Historical Society.
Ward Holasek transferred the deed to the society in October 2012, she said, to become effective at the time of his death. Earlier, in a will dated January 2011, he had designated the society as the recipient of the land.
Diaries inspired masterpiece
The land, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is one of the most important historical sites in Carver County, Petersen-Biorn said.
The reason is Andrew Peterson, part of the wave of Swedish immigrants to the United States in the mid- to late 1800s. He farmed the land and experimented with growing Russian varieties of apples, but is most famous for the daily journals and ledgers he wrote for nearly half a century until his death in 1898.
The handwritten diaries are housed at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.
The information about personal events and business transactions was a treasure trove for Swedish novelist Vilhelm Moberg, who wrote about immigration to America in “The Emigrants” series, which became a popular film starring Liv Ullmann in 1971.
History fans founded an Andrew Peterson Society in Sweden in 2003, and Petersen-Biorn said that 30 to 60 Swedish tourists come to see the farm and its dilapidated barn each year. Four Swedes visited in 2006 to replace the roof of its granary.
“We’ve had people come in here and read the journals and say that their great-great grandfather worked on the building,” she said. “Because of Peterson’s journals, we can tell you who worked on the building and even what lakes the stones came from that were used in the building foundations. So it’s very important to the community.”
Most of the historic farm buildings are on the 20 acres owned by the Holasek sons. During the past three years, the Carver County Historical Society has applied for grant funding and sought local donations to stabilize, study and begin restoring the barn on their property. The most recent grant, $27,140 to rebuild the stone foundation of the barn, came with conditions in a letter of agreement with the Minnesota Historical Society. In it, Ward Holasek and the Carver County Historical Society promised to maintain and repair the building and try to protect and enhance the qualities that make it historic.
Sons deny access to farm site
Last August, the attorney for Holasek’s sons sent the Carver society a letter saying that neither its members nor the touring public would be permitted access to the farm or to its buildings, and that no further renovations of the barn would be permitted.
Negotiations followed without success, so in October the society filed a lawsuit in Carver County District Court seeking guaranteed access because the property was transferred with an “implied easement.”
The sons filed a counter claim that seeks dismissal of the lawsuit, and also to cancel the deed transfer and the society’s ownership rights to the property. The complaint claims that the deed and the letter of agreement with the state were “procured through undue influence, fraudulent misrepresentation,” and withholding of important facts, and that Ward Holasek could not “fairly and reasonably understand the consequences and meaning” of his actions.
Furthermore, said attorney Bard, the family will receive almost nothing in the will if the deed transfer to the historical society is not canceled, and leaving the family so little was not Ward Holasek’s intent. “It’s an extremely valuable farm that’s worth almost a million dollars on the books,” Bard said. “The estate without the farm is close to insolvent.”
But the society’s attorney, Pat Neaton, said there’s no evidence that Ward Holasek did not understand fully what he was doing, and that until his death he continued to discuss the next stage of restoring the historic barn.
Much of the dispute has now landed in probate court, where it is likely to take months to resolve. An initial hearing on Tuesday dealt with the process of finding an independent personal representative to administer the estate.
Petersen-Biorn said the society learned two days after Holasek’s death that it will receive another state grant for long-range planning, and the issue of access needs to be resolved. She hopes the parties find common ground, and ultimately that the society can own more buildings on the sons’ land, and the family can receive more of the farm land.
“I hope this can lead to what Ward wanted for the community, and I’m hoping it won’t take too many years to get there,” she said.