Fort Severson

Nels Severson Barn

1068 456th Street, Carpenter, IA

Actually, it’s just a barn but where’s the fun in that?  It’s long been called Fort Severson by Mitchell and Worth County residents.  Actually, the term “Fort” was a common designation on the American frontier for larger secure structures built by early pioneers.  These included some churches, a remote farm house or other safe place to stay when needed.  People often found themselves away from more populated areas on the prairie and needed good shelter.  Sadly, it never actually acted as a “fort” for protection.

But that takes away nothing from the structure itself.  Solidly and skillfully constructed of local limestone and timber from surrounding woodlands, it has survived since the mid 1850s.  Read below about Nels, the builder.

 A little background on Nels, the builder

Nels Severson was born in Norway in 1832 and came to America in 1852 for a better life. Nels and his brother Ole arrived here in Section 6 of Newburg Township from Dane County, WI in 1854. Ole Severson, with the help of his brother, built the first log house in the township then tragically drowned in Deer Creek that summer of 1854. Nels was determined to make his home on this Iowa claim. Nels first constructed a log home and some smaller frame buildings here on this ground while he started preparing the prairie sod for farming. He married Anna Gilbert in 1859 and started a family.  

In 1864, Nels joined the Iowa 12th Regiment (according to his pension documents) Infantry, Co. G as a private and served until the close of the Civil War in 1865 returning home to his wife and two young daughters.   They eventually had seven children and remained here until Nels died in 1914 and Anna in 1926, both in their 80's. They are buried at their local church cemetery, Deer Creek Lutheran.

Imagine yourself back in time to the Seversons' world in 1867 ...The railroad had not been built this far; 4 years before the village later named "Carpenter" was platted. No local Post Office. Nature supplies the needs in this wilderness. This is truly a quiet oasis on the prairie amid the rich Iowa land for farming. Deer Creek was close for their daily needs and fishing, the banks lined with woodlands for hunting and building materials. You had yourself, your family, your few neighbors and your faith to sustain you.

In 1867, Nels constructed this two-story barn, Fort Severson, in the clearing close to his house with the help of his neighbors. This 30' x 32' stone two-story barn has walls 18" thick of irregularly cut local limestone held in place by lime mortar. The gable roof was once covered with wood shingles and later with cedar shakes. The loft flooring was originally of planks. This barn is a lovingly crafted example of frontier building, using local materials in a simple but enduring way.

Rumor has it... (Click here)

Rumors of the structure being used for Indian protection and being a stagecoach stop have made for good stories over the years. Many will say the small openings were for defense of the "Fort" during anticipated attacks but that was not the case- No rifles or Gatling guns (as one account speculates) ever extended through those openings. The Spirit Lake Massacre in 1857 and the New Ulm Massacre in 1862 were over long before the "Fort" was built and the Indians that passed through the area, scouting along Deer Creek, were not a threat but were known to approach the settlers' homes seeking food.  These framed openings were in fact for ventilation of the barn. Not near as exciting as the rumors. The stage line to Northwood did pass by the Seversons. Tradition said that the "Fort" was used as a stop with the wagon teams staying below and the passengers stayed above on the loft space. Again, another good story. There was no chimney or heating source in the "Fort" and this was not a regular stage stop but weary travelers were likely accommodated in a nearby frame structure, now long gone, that was the actual inn and only the teams would have been sheltered in the Nels Severson Barn.    

The Mitchell County Bicentennial Commission, nominated "Nels Severson Barn" aka Fort Severson to the National Register of Historic Places. It can't be called "Fort" on the Historic Register because it was never staffed by military. Through the persistent efforts of Wm. Biedermann, placement on the Register was officially approved in July 1976. The dedication ceremony was attended by over 300 including 12 grandchildren of Nels and Anna Gilbert Severson. The farm land surrounding the site is owned by Dave & Judy Goplerud. They donated the fenced in area and "Fort" Severson structure to the Mitchell County Historical Society. Following the 1976 State Bicentennial celebrations, remaining funds were distributed to projects and Bicentennial funds were gifted to Mitchell County Historical Society for Fort Severson where they were to be placed in a trust so that the generated interest would be used to help maintain the Fort Severson Site.