Sunday, July 24, 2011

the coops of port oneida, part five (olsen coops)

After the relative legibility of the Dechow farm's outbuildings, a visit to the Ole and Magdalena Olsen farm feels like trying to decipher a moth-eaten scroll, albeit one that once contained quite a lot of information. The Olsen farm lies at the eastern-most end of Kelderhouse Road. To get there, one travels down a rugged two-track, completely surrounded by trees and scrubby understory plants, with marsh just beyond. The Olsen farm changed hands perhaps more often than any other in Port Oneida. Thomas Kelderhouse bought it from one Andrew Tuffner in 1857 and sold it to Ole Olsen in 1877. In 1879, Ole sold the farm to his father-in-law, Carsten Burfiend, but bought it back just two years later. I wonder if that pair of transactions was merely pro-forma, a family effort to retain the property in the face of hardship, but the record doesn't divulge that detail. In 1891, Ole's son Charles took over, farming there until 1915, when he moved to the southwest corner of Port Oneida and built this distinctive barn and silo:
For almost 40 years, Albert Prause and his wife Ida (nee Dago, remember them?) farmed the land before selling it back to an Olsen grandson, Howard, in 1954. Howard's widow Bertha remained in the house until at least 1995.

The Olsen farm feels to me the saddest and the creepiest of all the properties in Port Oneida. Well, all except for the remains of the Weaver house, which lurks like a ghost nearly out of sight from the road but reveals more of its bones with each passing year:

Perhaps it is owing to its isolated position, down a long, tunnel-like road, seemingly surrounded by swamp, but the Spooky Olsen Place (as I generally think of it) does have a kind of haunted quality. I am generally vigilant around all of the Port Oneida properties because I feel as though, given the relative desertion of the place, I could easily stumble upon an animal lurking within one of the buildings. Many of the buildings bear signs of forced (or attempted) entry and it seems possible I could surprise such an interloper. I chalk such thoughts up to a rather (over)active imagination, but around the Olsen farm, my senses are on unusually high alert. It just feels like bad things and misery happened there.

The ramshackle buildings don't help. Despite having been so recently inhabited, the buildings here feel extra run down. And there are lots of them, making it even more difficult to puzzle out each one's function. There is one, marked as "pig pen" on the plan in the Park Service report, that looks awfully coop-like:
pop door? check. southern exposure? check.

Scattered about the yard near the house is a constellation of small buildings, all denoted as "shed" on the Park Service plan. This picture shows a few of those.
The one on the far right in this picture also has certain coop attributes:
The next one over is partially sided in a pressed aluminum or tin siding with a scalloped pattern I've never seen before:
Clearly NOT a chicken coop. But what about the next one over?
Brooder? Rabbit hutch? Turkeys? I am mystified and a closer inspection moves me no closer to an answer. At least Shep's house seems pretty clear:
I check out the main house before crossing to the south side of the yard.
There, partially concealed by a fallen tree limb, is yet another coop contender.
A branch pushed aside reveals what appears to be a pop door and although the windows are now boarded up, they do face south.
The main door has a hook that I suspect was forged right here in Port Oneida, most likely by Martin Basch, who was a skilled carpenter and blacksmith and emigrated to this country (so the Park Service report tells me) as a political prisoner from Hanover in 1868.
A graffiti artist has tagged one side of the coop and I struggle to imagine the efficacy of such a gesture. Another "shed" nearby shows a different decoration scheme:
The Olsen barn is quasi-legendary in the literature of Port Oneida and it truly is an impressive edifice. But I'm most taken with the use (again) of the local granite for the foundation...
...and the reappearance on the backside of the same pressed tin siding, which looks particularly forlorn here:
Before heading out, I help myself to a very green, very tart, very under-ripe apple.
It will be many weeks before the apples are ripe and I feel another pang of longing, this time to be in Port Oneida for the apple harvest and then the changing of the leaves. Of course there is no "apple harvest" these days, but this small fruit reminds me of all the people who ate from the same trees I now see scattered about Port Oneida, ubiquitous as the lilacs. One of those people stood where I now stand, reached up and twisted a ripe fruit from the branch. As I nibble on the hard fruit, which is surprisingly refreshing despite its tartness, I feel a visceral connection to the Olsens and the Prauses and I feel grateful for the tree one of them surely planted.

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