Leer Neighbor to the Northeast

Leer, Neighbor to the Northeast

About the time the first settlers were arriving to settle the area of Posen Township, new pioneers were arriving by boat to Alpena. As early as 1870, natives of Lier, Norway set foot on Michigan soil in quest of fertile land and timber to carve a new homeland in America. Most became employed in the saw mills of Alpena, and soon there were enough Norwegians to organize a church.

On May 19, 1873, Pastor R. B. Ruh, came to organize a congragation at a salary of $500.00. By 1875, a new parsonage and church was built. The faithful people pledged their support. A family man promised to pay twelve dollars, a bachelor nine dollars, and a single girl six dollars a year. Thus began the first Norwegian parish still in existence today.

A fire swept Alpena in 1875, and nearly all of Alpena burned. This tragedy, in addition to the lawlessness and drinking, led many to thinking of further pursuit for a better place to live.

A party of Bernhard Enger, Otter Olson, Gustave Gueliksen and Adreas Christopherson set out in search of suitable farmlands and heavy timber to begin a new settlement. The lumber companies owned a great deal of the territory at that time. When the party heard of just such good land 25 miles northwest of Alpena, they investigated and purchased a good number of acres from the companies. When Jacob Anderson, Martin Alfsen, Olaf Olsen, Bjorn Halversen, Bernt Larson, Ole Nelsen, Ole Markusen and Sven Rude were successful in similar purchases, the possibility of a new settlement emerged. Posen's neighbor to the northeast, to be known as Leer Settlement started to take shape. One by one the families worked, saved money, and then came to buy and establish homes and farms.

Bernhard Enger and Ole Markusen ventured into the new country in the fall of 1878. Each took only an axe, a saw, and a supply of food. They walked twenty-three miles the first day and finding no lodging, they built a shelter of hemlock boughs, made a fire and spent the night. From their temporary camp which was near the Four Sink Holes on the present Leer Road, they walked another two miles to the Enger property and began to build a hitta (cabin). A return trip to Alpena for supplies and food helped them weather the winter. They cleared land for themselves as well as others. Mr. Bernhard Enger ws married before coming to Leer and he soon replaced the hitta with a two room cabin. When the next winter arrived they moved to Alpena to await the arrival of their first child. Thus when George Enger was born in 1879, he was to have the distinction of being th first child born after the settling of this community.

Ole Markusen and his wife decided to live in the Enger house while the Engers were residing in Alpena. The food became very scarce and it was necessary for Ole to go into Alpena to purchase some. Since the snow was very deep, he fashioned himself a pair of skis from tough lumber. In passing through Long Rapids, his Scottish neighbors were amazed with his strange equipment that he used for skiing through the snow. Ole Markusen later became the ski-maker for the new community because they proved very useful during the winter months.

Another early arrival in Leer was Mr. Bjorn Barsen. The two bags of grain he brought along presented no problem until he got off the stage in Long Rapids. Attempting to walk the remaining five miles, Barsen carried one bag a distance, set it down and back-tracked to get the second bag. By repeating the process he finally reached his destination with both bags of grain.

The first Norwegian School was begun in 1881. Being the first born it was not strange that George Enger was one of the first students under the tutorage of Mr. Fulton Fox. Miss Ella Wingrove, Katie Fitzpatrick and Flora Currie were some of the early teachers. The original school house was in operation until about 1927. The following year the Alex Nevin family acquired it and used the material to build a chicken coop.

The Norwegian Leer Lutheran Congregation was organized March 5, 1882, in the home of Andreas Christopherson. Pastor Peder Isberg of Alpena conducted this meeting as well as baptized the first child, Carl Christopherson, son of the host.

Pastor Isberg agreed to hold four services each year, with farm produce as pay. In 1883, Pastor Wang came to Alpena. He came to Leer to conduct services but had difficulty in reaching the little school house which served as a temporary church. The roads were very poor and he had to walk the last five miles when the stage line left him off. A short time later, Karl Burud donated three acres for a church home and cemetery. Free burial lots were given to those who helped clear the land for the cemetery. A church building fund was started in 1885, and it was under the leadership of Pastor Johnson that the church was built in 1889. The bell was ordered from a Sears & Roebuck catalog. From a membership of ten, it increased to ninety-six by 1894.

The minister came for services once a month. His train would be met in Posen by a church member. Sunday school was held on Saturday afternoon followed by a morning and evening Sunday service. After spending the night with one of the families in the area, he was returned to the train in Posen for his return trip to Alpena.

The settlers received such a small amount of money for their lumber they did not even bother to haul it to the market. For three dollars a thousand, they were required to deliver it to the river bank. Logs that would not split easily for firewood were piled and burned to make room for farming.

The huge tree stumps proved to be quite a problem. Digging them out by hand was almost impossible, so horses were used. When dynamite was first heard of it proved to be a happy day for these farmers. Soon they learned to apply it for successful stump removal. Now they could farm large amounts of smooth fields with only rows of stump fences between them.

Today it is difficult to realize the painful conditions these people endured. Progressively the settlers of Leer have helped to make this spot on the map of Michigan come into being and remain a quite peaceful farming countryside.

Scandinaven, by Hjalmar N. Holand for a paper written by Mrs. Norma Carr. She most graciously let us use if for the article, Leer, Neighbor to the Northeast.