Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ole Bull State Park

Monument to Ole Borneman Bull,
Ole Bull State Park
One of my favorite drives is the journey along Route 144, especially in the northern part of the state that is known as the Black Forest region. Since I was a little child, the drive has been an adventure and is one of the first drives I did once I was able to drive.

On a recent drive northward, I stopped at a state park that I had passed so many times but had only stopped at once or twice before. Ole Bull State Park is located along Route 144 in the Kettle Creek Valley between Renovo and Galeton.

The park is named in honor of Old Borneman Bull, a world famous Norwegian violinist of the 1800s. After a number of tours in America, he decided that he wanted to set up a colony here for his fellow Norwegians.

In September of 1852, Ole Bull arrived in Coudersport having bought 11,144 acres of land in the Kettle Creek Valley from John Cowan of Williamsport. On September 17 of that year, a second group of settlers (about 104 this time) arrived in Coudersport and joined with Ole Bull and his first group and they were soon on their way southward into the Kettle Creek Valley. They would settle in the area of the current state park and this is the location where he would set up his "castle," Nordjenskald.

In the Kettle Creek Valley, they would set up four towns: New Bergen (current day Carter Camp), Oleana (still exists at the northern end of the park), New Norway (no longer in existence, about one mile south of Oleana) and Vahalla (at the current park where he was going to build his home). By January of 1853, the settlers had erected a steam sawmill and two water mills in the valley, along with a school being erected at New Norway.

Close-up of Ole Bull's profile

It was in May of 1853 that it was discovered that much of the land that had been improved upon did not belong to Ole Bull. It has been debated by many historians whether Old Bull misunderstood his purchase or was misled about it, but the colony which was supposed to be 120,000 acres was much smaller than he had thought. The colonies of New Bergen and New Norway (both on prime fertile ground compared to the rest of the valley) did not belong to him so the money and time developing them was wasted.

The settlers had to move off of these lands and onto lands not fit for farming. On September 22, 1853, all of the lands bought by Ole Bull were sold back to John Cowan for the same price it had been purchased for. Ole Bull's friends would later claim that Ole Bull lost between $70 to $120 thousand dollars in the venture. Before winter arrived, most of the settlers had left the valley; the majority of them moved westward to Minnesota and Wisconsin, though some remained in the valley.

Ole Bull would return to his home country in 1857 and died on the Isle of Lyso in 1880.

The park was developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who built the original dam and park facilities.

Stopping at the state park, I grabbed a map of the park and my eyes immediately caught a notation for a monument to Ole Bull. In a couple minutes, I had passed the camping area and crossed over Kettle Creek to the monument to Ole Bull. It stands along the mountainside, next to the road, with the flags of Norway and the United States flying overhead. It was erected in 2002 by residents of Norway on the 150th anniversary of the founding of New Norway.

Nearby was the start of the trail that led to the ruins of Ole Bull's castle. After debating the time, I realized that my hike up to the remains of Ole Bull's Castle would not be happening this trip, but I eagerly await a return trip to do more exploring of this little gem in the wilds of northern Pennsylvania.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I remember as a child my uncle Ted Schreiber (from Kersey & Shirleysburg, PA) taking me & my sister to see what was left of Ole Bull's American adventures.
    . . . Ole Bornemann Bull was a distant relative of mine. My paternal grandmother, Helga Bull, was the daughter of Nils Rosing Bull. I was named after my uncle, who was named after his grandfather, my great grandfather.
    . . . Takk for din skrivning over Ole Bull. Hei!

    ReplyDelete