The Story of Gulbrand Mellem


The Northwood Anchor newspaper, circa June 29, 1983

Rural Neighborhood was linked to Northwood

       Northwood is the hometown, not only of those who grew up within its incorporated boundaries, but of those who relate to its surrounding rural neighborhoods.

       Perhaps the oldest of Northwood's satellite neighborhoods, indeed, the oldest in the county, is located in Grove township just west of Northwood and extends into Hartland and Brookfield townships. Most of the original settlers were Norwegian immigrants and a number of the farms have remained in the family to this day.

       When Gulbrand and Karina Mellem, the first settlers in Worth county, found a site to their liking along the Shell Rock in 1853, they built their home there and started farming the land. The following year, 1854, Simon and Anna Rustad arrived and chose a beautiful site on a hill across the Shell Rock about a mile west, of the Mellems' holdings. Other settlers, the Osten Olsons, the Gunnar Sundas, the Gullicksons, the Elling Swensruds, the Holstads, Hoves, Johnsons, Knutsons, to mention a few, arrived in subsequent years.

       The Mellems moved to a farm just west and south of the Rustads in 1858, a year after selling their original claim to the founders of the town of Northwood. They had lived along Silver Lake for a year, near his sister and family, the Lobergs, but chose to return to their former neighborhood to make their permanent home.

       Both the Mellems and the Rustads were influential families in the community and many descendants of each family remain in this community to this day.

       Gulbrand Mellem was in a unique position to help his fellow countrymen as they arrived in the area because he could speak English. His father had died when he was lad in Norway and when his mother remarried and emigrated to America with her second husband, she left Gulbrand behind to be raised by a wealthy childless couple.

       His sisters also planned to leave for the new world and he resented being left behind. so he managed to leave his foster home and with a friendly loan from an uncle and his sisters, obtained passage on the boat leaving for America.

       At age 16, he got as far as Buffalo, NY, When his funds ran out, thus he spent a winter there polishing stoves for a hardware firm. and learning English. Later he made it the rest of the way to Wisconsin, where he was reunited with his family. From this base he obtained employment on a raft on the Mississippi, and spent some time laboring down the length of the mighty river.

       Back in Wisconsin, he met a young widow named Karina Ellingson Moen; they were married and joined Pastor Clausen's party of settlers who sought land along the Cedar River, now St. Ansgar. The Mellems did not find land to their liking and continued on to what is now the site of Northwood.

       The Mellems raised 12 children, eight sons and four daughters, including Hans Moen. Karina's son by her first marriage. Gulbrand was one of Northwood's staunchest backers and was especially influential in the county seat controversy with the village of Bristol. He died in 1891 and Karina died in 1904.

       Simon Rustad was also influential in the political. business and church affairs of the community. He served in various offices including that of state representative and was the first president of what is now the Worth Mutual Insurance Association. He was a founder of the South Shell Lutheran Congregation and donated the land for a church building and cemetery.

       The MeIlems and the Rustads were always good friends and good neighbors, and when the new house the Rustads had built burned to the ground, the Mellems simply took them into their own home until a new home could be built.

       Simon and Anna Rustad raised nine children. Simon died in 1894 and Anna died in 1903. The Rustad farm is still in the family, where Simon and Anna's great grandson, Harold Rustad, and his wife, Mavis, reside. It is the oldest farm remaining in the same family in Worth County.

Click here to download the full 425Kb of the full image .jpeg of Gulbrand and Karina Mellem, containing both individuals, as published in the Anchor newspaper.

The Northwood Anchor newspaper, circa July, 1983

Part III of a series

Gulbrand Mellem Became Large Landholder

       Along in the summer of 1854 there came several new settlers, and the Mellem family were no longer alone out on the prairie in Worth County. It was evident that the Mellem home was the gathering place for the newcomers, and none could be more helpful and businesslike than he, especially in all that related to land dealings in the neighborhood. He soon became an authority to whom all went when there were questions about buying or contracting for land.

       His home also became the stopping place for them until they had put up a house or a cellar for themselves. Traveling people never heard of or used the designation Shell Rock of the Shell Rock Settlement. Among the Norwegians it was always "at Guldbrand's." and among the others "at Gulbrin's place." Even after the town of Northwood was platted, it was many years before this fine sounding name could win over "Gulbrin's Place," and it became double awkward for those who were not Norwegian when they should try to spell the name. To Gulbrin they were all going, and the house was filled at all times.

       As it was, the door stood open for all who came. Just one time he thought it got to be too much of a good thing. He had taken pay from some strangers who had stayed several days; but after they had left and gone quite a ways, he got on horseback, caught them, and gave them back the dollar he had received from them. It burned his pocket, he claimed, and he couldn't for conscience's sake keep it. A dollar wouldn't make him the richer, he claimed, and it was a fellow's place and work of love to give a traveler a place to lodge and something to wear. This "hotel business" continued as usual at the Mellem home without any pay or any bookkeeping. This was also the way Mrs. Mellem would have it.

       Hard worker as Mellem was, he soon became a prosperous man. It helped a lot that he was soon able to sell some of his land for a very good price. There came moneyed American men that wanted to plat out his farm into town blocks. Thus it came about that the beautiful town of Northwood arose on a piece of land that Mellem had chosen for himself only a few years before.

       With this money Mellem bought all the land he could get hold of, and in time he owned ninety-nine forties just in Worth County. He also bought twenty eight hundred acres in Mitchell County, Iowa, from administrators of an estate owned in New York. But as the heirs to this estate soon became poor because of this administrator's mistake, he sold it back to them for what he had paid, although the land had arisen four times in value during the two years he had owned it. Reliable businessmen claimed that he should not have sold it back again so cheaply, but, claimed Mellem, he had enough anyway and perhaps the money would benefit the children who might have been robbed because of poor administration.

       In an Atlas of Iowa in the seventies, Guldbrand Mellem's name is listed as the largest landholder in the state of Iowa.

       It was not as a rich man that he was well known. Many a Norwegian American can perhaps count thousands where Mellem counted his hundreds. Neither was it because he was the first pioneer in Worth County; as many have been the first settlers in a county without having become especially well known because of it. But is was because of his being trustworthy help in the settlement, a man to be reckoned with both in the political as well as the churchly life, that he was a power that had to be taken into consideration when anything of importance was undertaken in the neighborhood or the county. To begin with one knew where he stood in a case, if there happened to be a right and a wrong side to it. Two trips he took to Iowa City, the capital, to have it lawfully established whether Northwood or Bristol was to be the county seat in Worth County.

       The fight in this case was like other quarrels between two quarreling settlements, bitter and compelling, and it could in this case be settled only at state headquarters. In this case Bristol had a head start. A large group of Irish had settled there, and Bristol grew like a toadstool in the night. The state had also opened a land office at Bristol.

       According to law and what was right, Mellem had the better of the Irish and the result of this fight was accepted with joy and celebrations in the Northwood settlement. Active as he was in this quarrel, he always claimed that the advice and dealings of Messrs. Dwelle and Beckett made it possible to win this case. But that Gulbrand Mellem was the most active in getting this settled, no one can deny. Without his activity and stick-to-itiveness the result could have been different.

       In the 1860's when the Civil War broke, Gulbrand absolutely wanted to go to the front, but because of some bodily ailment he was not accepted as a soldier. This, I believe, was a national calamity for I believe, as one of his sons said in a talk a while back that "had father and Mikkel Paulson been turned loose on the rebels in the South, war would not have lasted over three months, this mad were they both at the Southern rebellion! If these two hasty heads had gone off at the same time," he said, "it would have been more than dangerous for those war mongers in the South to have stopped in their flight before the reached a point where they could have jumped into the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico." Lucky it was for the family and especially for the six youngest children that were not born yet, that Mellem was not allowed to go. "Nothing is so bad but what it is good for something."

       Then in 1862 the Indian uprising came, and the new settlers from farther west began streaming eastward to get away from a terrible death. Here Mellem took an active part to get this flight eastward stopped. Three men were chosen to go out on horseback as spies, to find out how close the Indian and death were. Mellem was given command of this patrol. He had a little breach-loading shotgun and the other two had rifles. They went as far west as Mankato, Minnesota, and from there southward to Lake Mills and from there home again without discovering any Indians. This put a stop to the flight, and the settlers returned to their homes.



Transcribed by Gordon Felland, July 2002.
WebPublished in Worth-IAGENWEB by K. L. Kittleson, July 2002.
UPDATED: July 12,2002