Through Any Given Door

1.19 The Clemens Farm (part 3)

The Clemens and Nigon families did well, all successful farmers of German heritage. Not one family lost their farm in the Great Depression, like so many farmers who had strapped their land with bank loans.

St. John’s, Rochester

They worked, paid cash for what they needed, then drank beer and danced… but not until work was done. The family and neighbors had card parties, rotating from farm to farm. They played 500 with 10 tables set up with four at a table, and after the card games shared a potluck lunch. Once a year they had a big party with the Altar Society, who were all the Catholics at St. John’s. Music was played and German songs sung. The table was pushed off to the side and the mahogany Baldwin upright piano played; Grandpa smoked his pipe and played his harpsichord. People danced in the living room. If the party was too big, it was held in the barn and all the zithers and fiddles were brought out.

My grandfather’s sister and her family from North Dakota–the Von Rudens–came for June and July each year. Their wheat was planted, so there was nothing for them to do at home and here the food was free. The Clemens’ house was also the welcoming station for the relatives and friends emigrating here from Europe. The immigrants stayed here until they could start their own farms–sometimes a week, sometimes six months. All the neighbors helped each other get settled, joining a work party to raise a barn in a week.

Clemens siblings: Peter and Mathew, Jr. (my grandfather)
Kate Hoeft, Rose Nye, Margaret Von Ruden, Anna Schabo

Minnesota’s summer temperature is around 80 some degrees; a riot of red and yellow leaves in the fall, pastures of green grass and fields of fresh crops in the spring, and freezing cold in the winter, going well below zero degrees during the day, with nights 30 degrees below. Some winters they trenched from the house to the barn if the snow got too deep. The brothers told tall tales of snow so deep it got as high as the electrical lines, then they’d elbow and wink at each other, failing to mention the wires were only two feet off the ground as the poles were sunk into culverts. It was the same snow I had to hear about from my father when as a kid, he had to walk to school every day, uphill both ways. Dad failed to mention the hill was a short rise and the rest of the road was as flat as a floor. “When I was your age…”

The silo, the milk-house, and the big wood and stone barn were fifty steps from the house and lined by a hedge of big pines. The 1873 cornerstone from the top floor of the house that had been torn off after the tornado was installed midway up the stone section. The hay barn had sixteen-foot bays, four-by-four feet apart, and was hand hewn, constructed with square pegs fitted into square holes. There were eight horse stalls plus a three-foot wide one for the pony, a combination woodshed/laundry room, and a two-car carriage/garage where in the early 1930s the family parked its big, black, four-door Dodge.

Theirs was one of the first families in Rochester to have a car, a Duesenberg or a Hupmobile, (depends whether you ask Sister Ann or Uncle Joe) big, black, and beautiful. Four doors, two jump seats, room for seven passengers. When his cars first came out, Henry Ford said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” The second family car was a 1927 forest green Graham-Paige, a real touring car; a four-door, three-seater that fit everyone in the family.

Woven tapestries brought from Luxembourg hung on the walls, and in every room there were framed family photographs, original oil paintings, and gilded framed mirrors. There were wooden rocking chairs. There was a piano for the girls. The living room floor had oak parquet floors. The kitchen was the hub of the house. Food for a houseful of family and constant company was continuously prepared, cooked, served, and cleaned up; the process immediately starting again after every meal for the next meal. Setting the noon meal one day Grandma commented, “Oh, there’s only 22 for dinner.” The dining room was 15 feet by 30 feet, with hardwood floors and a table big enough for everyone.

In the winter ice was harvested from Cascade Creek, which ran through their property. Packed in sawdust and stored in the icehouse, it lasted all summer. Grandpa or the boys chopped off a hunk and chipped it small enough to fit in the icebox. Grandma presided in the kitchen. Grandma’s youngest sister Jane Nigon lived with them, and she and the girls helped prepare meals and bake bread, cakes, cookies, and pies to feed the family. The men and the hired hands always ate first. There were often several hired men, with one or two always living on the farm. Grandpa never had enough help with the older boys leaving home as soon as they could.


Family Lineage

 Peter Clemens

Peter Clemens (my gg-grandfather)
Son of Mathias Clemens & Margaretha Welter
1808 – 1871
Mary “Maria” Reding (my gg-grandmother)
Daughter of Nicholas Reding & Magdelena Rollinger
1811 – 1848
Married: Jun 29, 1835 in Consdorf, Luxembourg

Matt w/parents Anna & Mathew

Mathew Clemens (my great-grandfather)
Son of Peter Clemens & Maria Reding
1836 – 1921
Anna Mary Reiland (my great-grandmother)
Daughter of John Reiland & Anna Mary Clemens
1832 – 1918
Married: Apr 24, 1858 in Mazeppa, Minnesota

Mathew Sylvester “Matt” Clemens (my grandfather)
7th of 7 children of Mathew Clemens & Anna Mary Reiland
1874 – 1947
Barbara Nigon (my grandmother)
1st of 13 children of Nicholas Nigon & Barbara Leinen
1873 – 1937
Married: Apr 19, 1898 in Rochester, Minnesota
Thirteen children:

Clemens family on farm 1912

1. Unnamed twin (male)
1898 – 1898 (died at three days)
2. Unnamed twin (female)
1898 – 1898 (died at three days)
3. Mary Anne Clemens
1899 – 1994
4. Elizabeth Barbara Clemens
1900 – 1996
5. Amelia Rose Clemens
1902 – 1972
6. Dorothy Clemens
1903 – 1903
7. Aloysius Michael “Louis” Clemens
1904 – 1929
8. Carl John Clemens (my father)
1905 – 1986
9. Cecelia Helen (Sister Ann) Clemens
1908 – 2003
10. Agnes Catherine Clemens
1909 – 2005
11. Anna Frances Clemens
1911 – 1995
12. Lawrence Matthew Clemens
1912 – 1978
13. Joseph William Clemens
1914 – 2010

to be continued …

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Fun to see the Von Ruden connection in this story. I saved the picture as I had never seen it before. Who knew they were free loaders that came for the summer? Maggie was married to my great-great grandfather’s nephew.

  2. Jim Chatfield says:

    That is quite a story of your family. You are quite right. When our German ancestors came over they usually gathered in the same community and were always close. Mine gathered in Illinois in Grant Park and Kankakee area. Thanks again for a wonderful story. You always write just like you were right there with them.

  3. Fascinating history! This was a special moment in time, while it lasted. Those Germans were definitely hardworking stock… the big meals & parties sound like fun but I’ll bet the rules were pretty strict! Thanks for bringing this time to life.

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