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Prairie Housing Yesterday and Today

Not much to report this week because we had new flooring installed on the main floor of our house. We spent a lot of time moving furniture around.

My beautiful new floors got me to thinking about the housing my ancestors inhabited when they came to the western United States over 100 years ago. Certainly they did not start out with multi-level homes and lovely oak floors. They lived in sod houses, or soddies.

I wonder how they felt about that. My great-grandmothers Laura Riddle and Petronellia Reed had lived in nice homes in Michigan and Illinois. It must have been difficult for them to get used to living in a house made of dirt. Laura eventually worked her way up to a nicer frame house in Palisade, Nebraska. Petronellia hated her life on the Wyoming prairie, sold her homestead, and moved to Missouri. There she also lived in a frame house.

And what about my other homesteading family, my Norwegian ancestors, Ole and Sofie Bentsen? They had lived in fishing villages in Norway. Last summer I visited a fisherman’s cottage at the Helgeland Museum in Dønna, Norway. It would have been similar to the housing the Bentsens left behind when they immigrated. Similar in size to a soddy on the American plains, it even had a grass roof. Perhaps life in a soddy did not seem so strange to them.

Yet the Bentsens, too, eventually upgraded to a frame house on their farm near Redstone, Montana. Even if they did not mind the soddy as much as Laura and Petronellia did, they weren’t satisfied to stay in one forever. Like the rest of us, they continued to upgrade their housing.

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