"What a perfect weekend! The snow was perfect and the weather was just like it had been ordered. Toinie is a perfect cook and Art a perfect guide and host. May we come again?!" -Jean & Cecil, January 1976
Here is a detailed history of how the Palmquist Farm came to be in Northern Wisconsin and how The Farm was started. If this text interests you, it’s available in a book our family wrote together called Palmquist Farm: A Walking Tour. It tells the history of all the buildings and other important features on The Farm. You can purchase the book in our gift shop or buy it here.
Here is the first section from that book--
Hello, I’m Jim Palmquist. Helen and I have been taking in guests for over 30 years now. My parents, Art and Toinie Palmquist (pictured under the sign), were the ones who started the vacation business, but the farm itself has been in this family for over 100 years.
The story of the farm starts in Finland. During the mid to late 1800s, Finland was occupied by Russia, and there was a severe famine. My great grandfather, Jacob Gustafson, and his brother and sister, had instructions that if his parents didn’t wake up some morning they should go sit on the steps of the village hall. Soon after he was given these instructions, his parents starved to death. The state collected the children from the steps of the village hall and arranged for Jacob and his siblings to live and work on a farm.
At that time, each farm was required to supply one young man to the Russian army. Jacob was chosen from that farm to go serve the Russian army. Because he was quite athletic, the Russians decided to place him in the cavalry, which was called the Kossacks. We’re not sure how long he served, but during this time, he met a woman, married, and had a son. Then, his wife passed away suddenly. That’s when he decided to desert the Russian army and go to America, leaving his young son Andrew behind.
When Jacob got to America, he had a hard time finding a use for the skills he had. The Russian military had taught him to handle horses and use a sword and pistol but not much else. These skills weren’t in great demand, so he did what he could and that was physical labor. He worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, an Iron mine in upper Michigan and a coal mine in Frontier, Wyoming. While in Pennsylvania, he remarried a woman named Anna Pokela.
In Wyoming, while Jacob spent his days working in the mine, his wife ran a boarding house. We still have the old boarding house guest book from that time, written entirely in Finnish. The boarding house happened to be right next to a saloon, which meant that occasionally a few drunken cowboys would cause trouble when they wanted somewhere to stay. I’ve heard stories that the cowboys sometimes got so rowdy that they would ride right into the saloon on their horses. Jacob and his wife knew this was not a good place to bring up their two young daughters, Alena and Juliana.
Another problem with their life in Wyoming was the danger of Jacob’s work. Mining was hazardous work back then, and Jacob came close to dying many times. On one particular day, Jacob wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to stay home from work. That same day, there was a cave-in at the mine and many of the workers died. That’s when Jacob knew it was time for a change.
He and his wife had been hearing news of special land promotions in the northern Wisconsin region. One brochure was particularly convincing: written by the land agent E.H. Hobe, the brochure was written entirely in Finnish and spoke of the similarities between Finnish landscape and what could be found in the Brantwood area. It also stated that there was already an established Finnish community in that area.
These advertisements convinced them to start a new life in Wisconsin. So they bought some land near where Palmquist Farm is today and started subsistence farming. They were happy to discover that the area around Brantwood did indeed look very much like the region in Finland where Jacob had grown up.
When they were settled in Brantwood, Jacob sent for his son Andrew, who finally was able to come from Finland to live with them. Throughout his life, Jacob helped to establish a cemetery, a cooperative cheese factory, a cooperative store and a church in the Brantwood area.
Meanwhile, my grandfather, Anton Palmquist, was living in a different town in Finland. Anton had a friend who wanted to go to America, but his friend was committed to a five-year contract on a sailing ship. When his friend’s shipmate, who had completed his contract on the same sailing ship and had all the papers necessary to go to America, died at sea, Anton’s friend asked the captain if he could take on the name of his dead sailor friend in order to shorten his contract and use the papers to get to America. These days they would call that identity theft, but I guess it wasn’t such a big deal back then. The captain agreed, and so Anton’s friend, now named Weiranius, came to America before Anton and settled in Brantwood, the current location of Palmquist Farm.
Soon after, Anton’s father said one night during dinner to all Anton’s brothers and sisters, “Who would like to go to America to see if the streets are really paved in gold?” Anton was the oldest and said he would go. He was 16 years old when he left home. At first he worked in Rhode Island in a textile mill and then, after visiting his friend Weiranius in Brantwood, went on to Washington State to work on river dam construction and later moved on to logging camps in Idaho. Because train travel was expensive, he rode on the top of the train to get there. Anton was thrilled to see real cowboys on horseback in the west.
After a few years of working and traveling in America, he decided this country wasn’t the place for him. He wanted to go back to Finland. On his way to the coast, he decided to stop in Brantwood to say goodbye to his old friend, Weiranius. When Anton got to the farm in Brantwood, he called on Alena Gustafson, daughter of Jacob Gustafson. Anton had actually met Alena when she was twelve. Now, she was 15, and that changed everything for Anton. They fell in love and were married that same year, in 1913. Anton decided to stay in Brantwood and buy the farm from Weiranius, marking the beginning of Palmquist Farm. The Gustafson family and the newly married couple decided they would live on the farm together.
After Anton took over the farm, he turned it into a logging business. Over the course of his career, Anton operated logging camps all over northern Wisconsin and used the Farm as his headquarters. It was a place to make tools, manage the business, and feed and shelter some of the immigrant workers and horses. Since there were no unemployment benefits at that time, during the off-season the workers cleared farm land of roots and stumps in exchange for room and board. Years later, in the 40s and 50s, the logging industry transitioned to more modern methods, making traditional logging camps obsolete, so the family switched to road construction and increased the emphasis on dairy farming.
This switch happened around the time Anton’s son Art and his wife Toinie (my parents) took over running the Farm. Art and Toinie also were the ones that made the transition to taking in guests. At first, they mostly took in relatives for no charge. Then, while reading an article in Farm Journal magazine, they found there was a demand for farm-type vacations. They contacted someone from the “Farm and Ranch Vacation Guide” in New York. The publisher, Pat Dickerman, came to inspect the Farm and gave my parents advice on how to attract farm guests. One of the requirements was that you needed at least one indoor bathroom.
My parents decided to start advertising in that guide. From there, they were noticed by Readers Digest Magazine, which published a story about Palmquist Farm in May 1967, bringing a lot of attention to The Farm. Art and Toinie were getting so many letters that they had to pick up their mail in bags from the Brantwood post office. Because the article didn’t give the exact address for The Farm, all the inquiries were addressed to “Palmquist Farm, 35 miles west of Rhinelander, WI.”
Soon, people were coming in from all over the region to stay at the Farm. Some of these early guests would stay for a month or more and do farm work alongside my parents. My parents used to save certain farm tasks for when a certain guest would be on the farm to help because that guest (who came year after year) would be upset to miss out on their favorite farm work. When things got busy during the summer, my parents sometimes gave up their own bed so the guests would have somewhere to sleep.
In addition to vacationers, we also hosted preachers, school teachers, and our own hired farm workers. Art and Toinie sometimes took in local children who no longer had family to stay with. In this way, they were sort of like foster parents to these kids back before there were government programs for it.
From then until now, Palmquist Farm began a slow transition from dairy farm to all-season resort as my wife Helen and I took over for my parents. Cross-country skiing was always a part of life on our farm, and we first started grooming ski trails for the guests to use in the 1970s. Helen and I had a hand in the addition of more cabins for guests to stay in as well as the construction of both halves of the Pickaroon lodge. We also started our deer farm in 1998 for our hunting guests. We raise beef cattle, deer, and elk. We keep two working horses, Pat and Pete, whom we use to pull wagons in the summer and sleighs in the winter. We grow our own hay to feed to our livestock. We take in horseback riders, grouse and deer hunters, skiers, and a variety of other outdoor-loving people.
Looking back, I can safely say that hospitality has run in my family for many generations. You have to go into it with a willingness to provide a special experience for all. The best part is that, over the many years of being in this buiness, we certainly have met many wonderful and interesting people.
Now, my wife Helen and I manage the day-to-day work. Our daughter Anna manages our marketing, design, and other Internet things we don’t wholly understand. Her husband Adam takes care of our computers and is the one to thank for the wifi at The Farm.