The remains of a building that triggered Audrey Brunsvold’s interest in taking a journey through history, located on Quarry Hill Road in rural Decorah.
By Kate Klimesh,
Audrey Brunsvold, former mental health worker, and wife and caregiver to her husband, Darryl, found herself impacted by the challenges of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s Disease. Audrey worked for years at the Mental Health Center in Rochester, Minn., and recognized she’d become depressed. She took curious measures to help lift her spirits by deep-diving into the history of a mysterious property in Decorah.
Audrey wanted to remain Darryl’s caregiver, and as he entered an “angry” phase of disease progression, she felt it was taking a toll on her mental and physical health. Wanting to remain her husband’s caregiver, Audrey set a course for self-care to help lift her from depression.
The journey begins
The first resource to which Audrey turned for support was Senior Life Solutions group therapy based out of Cresco. They even offered to arrange transportation for her to be able to attend sessions. She usually rode with two to three others to-and-from the sessions to her home on the outskirts of northern Decorah. While on the way, she saw a small home on Quarry Hill Road and asked the driver to stop while she took a picture of it with her phone.
Audrey later looked at photo she had taken and began to wonder about what it once was, who it was connected to and what had happened over its life.
Audrey explained, “I was going for the mystery, but the kindness of the people on my journey into the history of this property is what struck me. I truly wanted to find the owners of the house, and felt I needed to know about the families that lived there.”
Audrey had found an exciting adventure – a mystery – and she resolved to find answers to her questions. Once her niece, Nancy, from Alabama came to visit, Audrey stepped out and visited the Winneshiek County Court House Auditor’s Office and found the property and its owners. The land was owned by the City of Decorah. But what were the ruined remnants back in its heyday? What secrets did the crumbling shack hold?
Determined to find out, Audrey utilized many resources, locally and online.
The computer-savvy can visit Beacon at https://beacon.schneidercorp.com – a free website that can connect current and past owners of a specific property by searching the address or map to find properties. Audrey developed printouts off Beacon showing the property-in-question and its current owners.
Audrey then visited Winneshiek Title and Abstract Co. and searched through property records and warranty deeds dating back to 1957.
“I must say, it was just a delight walking back in time and seeing offices proficient in using a typewriter,” Audrey added. She tracked the property’s deeds until the last entry – the City of Decorah, the most recent owner of the land.
The Winneshiek County Recorder’s Office has been keeping county land records since 1853 and is also a good resource; they allow searches by name and can share electronic copies of historic land documents. Many records are available online through Iowa Land Records. The Recorder’s office also has some land records indexed and available at https://gov.arcasearch.com/usiawin/.
The mystery deepens
Audrey could not find any historical records showing the property with a dwelling, even after more than one trip to the Auditor’s office. It was suggested to visit the Winneshiek County or Decorah Historical Society, but she couldn’t reach them by phone, so she started at Decorah City Hall.
“I saw about six people at city hall, including Andy Nimrod, Director of Parks and Rec. He told me that property, according to former superintendent Randy Fulton, had been used for years by Bruening Rock Products, since he [Nimrod] had come to town in 1982,” she recalled.
She was then directed by the Chamber of Commerce to 302 Mill Street as the home of the Historical Society, and paid Keith Bruening a visit to learn more, as well. Not finding him at the office, she left a message for him to call.
At the Historical Society, Audrey met “two extremely knowledgeable women, Elizabeth Lorentzen and Stacey Gossling. Elizabeth’s husband Lance helped us read some maps, and they were so excited and interested, and so very helpful. They were just wonderful and enjoyed the two hours I spent there with them.”
“I called Mr. Bruening back after I missed his initial phone call. Low and behold, my bubble was broken. No family had ever resided in the building. It was the Old Scale Shack that weighed trucks back from 1940-42. Keith offered to set up a time to pick me up and go see it. I was so excited!”
Audrey arranged the photos she took and made a collage at Copyland, then went to Perfect Edge to have it framed. She bought several other frames at the Depot Outlet and framed other photos she had taken along her journey.
“All in all, everyone I met were such helpful, respectful, delightful and efficient people,” Audrey concluded. “I can’t say enough how wonderful everyone I met was, and how helpful as I continued on my journey to its end. Even though I didn’t find a family secret or unusual aspect of the home’s history, I very much enjoyed the journey. Having this project and going on this journey lifted my spirits so much. I felt so much more like my old self again.”
What a journey through the annals of history to solve a local and personal mystery and end up understanding just a bit more about the community in which we live. They always say, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
Which of history’s mysteries have you always wanted to crack? Start your journey soon!