Patty Dreier
Central Wisconsin
Environmental Station
First appeared in the Sunset Gazette a newsletter of the
Central Wisconsin Environmental Station
(UW - Stevens Point College of Natural Resources)

On your next visit to the Central Wisconsin Environmental Station (CWES), we invite you to step back in time by visiting our new (or should we say old?") Trading post now called the Nelson General Store. It is located in the original 1920's cabin of Mark Nelson who, around 1900, purchased the land on which CWES now stands. He also owned and operated a general store about three miles down the road. 

Shortly after purchasing this land on Sunset Lake, Mark built a seasonal hunting cabin and in 1923 he began living in it year around. Nelson Cabin, as we have referred to it for many years, was originally located in a grassy meadow along the southwest ridge of the CWES property overlooking Sunset Lake. We can still find the spot where the cabin once stood when there were only three buildings around the lake. These were the days when Mark got his water by carrying buckets up the hill from Sunset Lake.

According to research conducted by graduate student, Marci Oltman in 1985, Mathias Gjefsen (Mark) emigrated from Norway in 1889 at the age of twenty-one. He began working for James J. Nelson's General Store in Amherst. J. J. Nelson grew fond of Mark and referred to him as "my boy, Mark Nelson." Mark later took the name of his new family. After more then five years of commercial experience and three years as farm hand and post office clerk, Nelson bought the Benson Brothers General Store at Benson's Corners in the town of New Hope. According to the "History of Portage County," Nelson conducted a "thoroughly modern store, handling all the commodities required by the surrounding community."

As cited in Marci Oltman's master's thesis, Jonas Roe, then 93 years old, recalled visiting the general store as a boy to buy candy from Mark Nelson. Jonas described the general store as a place where people gathered for social purposes as well as business. He also recalled that flour and sugar were in barrels and there were also cracker barrels and bologna. While we don't have any of these commodities for sale in our Nelson's General Store today at CWES, we can promise you a wide array of T-shirts, caps, totes, books, nature study materials, and "fun outdoor stuff." 

With permission (and blessings) from Mark's grandson, Gordon Nelson of Fort Wayne, Indiana, we'll be giving the cabin a gentle makeover to create an even more authentic General Store experience for our visitors. We'll look forward to the time in the next few months when Gordon Nelson will come to CWES to hang out the "Nelson General Store" shingle to honor his grandfather's memory. And, we will also look forward to the time when Gordon will share more stories about his boyhood adventures with his grandfather here on the shores of Sunset Lake.

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