Wolsfeld Woods History

The Wolsfeld family sailed from Germany in 1852 to come to the New World. They worked on farms in Illinois for three years to save money to travel to Minnesota and stake a claim on newly opened Dakota Indian land, west of the Mississippi River. The father died of typhus during the journey, but sons John and Charles Wolsfeld, their sisters and mother, carried on. John staked the first claim at the west end of what is now Wolsfeld Lake, and his barn of rough-hewn oak continues as a working barn today.

Charles claimed land at the east end of the lake, two years later, in 1857 and, with the help of his brother, hand-built a log cabin for his family.

The two brothers used the forestry practices that they had learned in Germany to manage the virgin Big Woods. They sold basswood, second-growth hickory and oak to the huge cooperage (barrel works) in Long Lake. Ash, butternut hickory and ironwood they fashioned into tool handles, wagon parts and furniture, and they sold lumber to the nearby Reiser sawmill. Their only source of heating in winter came from a wood-burning stove, which they fed coarse off-cuts of wood. They hand-split smaller chunks for the cooking stove.

As the family grew, the Wolsfelds framed in the original log cabin, adding a second story, bedrooms and sleeping porches for hot summer nights. The farm thrived, and its outbuildings grew to include a wagon and buggy shed, two animal barns, a hog shed, chicken house, smoke house, granary and corn crib and two huge hay sheds. A metal windmill in the backyard pumped up water for the household. Charles provided a watering spot from a spring for passing horse teams on what is now County Road Six; farmers who maintained public watering troughs were exempted for the road poll tax.

Walking Trails Established in the 1930s and 1940s

In the 1930s and 1940s, Wolsfeld family descendents supplemented their farming with a large-scale maple syrup-making business that became known regionally. The foundations of their evaporator shack and temporary housing for syrup workers can still be seen in the woods.

The Wolsfelds also opened up the east end of the lake to picnickers and developed walking trails for visitors to see the rich fall colors. The picnic tables and beauty of the spot attracted people from Minneapolis to Excelsior, and some older people remember happy childhood excursions to picnics by Wolsfeld Lake.

After the Brooks family donated the land to the DNR and Wolsfeld Woods became a designated Scientific and Natural Area, all the farm buildings were removed, so that the land could return to its natural state.

The Friends of Wolsfeld Woods collected funds to have the original Charles Wolsfeld cabin dismantled and, in 1999, a cabin was reconstructed from the original timbers. It stands in the grounds of Medina City Hall at 2025, County Road 24 and is open to the public upon request.

Last modified December 9, 2022

Click here to see Wolsfeld cabin and lots of other
historical photos.

Learn more about Big Woods ecosystems on the
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web site.