Tuva and Christina dressed up in old dresses,  found in the Theodorhouse. Really gorgeous among plastic-shoes.... but my mother Jorunn is having fun!

Nobody knows for certain how long there has been a settlement at Hovland, but from the records for Balestrand and Vik, we do know that Hovland was abandoned for approximately 200 years after the black death pandemic (1347-1351). This suggests that there was a settlement here prior to that. If we look at the history of Vik, it seems likely that people have also been living at Hovland since the great migration. (400-600 AD).  

 It is beyond doubt that there was great activity and many people in Vik during the Viking age. This, together with the fact that the name «Hovland» most likely originates in the word «Hov» (a place where people came to worship Norse gods such as Thor and Odin) and that the farm is situated 180 meters (590 feet) above sea level, supports the theory that there has been a settlement here for at least the past 1500 years.

The first farmer at Hovland that we know by name, was Lasse. He lived at «Hoffland» in 1563, more than 450 years ago. He was tenant farmer here, and we know of him from the tax records. Four years later there was a man named Antonius living here. He was also a tenant farmer who paid eight “merker” tallow (equal to 2 kilos) and one goatskin in rent to the farm owner, and two “mæler” of grain (equal to 58 liters) in royal tax. We know that there were tenant farmers at Hovland for about 300 years.What was a tenant farmer? 


Simply put, a tenant farmer was a farmer who did not own the land he farmed but rented the land from the landowner. The landowner would lease land to one or more tenant farmers. The tenant might use the land as he pleased, but not the forest as this belonged to the landowner. Often the tenant also rented housing with the land. The lease was paid, as Antonius did, with crops from the leased land. In addition, the tenant had to arrange transportation for the landowner when needed. Tenancy was common until the beginning of the 17th century. During the 1800’s, tenants often bought the leased land and became landowners themselves. One reason for this was that the landowners were experiencing financial difficulties due to the Napoleonic wars, which the Danish-Norwegian kingdom was engaged in (source; kildenett.no Jusleksikon). 

180 years ago, in 1834, Per Marcussen and his wife Lussi bought Hovland farm, including a smallholding. They became the first freeholders on the farm when they bought it from Karen Fasting for 950 “specidaler”. In today’s currency, this is equal to 23.500 US$. This would have been quite a lot of money at that time, and we are not sure where Per got so much money. However, we do know that some landowners lent money to tenants who wanted to buy the land they worked. Maybe this is what happened here?

In 1845, 10 years after Per and Lussi bought Hovland farm, it was reported that the farm had 12,2 daa (3,14 acre) barley, 3,5 daa (0,88 acre) potatoes, 2 horses, 18 cattle, 40 sheep, 6 goats and 3 pigs.  140 years later, my parents, Jorunn and Knut were the ones running the farm. They had 50 winter-fed sheep and 1 daa (0,25 acre) raspberries in addition to some berries and vegetables for personal use. They both had daytime jobs besides farming. For the first time in its history, farming was no longer the main source of income for the people of Hovland. 

Returning to Per and Lussi, who were here 180 years ago. They did not have any children of their own but hey needed an heir to the farm. They adopted a girl from Tryti in Vik. Her name was Anna, and she became their heir. Per and Lussi found a suitable husband for Anna at Ligtvor. The handsome man was Tor Helgeson and he was allowed to buy the farm in exchange for marrying Anna. Anna’s father, Per, also tried to ensure that his sister Brita and brother in law Sjur Lasseson had a livelihood. The former smallholding was separated from the main farm, so Sjur and Brita acquired their own farm. Per meant well, but history shows that it was difficult to make a living from this small farm. Several owners sold the farm as they struggled to make a living there.  In 1875 the tax records reported that this little farm had 1,2 daa (0,3 acre) barley, 2,1 daa (0,5 acre) potatoes, 3 cows, 9 sheep and 1 pig. They must have eaten a lot of potatoes!!  Brita and Sjur’s son, Lasse, was one of 3500 inhabitants of Vik that emigrated from Norway to America. The second owner after Sjur and Brita also immigrated to America, after giving up on the smallholding in 1893.   

Returning again to Per and Lussi. Per’s father, Marcus was married twice, and had a total of seven children. Per acquired the farm, and made sure his sister Brita got the smallholding.The rest of the children had to fend for themselves. One of Per’s brothers, also called Marcus, immigrated to America. He settled in Frost, Minnesota where, along with several hundred thousand other Norwegians, he obtained land and built a farm.  He named the farm  Hoffland. A total of 750.000 Norwegians immigrated to America during a period of 150 Years. Only Ireland had more emigrants than this.

More than 3000 inhabitants of Vik immigrated to America. What was the cause for this? The sources say that the answer is complex. Increase in the rate of childbirth, industrialization, transport opportunities, urbanization and most importantly, the American “Homestead Act” that gave free rights to land. Anybody that wanted to settle in America was given 650 daa (160 acre) land provided that they lived on and worked the land for at least five years. All these factors can be seen as reasons for the extreme emigration.

My parents and I have had some contact with our American relatives. It is rather strange to see the clear family resemblance, in old photographs, between one of Marcus’ emigrated sons and my grandfather.  There should not have been a resemblance, as Anna, my great grandmother, was adopted.  Is the resemblance a coincidence, or could the reason be that Anna was related to Lussi? (perhaps she was her niece?) Might Per have had a relationship with Anna that nobody knew about? Might the choice of Anna as an adoptive daughter have been less random than we think?

The history of Hovland before 1870 provides us with some facts, but there is still a lot we do not know, and will never know. My father Knut and his siblings spent a lot of time at Hovland while they were growing up, after WWII. They have many stories about the people and animals on the farm, as well as how the farm was run during these times. Through their stories, we know of the life and destiny of my great grandparents and their six children. The eldest son Tor, my grandfather, was the only one of the siblings that had children of his own. His youngest daughter Synniva married the pharmacist at Høyanger. The four remaining siblings, Per, Anna, Signy and Theodor stayed unmarried and ran Hovland farm together. They ran the farm until my parents Jorunn and Knut took over. Of the five siblings, Theodor is the one I remember best. It is in honor of him that I have named the main house “Theodorhuset”. Knut and Jorunn put a lot of work and effort into the farm throughout their time here. First and foremost, they modernized farming, developed the forest-road network and rescued many of the buildings from decay. Now it is my turn, together with Geir, to find our place and our way to protect and preserve the history and traditions of the farm and to manage and develop it in a manner that will allow the next and future generations to take over the farm, if they want to.

Has it struck you reading this that both Norwegian history in general and maybe your own family history has focus on the male gender? I believe Hovland has been a «Woman’s farm» on and off throughout its history, even though there is not a lot written about the subject. The first time we know of the farm being run by a woman, is 1601. Then it was a widow who ran the farm by herself until she remarried. Later, Anna from Tryti became heir to Hovland. Admittedly, she married and ran the farm along with her husband Helge. She may have supported her daughter in law Brita who married her son Per. Brita and Per were my great grandparents. Per came up with many innovative technical ideas to ease work on the farm. He was also Mayor and Member of Parliament. In addition to that, he ran a transport vessel with cargo to and from Bergen. How much time did he have to spend at the farm? He must have been away a lot and it is natural to think that it was Brita who ran the farm on an everyday basis.

Knut remembers his summers at Hovland in his grandmother’s house well. The house was surrounded by a white picket fence with gateposts with flowers on top of them. His grandmother had a small kitchen garden behind the oldest house on the farm and she used to ‘come for coffee’ when Knut was at Hovland and built a playhouse in the garden behind the house.  Maybe it was her who ordered the decorative paint on the ceiling moldings and graining of the doors. Reading between the lines, I see her as a clever woman. History tells that she was kind and warmhearted. Maybe her good leadership qualities and cleverness contributed to the progress and development of the farm when her husband was away from home. Maybe she ordered a new house after she had borne several children in the old farmhouse. The old farmhouse was a “røykstue” meaning it had a wooden floor with a fireplace in the middle and an opening in the roof to let the smoke out. Perhaps she and Per agreed on this, and she led the work whenever he was travelling? I think the most important lesson to learn from their story, is the ability to set common goals and cooperate to achieve them. The time of women at Hovland is definitely not over; the next generation of heirs are girls!

November 2015, Kjersti Hovland.