Four Generations of Halse Homesteads

Week 13: #52Ancestors – The Old Homestead

By Eilene Lyon

This is the story of four homesteads for four generations of Halses (my maiden name), going back to my immigrant ancestors, my 3rd great-grandparents.

First Generation

Robert H. Halse and Eliza Jane Drake immigrated in 1850 and eventually settled in Winneshiek County, Iowa. Samuel Drake, who is presumed to be Eliza’s father, entered original deeds on land in Sections 25 and 26 in Highland Township. Robert and Eliza lived on the W ½ SW ¼ S 25 in the 1860s and 1870s.

A distant relative who’d researched the Drake family, as well as the Halses, mentioned that the old homestead was still standing, but in serious decline. I think he wrote that in the early 1970s. I decided to see if it was still there.

Though the parcel is privately owned, it’s adjacent to state land. Since I’ve never been able to find a grave for Samuel Drake, I was curious about the Quandahl Cemetery, which according to USGS coordinates was right on the north property line. I plugged the coordinates into my Garmin eTrek and headed to the North Bear Creek Wildlife area. Though I had glanced at the aerial image, I hadn’t really given it a close inspection. Big mistake!

I pulled into the parking area and saw I had 700 meters to my destination. I dutifully followed the arrow: uphill, through the woods, downhill, across the creek, bushwhacking through dense, chest-high weeds which all had burrs of some sort just for extra fun.

Until I got to within 100 yards of my destination, and found myself on a dirt two-track…leading directly back to my car! So, I did not feel quite so bright at that moment. Damn technology!! To be fair, taking the road also required a couple of walks through the creek (note to self: bring river sandals). A couple fishermen in the area probably wondered what exactly was wrong with me, wandering all about like that.

Anyway, if there was a cemetery, there’s no sign of it anymore. Samuel Drake’s burial will probably remain a mystery. But right near the property line, I had this excellent view of the crumbling homestead. I later got in touch with the property owner, but she knew nothing of the history of the place, unfortunately. I don’t have any documentation on when this structure was built, but it is probably the Robert and Eliza Halse home.

Back at my campsite in Decorah, I cranked up a fire to dry my clothes and ruefully began picking burrs out of socks, jeans, hair, pretty much head to toe, and pitching them into the fire to spark their way into history.



Second Generation

Robert and Eliza’s oldest son, Richard, married the girl next door, Meltha Lucinda Painter, daughter of William Painter and Betsy Self, the second white family to settle in Winneshiek County. About 1881, they decided to homestead in the Dakota Territory, selecting a 160-acre parcel in Dexter Township, Codington County.

Richard’s mother and four of his five siblings also established homesteads in Dexter Township about the same time. Robert remained in Winneshiek, a permanent resident of the Big Canoe Lutheran Cemetery. Richard’s sister, Elizabeth Halse Casterton, also stayed in Iowa.


In 1885, Dick and Lucy, as they were known, had a large structure built called the Half-Way House, because it was half-way between Watertown and Webster. They operated it as a stage stop with lodging, a restaurant, post office (known as Halse, Dakota Territory), and all-around entertainment venue. The croquet course was very popular. Lucy was also reputed to serve as midwife to the local women. She had only two children herself, both boys.

They closed the business in 1904 and moved to Florence in 1907. Their son, Guy Halse, my great-grandfather, lived there for a time. It eventually became home to four families in the Depression, including my grandfather, Everett Halse, and his wife, Reatha.

Because it was deemed important in the development of the Dakotas in the late 19th century, the building was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The owners at that time did nothing to preserve it, so it no longer exists.

Half-Way House article


The Half-Way House in the 1960s or 1970s


The property in 2012 (E. Lyon)


Dick and Lucy Halse (Courtesy of Wayne Halse)

Third Generation

Great-grandpa Guy Halse’s 160-acre homestead was just up the road from the Half-Way House. He was not the original homesteader, but owned the property as early as 1910, perhaps earlier. He married Mable Pearl Cutting and they had eleven children who all survived.

The large farmhouse was Mable’s domain, as was rearing all the children, so it’s no wonder she always looks exhausted in photographs!

My trip to the homestead was too late to see the house where my grandfather grew up. I met the current owners of the property, a very nice young couple. They told me the house was literally falling down around them (a big chunk of bedroom wall had nearly fallen on them one night).

The cost of restoration was prohibitive, so they tore it down and replaced it. They did have this aerial photo taken of the property beforehand and they let me walk around and take pictures.

15DAT3 198

15DAT3 200


Mable and Guy Halse with seven of their children at the homestead.


Guy and Mable in front of the house in the 1940s

Fourth Generation

This last home isn’t technically a homestead like the previous three, but it’s the one I’m most familiar with.

Everett Halse and Reatha Gusso began their married life in the Half-Way House in 1933, then moved south to the small town of Florence, South Dakota. In 1942, they packed up their household and three small boys and headed west to Corvallis, Oregon. Everett’s brother, Al, had promised him a job there.

At first the family lived in a house on Harrison St., then later bought the family residence on NW 5th St. The house was built in 1909, so they were certainly not the first to live there. I lived in the house several times: the last few weeks of first grade, half my sophomore year in high school, and a couple months after college.

Most of my life, I’ve lived far from Oregon, but we did visit on occasion. I recall how as I grew, each visit to the house made the impression on me that it was shrinking! It actually is fairly large, over 2000 s. f.

Everett and Reatha had a fourth son and they all grew up in this house. Everett died in 1961, before I was born. Reatha never remarried and lived in the house the rest of her life with the exception of the last few months. Her late-onset ALS required around-the-clock care at that point. I think it broke her heart to leave her home behind.

I can still recall the smell of Grandma’s house and would recognize it instantly today. The floors were covered with the hideous WWII-era linoleum. There was a lovely built-in pass-through china cabinet between the kitchen and dining room. The dining room was later converted to a bathroom.

We probably all assumed that when Grandma was gone that the house would be razed to build a parking lot for nearby commercial buildings. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised that the buyer invested a gob of money renovating it. They tore out the linoleum and carpet, revealing the original wood floors; stripped off the wallpaper to find, I kid you not, fresco paintings of grape vines; scraped off lord-knows-how-many layers of paint off the windows frames and all the trim to reveal the natural wood. I haven’t been inside, but my aunt took photos.

There’s no question that today the house is far more beautiful, and I hope the people who live in it love it as much as I always have. I’m so grateful it’s been preserved.

(Apologies for such a long post – thanks for reading!!)


Reatha and Everett Halse in South Dakota, 1934


Reatha and Everett Halse in front of the NW 5th St. house, 1950s

My beautiful picture

The Reatha Halse home on NW 5th, Corvallis, Oregon, in 1972 (Courtesy of David Halse)


520NW5thThe Halse house since its renovation (E. Lyon). Check out how big that myrtlewood tree has gotten!

19 thoughts on “Four Generations of Halse Homesteads

Add yours

  1. my Danish father, Hans Pederson, a major Seattle builder,, brought relatives to homestead the US. The children of one, a dairy farmer, later sold the farm to a man who promised a park. Instead he created a gravel pit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Both my grandmothers had some family tree research that got passed on to me. I think part of my interest is that I like research and solving problems that come up. Plus, I’ve always been interested in history and having family that lived through it makes it more real to me. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. One other aspect I forgot to mention: of the four couples I wrote about here, I only knew my grandmother. I come from a small family and all these ancestors connect me to living people – 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins, even 1st cousins once removed. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know these relatives and expanding my family circle.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s something not a lot of people would even be able to do! I hadn’t even thought of checking out my great-grandpa’s farm. Hmm, going to Google maps right now!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It is wonderful to have the stories. I’ve started to write down our family stories because now that so many have passed on we don’t hear them as often, and I want future generations to hear and know where they came from.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up across the road from the old Half-Way House. So I am quite familiar with it. Actually I am the one who tore the house down for the wood that was used in the construction of 2 sheds when I started expanding on my farm that is 1 mile north of the original site.It is kind of unfair to blame the Rukstad brothers of not keeping the Half-Way house up after it had been put on the register of Houses. After it was put on the list and an article put in the local Watertown paper many people came out to see it and go through it.Many would return at night to steal things out of the house, even fancy trims off the inside and outside of the house.Seems like every day more things were missing! They would also leave the gate to the property open which would result in the Rukstad cattle being out and having to be rounded up,The Historic Society wanted it to be preserved to its original condition but would not put any money up to do this.The Rukstad brothers had some estimates done and it would have cost over $60,000 back in the late 70’s.Plus they would be required to keep it up and keep it open to the pubic for its lifetime and deal with possible stealing of the new refurbishings. They could not afford to do this and did not want it to continue to waste away so they decided to tear it down to salvage the lumber.. I was asked if I would be interested in doing this for the lumber.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for relating these details, Larry. Not sure if you recall our meeting in 2015, when I came to your place with my cousin Larry Gusso. You shared some of the history about your branch of the family, which I appreciated very much. It is a shame the Half-Way House couldn’t be preserved, but understandable that money and vandalism prevented it.


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