The earliest records available regarding the formation of the Highland congregation appear in minutes of the Big Canoe Parish of June 23, 1894. At that meeting consideration was given to a request from representatives of District 7, the Kjome District, and from the West Waterloo Ridge congregation. This delegation sought permission to form a new congregation which would build a new church, but remain a part of the Big Canoe Parish. It should be noted that in the mid 1800's, the Big Canoe Parish encompassed a large area, including part of what became the Hesper congregation, some portion of Allamakee County, Iowa, as well as the very southern areas of what became Fillmore and Houston Counties when Minnesota became a state in 1858. The present Waterloo Ridge congregation, along with part of the Spring Grove church, was known as Norwegian Ridge. (It was said that for a time, Highland Township was the most ethnically "pure" township in the U.S., boasting 100% Norwegian!)
It is noted that in 1857, the Big Canoe and Norwegian Ridge Parishes jointly extended a call to Pasto F.C. Clausen, who served until 1861. In that year, the parish relationship between the two was dissolved. Six years later, in 1867, a number of members from the Northeast District withdrew in order to join a group from Spring Grove to form Waterloo Ridge. A small group residing in the Northeast District chose to remain a part of Big Canoe, and formed the West Waterloo Ridge congregation, which evidently met in a schoolhouse until the completion of the Highland Church building some twenty-five years later.
At a meeting held at Big Canoe on July 14, 1894, the resolutions regarding the formation of the new church were unanimously approved. Articles of Incorporation, which were filed on October 12, 1894, were signed by Pastor Knut Seehuus, and by Nile Larson, Johannes Skaaren, and Lars Flaten as Trustees. Three days later, land for the church building was deeded to Highland congregation by Torgrim Busness. The cornerstone for the new building was dedicated on September 4, 1895. G.N. Nordgaard, Christian Walhus, and O.L. Wennes served on the Building Committee, with Nils Larson as Treasurer. Total cost of the building was $1,822.96, and by April 27, 2896, all but $46.00 had been paid. There were unpaid pledges of $25.00, an offering of $1 per family was received, which paid the rest of the cost.
The first Annual Meeting of the Congregation was held on January 8, 1896. At that time, all members of West Waterloo Ridge and District 7 were formally accepted as members. By the end of January, 1896, Highland's membership included 38 families. In 1946, Pastor Wm. T. Hexom researched the families represented by the end of 1896, and listed the following ("with some misgivings as to accuracy"):
C.M. Walhus, Johannes Skaaren, Anders Thorson, John S. Folkedahl, Jens Anderson, Knut Hoff, T.G. Anderson, Hans Knoff, Nils Larson,
Johannes O. Kroshus, Mrs. Helga Bersie, Mrs. Kari Kroshus, John O. Johnson, Lars Flaten, Mons Langland, John Bjerke Sr, John Egge Sr,
Mrs. Elizabeth, Johnson, Mikkel L. Walhus, Lewis Larson, Anders Johnson Skaaren, Erick Larson, O.L. Wennes, Mrs. Daniel Miner,
Jul Christofferson, Gilbert, Anderson, Andrew Bersie, Otto Thorson Selness, Helge Olsgaard, Lars J. Skaaren, G.N. Nordgaard, Lars Takle,
Ole L. Tweten, Martin Bjerke, John J. Bjerke, Jr., K.L. Grindeland, Torger Flaten, Julius Bjerke, Nels Kjome, Sjur Bjorgo, S.J. Sollien, and Peder L. Wennes
It appears that the costs given for construction of the church did not cover the purchase of a bell. It was installed sometime during 1896 at a cost of $176.00. The inscription on the bell is in Norwegian, translated thusly: "Come, God Bless the Young; Farewell. Come, God Bless the Old; Farewell. Highland N.E.L. Church, 1896." Another unique item is our Altar Painting, "Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock." It was painted by Herbjorn Gausta, one of the most famous Norwegian-American artists of the late 1800's and early 1900's. Born in Telemark, Norway, he came to American with his family in 1867. He attended Luther College in Decorah and went back to Europe to study art. His travels and studies were funded by several prominent Decorah people, including Pastor U.V. Koren. Highland feels honored to possess one of his altar paintings.
Many improvements have been made to Highland church over the years, the latest being an enlarged sacristy, improved stairway to the basement, and installation of a lift serving the main floor and basement. The basement décor was extensively improved for the Centennial celebration held in 1995.
Nine Pastors have served Highland during its nearly 110 years of history, all in conjunction with Big Canoe: Knut Seehuus (1894-1916), Justin A. Peterson (1916-1917), T. O. Tolo (1917-1939), Wm. T. Hexom (1939-1965), Emil Martinson (1965-1975), Steve W. Jensen (1975-1988), Philip L. Larson (1989-1990), David H. Andreae (1991-2013), & Kurt Bockoven (2015 - present)
The spirit of Highland Congregation can best be gauged by this following quotation written by Pastor T.O. Tolo, at the close of his ministry here: "Served Highland Congregation from May 20, 1917, to November 18, 1939. Not an unkind word was ever spoken to me by any member of Highland Congregation. No harsh discord at any business meeting. Always prompt in meeting its obligations. May it always continue thus." It has, To God Alone the Glory!
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