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Abraham Klaassen family is first homesteader

Staff writer

The Abraham and Helena (Martens) Klaassen family was one of the first German Mennonite families from southern Russia to settle near present-day Hillsboro in the mid-1870s.

The Klaassens first immigrated to Canada in July 1874 and moved to the Hillsboro area a year later.

Abraham Klaassen and Peter Jost jointly purchased two sections of land from the Santa Fe Railroad. The transaction is recorded in the Marion County courthouse as having transpired on July 9, 1875.

Section five of Liberty Township and section 33 of Risley Township were purchased.

Section five became part of the Mennonite village of Alexanderfeld, which was established in Liberty Township just one mile west of present-day Hillsboro. It extended one mile south from 190th Road.

The Josts and Klaassens settled side by side, and each family claimed a plot of land that was one-quarter mile wide and a mile long. The remainder of the land was sold to other settlers. All of the homes in the village were built along the road bordering the east side of the section.

Many land transactions took place on the two sections in the next 10 years, but the Klaassen homestead remained in the family until 1918, when a son, Peter A. Klaassen, sold it and moved with his family to Canada.

The eastern one-half of section 33 in Risley Township became part of Hillsboro after the town was founded in 1879 and rapidly expanded.

By 1883, Klaassen owned at least 600 acres of land in Sections 5 and 9 of Liberty Township and Sections 31 and 33 in Risley Township. He reserved a tiny plot of land at the southeast corner of the original homestead as a family cemetery. Abraham, Helena, and infant son David are buried there.

Klaassen served as a minister in the Gnadenau Krimmer Mennonite Brethren Church two miles south of Hillsboro, (now Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church in Hillsboro), until his death in 1906.

The Klaassens had six sons and three daughters who lived to adulthood. Seven others died in infancy. The sons – Abraham A., Johann A., Gerhard M., Jacob A., Dietrich A., and Peter A. — were born in Russia and all contributed in some way to the development of Hillsboro.

At one point in time, some members of the Klaassen clan decided to eliminate one “a” from the name. In any case, whether it is Klaassen or Klassen, the descendants all come from the same seed.

The oldest son, Abraham A., was the father of George S. Klassen. George was a Tabor College graduate and served as a dentist in Hillsboro for many years, reportedly as the first dentist in Marion County. His wife, Viola, was a teacher and became Marion County Superintendent of Schools in 1955, a position she held until it was eliminated in 1969.

George was involved in the Hillsboro community, supporting city, business, and educational causes. The couple had no children but took in at least 12 foster children during their life together.

Johann Klaassen was known as a livestock shipper at Hillsboro. He added a wheat elevator and flour mill. A 1905 listing of local Hillsboro businesses includes Klassen Roller Mill. Johann gave up the business in 1910 or 1912 and moved to California.

Gerhard M. Klaassen was an auctioneer. He lived east of Hillsboro. His auctioneering was done in German.

At the turn of the century, brothers Gerhard and Jacob A. Klaassen owned a threshing machine that was moved from farm to farm at harvest time to thresh grain. Jacob and his family moved to Canada in 1907.

The Dietrich A. Klaassen family was known around town as “Working Fools Family.” However, they also were known as “the richest family in Marion County.” They lived on a farm one mile south and one and one-fourth miles west of Hillsboro.

The youngest son, Peter A., lived in the sod house on the original homestead after his marriage in 1892. In approximately 1893, Abraham Klaassen deeded 80 acres to each of his sons and daughters. Peter’s 80 was part of the original 160 acres. Then, in 1902, Peter bought the remaining 80 acres (minus the burial plot) from his father.

After Peter’s mother, Helena, died in 1894, his father lived with the family until his death in 1906.

In 1907, Peter built a new house on the homestead. The couple had 17 children. After spending many years building up the farm, Peter and his entire family sold the farmstead and moved to Canada in 1918.

Although the original farmstead is not in the Klassen family, an adjoining farm has been in the family for more than 80 years.

In 1927, Jacob R. Klaassen, son of Jacob A., purchased the 160-acre farm just south of the original Klaassen homestead. Milford Klassen, Jacob A.’s great-grandson, now owns and lives on the farm.

Many other Klaassen descendants continue to live in the Hillsboro area.

(Much of the information in this article was taken from a second printing of, “The Abraham and Helena Martens Klaassen Family Record,” published in 2007 by Peter A.’s grandson, Dwight Klaassen of Platteville, Wisc.)

Last modified March 5, 2009

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