Historical Markers
Ole Bull's Colony Historical Marker
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Ole Bull's Colony

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
Cherry Spgs. Rd. (PA 44) near W. Branch Rd. (Cherry Springs State Park)

Dedication Date:
August 19, 1947

Behind the Marker

Portrait of Ole Bull.
Violinist Ole Bull, circa 1870.
Enraptured by the beauty of Potter County's rugged woodlands, violin virtuoso and erstwhile colonizer Ole Bull looked over the expanse of forested lands and proclaimed, "We are to found a New Norway, consecrated to liberty, baptized with independence, and protected by the Union's mighty flag." In 1852, several hundred immigrants answered his call and left Norway and the American Midwest for a new home in the wilds of in north-central Pennsylvania. Less than two years later, Ole Bull's grand venture would collapse in scandal and derision.

Born in Bergen, Norway, Ole Bull (1810-1880) was a violin soloist with the local philharmonic orchestra at the age of eight. By the 1830s, Bull had a thriving concert career. Bull offered a theatrical style that delighted audiences in Europe, and after an extensive tour in 1845, in the United States, as well. With fame came wealth and influence, and a kind of hero status in his native land. Bull befriended other musical celebrities, including Edvard Grieg, Franz Liszt, and famed German composer Robert Schumann, who called Bull "the greatest of all."

Bull was also a tireless promoter of Norwegian culture.
Exterior cabin
The last cabin standing from the Oleana Colony, Potter County, PA, circa 1900....
Inspired by the French Revolution of 1848, Bull established Norwegian Theater in Bergen to instill national pride in his fellow countrymen. The venture soon collapsed, however, and disillusioned by the Norwegian Parliament refusal to provide funding, Bull formulated plans to leave Norway and found a colony for Norwegians in the New World.

On his second American tour, in 1852, Bull investigated the purchase of land in the Midwest and in Virginia. Unable to reconcile the institution of slavery with his perception of American freedom, Bull entered into an agreement to purchase 11,144 acres of land for a series of settlement in the Kettle Creek Valley in Potter County, Pennsylvania, whose mountainous terrain reminded him of his native Norway.

Exterior, family car and family members in front of the house.
The Oleana Hotel, Potter County, PA, circa 1918.
On September 5, 1852, Bull arrived by coach in Coudersport, followed two days later by what a local paper called a first contingent of thirty "fine looking, robust and determined appearing sons of Norway." Within several weeks, an additional 105 colonists had arrived. Over the next year, several hundred more from Wisconsin as well as Norway joined the first contingent. Estimates place the total number of settlers between 300 and 800.

During the first few months of settlement, laborers constructed a hotel, schoolhouses, and cabins for the new arrivals. Bull employed Robert Hamilton, a surveyor, to design plans for four towns in the Kettle Creek Valley named Oleana, New Bergen, Valhalla, and New Norway. By the first snowfall of November 1852, however, the settlement already faced serious problems. Deep snows blocked the road between Oleana and the nearest town, Coudersport, located roughly thirty miles away, supplies dwindled, and the settlers started to run out of money.

To pay for the land and the colonists' expenses, Bull absented himself for months, traveling on an extended concert tour. Unpaid bills, mounting invoices, and a lack of leadership soon eroded the settlers' morale and fueled rumors in the United States and in Norway that the colony was doomed. Soon The New York Times claimed that Bull did not possess clear title to lands he sold to settlers, further undermining the venture. Opponents back in Norway were especially critical of Bull's venture. Published in Norway on March 5, 1853, the ballad "Oleana," mocked both Bull and the settlers who followed him.

I'm coming, Oleana, I've left my native doorway,
I've made my choice, I've said good-by to slavery in Norway.
Ole-Ole-Ole-oh! Oleana!
Ole-Ole-Ole-oh! Oleana!...

And so we play the fiddle, and all of us are glad, Sir,
We dance a merry polka, boys, and that is not so bad, Sir.

I'm off to Oleana, to lead a life of pleasure,
A beggar here, a count out there,marker with riches full in measure.

Exterior and fence, with family members and a dog
Ole Olson family in front of their home, New Norway, PA, circa 1890.
To his critics' delight, Bull had never acquired title to the land upon which his Norwegian settlements were built, and the railroad that was supposed to link the Oleanna settlements to the outside world never materialized. On September 22, 1853, Bull deeded the land back to John F. Cowan for a refund for $103,888, the amount he paid for the land. By October, with winter approaching, many settlers abandoned Oleana to relocate to the Midwest, where sizable Norwegian farming communities were emerging outside Milwaukee and Minneapolis, or return to Norway.
Black and white photograph of the wall
Retaining wall beneath Ole Bull's "Castle," Oleana, PA, circa 1910.

Despite his poor health, Bull continued to tour and hold benefit concerts for the settlers of Oleana, sending money to them throughout the fall. One source later estimated that he lost between $40,000 and $70,000 in the venture. By the spring of 1854, few immigrants remained in Bull's failed colony. Soon, new settlers from Germany moved into the area. A few Norwegians, however, did remain in Potter County, including John Henry Andresen, who purchased the hotel in Oleana and lived in Oleana until his death in 1890. The Olson family operated the Olson Lodge well into the 1900s.

After the collapse of Oleana, Bull remained in the United States until 1859, when he returned to his family in Norway. In 1867, he sailed again for America and another lucrative transcontinental tour. Remarkably, his popularity was as strong as ever. In the years following his death in 1880, Norwegian communities throughout America continued to revere Ole Bull. Thousands attended the dedication ceremonies in Minneapolis when in 1896 a statue was dedicated in his honor.

Following World War I, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased 132 acres along Kettle Creek and in 1925 opened Ole Bull State Park to the public. In 2002, on the 150th anniversary of the colony's founding, a monument to Ole Bull was erected in the park, a gift of the citizens of Norway to honor the patron's vision and virtuosity in attempting to transplant Norway to America.
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