The open air museum consists of eight buildings, which provide insight into the lives of Norwegian settlers in the American Upper Midwest during the period between 1870 and 1920. Besides the residence house and the outbuildings, the museum also has a one-room schoolhouse and a church.
The museum has chosen to represent this particular time and place because this era saw the greatest number of emigrants leave Norway, with the large majority traveling to the American Upper Midwest. As a whole, the buildings represent the first and second “generations” of houses and barns put up by Norwegian emigrants in this area.
On November 5th, 1954, an old log house was dismantled in a little village within Norman township, North Dakota. The house was sent over the Atlantic Ocean on the ship M/S Oris and was rebuilt at the Norwegian Folk Museum, Bygdøy June 22nd, 1955.
The house was originally built for pastor Hellestvedt in Norman township, North Dakota around 1873. He was the first pastor in the first Norwegian Lutheran church in the area. He was young and unmarried and lived in two rooms on the second floor, while the first room was used as a church. At the same time, the building also functioned as the new community’s first school, post office, land office, and town hall.
Later, the house was taken over by the Steingrim Perhus family from Hallingdal, Norway who used it as a residence until 1928. Eventually, the local Sons of Norway lodge took it over and used it as a meeting house and pioneer museum until it was given to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum which, at the time, was a part of the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.
The house was built from raw timber and was roughly cut. It was limed inside, something which also contributed to the drawing out of moisture from the timber. The sealant between the logs was a blend that consisted of lime and sand/clay.
The windows are American. Already in the 1870s, people could order such windows through mail-order catalogs. The house had a woodstove on the first floor, and the two holes in the ceiling let the warm air up into the rooms upstairs.
In 1882, Knut Gunderson from Krødsherad emigrated to America. He moved to Otter Tail County in Minnesota and purchased land. There, he built this small log cabin.
The Gunderson Cabin is a typical first residence for someone who acquired a “farm” in the Midwest. It was meant to be a temporary residence, rather than a permanent home. It would serve this purpose while the farmer acquired a livelihood and enough funds to build a larger and better house for himself and his family.
In 1888, Knut Gunderson married Maria Ramstad. They moved into his little log cabin, where they had five children, and lived there until 1894. Then, they built themselves a new house, where they had six more children. This cabin was then used as a granary until 1909 and after that as a summer kitchen until 1937. Nine of Knut’s children lived to adulthood.
The house was donated to the museum in 1962 by Knut Gundersen’s grandson, Wayne.
"Kornkrybba" is the Norwegian-American word for the "corn crib"; a house for storing corn cobs.
Johannes Lindahl was born in Hadeland in 1808. He migrated to Coon Valley, Wisconsin in 1857 where he built a farm for himself and his wife, Agnete. The Lindahl family owned and operated the farm for over 100 years, including milk production and cultivation of tobacco plants.
The “kornkrybba” was used to store away corn until 1955.
The building is a little one-room log house. The “kornkrybba” was a common building on a Norwegian farm in America. It is, however, most unusual when compared to building traditions in the old country. S. Scott Lee took over the buildings after the Lindahl family and wished to give the “kornkrybba” to the Emigration Museum. The house was dismantled in the US with the help of Norskedalen, The Norwegian Valley Nature Center in Coon Valley, sent by truck to Decorah, shipped in a container over the Atlantic Ocean, and rebuilt by the museum in 1988.
"Grøneri" is the Norwegian-American word for "granary" - a storehouse specifically for the storing of wheat and other grains. Therefore, the application is narrower than the Norwegian storehouses that stored a more versatile range of foods. This difference in use could be the reason that the Norwegian-Americans constructed a new word instead of using the Norwegian. The word "grøneri" is therefore, in itself, an expression of adaptations to a new culture.
Sjur and Ingeborg L. Bjorgo from Voss traveled to America in 1866. After a time in Wisconsin, they settled down northeast of Decorah, Iowa. Bjorgo bought land in an area that was called "Tekslebottom" after the first settler, Torkil Jensen from Teksle in Numedal. In the 1870s, Bjorgo built this "grøneriet."
The granary’s main form has similarities to the Norwegian storehouse, but the individual elements tell about a significant number of adaptations to their situation in America. The use of the granary is also American and reflects adaptations to a market-oriented agriculture where grain played a large role.
That is the basis for the assumption that the transition to American practice was much faster within building tradition than other parts of folk culture.
The Granary was dismantled in the US and rebuilt in Norway in 1982.
Snåre Larsson Såkvitne from Granvin in Hardanger emigrated to America in 1856 with his wife, Ranveig, and three children. He built this barn in the early 1860s in Highlandville, Iowa.
The barn consists of oak timber over a limestone cellar, with a framework addition. At various times, the barn was used to keep hay, cows, pigs, and chickens in the extension of the building. It came to the museum in 1988 with the corn crib (“Kornkrybba”).
Churches were central elements in the lives of the Norwegian settlers in America, both as religious and social meeting places. Oak Ridge Lutheran Church, as it was originally named, was built in 1896 by the Norwegian Ole Haraldson. The Church was built on a ridge outside of the city of Houston in southeast Minnesota.
In 1854, a congregation was created in Highland Prairie, a town in southeastern Minnesota. In 1865, they built their own church. Later – in 1888 – eight families left this congregation and founded their own, namely Oak Ridge. They retained the same pastor, but it is believed that they wanted to have their own congregation closer to where they lived. In the beginning, services were held in the schoolhouse. But in 1896, this church was built. They were able to buy leaded glass windows from the nave, the altar, the baptismal font and the church bell from the original church which had since been rebuilt. Ole Haraldsen, originally from Telemark, was in charge of the construction.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, church membership dwindled and in 1967, the congregation dissolved. Nevertheless, the cemetery is still being maintained. The church stood empty from 1967 until the parish council donated it to the museum in 1992.
The altar painting had, fortunately, been taken care of by a member of the parish council, who had saved it coiled under her bed throughout the years. It had received quite a battering, but was restored by the Painting Conservatory at Maihaugen.
Today, the church is used for church services, marriages, concerts, and other cultural events.
The church initially consisted of only the nave and the choir. Then a little bell tower was built on the roof of the nave. When the church was dismantled and taken down in order to move it to the museum, we found a ceiling board with marks from the bell rope.
The belfry was most likely built in 1908. The year was painted with green paint on the inside of the belfry. The belfry was built loosely and bolted solidly to the church with three large bolts on each side. It is also believed that, in 1908, the church got a new choir. The opening was sawed out by hand, - the tracks of the saw are visible- and the new choir, such as it is today, was extended. The old choir was then moved and used as a vestry.
In the 1930s, the whole church was jacked up and a basement was built underneath, which functioned as a kind of society house or local meeting place. In America, there was no state church, - the church had to earn their own money. They rented out the basement and held various activities in the basement, which were alternative ways of acquiring funding.
The church interior has not always looked as it does now. In the beginning, the walls were dark brown woodwork and the ceiling was light blue. At one point in the 1930s, the interior walls got a covering of painted punched tin plates, as was the fashion at that time.
These tin plates were, unfortunately, in such bad condition that they could not be put up again. They had rusted so that the walls underneath also were very ugly. Therefore, the walls were repainted. The color was picked out from the colors of the painted tin plates.
When the congregation was dissolved, much of the interior was sold by auction. Fortunately, rumors went around that the church had been moved and rebuilt in Norway. Soon, the Bible, the chorale book, the green cloths from the altar, the pulpit, and the baptismal font were returned. The church benches had also been sold and only one original bench remained.
1854 - A Norwegian-American church congregation is founded by Highland Prairie in proximity to Bratsberg, a little settlement with many Norwegian immigrants in southeast Minnesota.
1887, 31 July -Eight families in the Highland Prairie congregation decide to create their own congregation at the schoolhouse under the name “Maloney Congregation”. Kristian Magelsson is pastor of Highland Prairie and Maloney.
1895, 3 March -“The first Congregational Meeting at Oak Ridge”. The congregation receives the name: “Oak Ridge Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Houston County, Minnesota”. At approximately the same time, the “Maloney Congregation” is disbanded. A plot on approximately one half acre is bought. Ole Haraldson, H. Ekre, and A. Anderson are commissioned to get stones for the church’s foundation wall and get the wall finished by October 10th . The meeting decides that the church should be built: “34 feet long, 26 feet wide and 14 feet high”.
1896, 23 February -The congregation decides to get started with the church building. Ole Haraldsen is commissioned to build the church, for a price of $1.75 per day. The congregation also hires a second carpenter, Ole Nygaard.
It is decided that: “The building committee will attempt to purchase from the Highland Prairie Congregation whatever inventory from the Old Church that can be used.” It included, among other things, the windows, the altar, the baptismal font, and the church bell.
1903 -It is decided that “a little house” that stood by the church should get a new foundation wall. It will also be dressed and painted inside. Likely, this was the church’s “outhouse”. The house later was removed, date unknown.
1908 -The congregation builds a bell tower on the outside of the old nave. The price is $446.38. A gallery is built inside the church along with a new choir loft. The old choir is turned ninety degrees and is added to the building as a vestry. The pulpit is moved and a little room behind the pulpit is built.
1922 - 1926 -The church building including the belfry, the nave, the choir, and the vestry, is jacked up almost two meters. A proper basement is built with the correct height and a molded floor through the whole church. The building is jacked down again.
This was possibly the time period when the whole interior - even the ceiling - is dressed with punched steel plates, a style which was normal at that time in public places of assembly, i.e. club houses, stores, and food places.
1947 -The church is renovated. A coal-fired oven is put in. Later, an oil-fired oven will be installed. The whole outside is dressed in asbestos sheets. It is possible that it is at this point in time that the church gets water and drainage.
1965 -The last confirmation in the church. “Oak Ridge Cemetery Association” is established to preserve the graveyard around the church. The ownership of the church, the plot of the church, the graveyard, and other property is transferred from the congregation to the “Oak Ridge Cemetery Association”, which thereafter becomes the church’s successor.
1994 - 1997 -The church is dismantled. The steel plates in the interior must be thrown away. The exterior asbestos cladding is thrown away. The original cladding of wood looks to be in astonishingly good condition. The original door to the vestry also becomes visible. The dismantling is done by Brian Betteridge, Decorah, Iowa, and his staff.
The rose pattern windows in the choir loft are restored in a workshop in Decorah. The other windows do not need restoring. They are packed and sent to Norway. At their arrival, they are almost 140 years old and still just as good.
1999 - 2002 –The church is rebuilt at the museum plot in Åkershagan. The whole project from the beginning to the end is supported economically by Ralph Engelstad, O. Jay and Pat Tomson, «The Norwegian Emigrant Museum , Inc.» by Christian and Betsy Skjervold, the Nordmanns-Forbundet and many individuals in Norway and the United States. The project is headed by Brian Betteridge from Decorah and Sigurd Fuglseth from Stange.
Many original objects from the church that were sold through auctions in 1976, were donated to the museum, among others the baptismal font.
2002, November 1st –The Norwegian parliament, the Storting, which, since 1914, has managed a «Memorial gift to Norway 1914 from the Norwegian out-migrated people in North America», given at the occasion of the Constitution day centennial that year, transfers the memorial gift in its entirety to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum. The funds are used to pay for the rebuilding of the church. Because the parliament manages the memorial gift, it must adopt a special law in this matter (« Act regarding the liquidation of the foundation «Memorial gift to Norway 1914 from the Norwegian out-migrated people in North America» and transferring of the foundations funds to the foundation «Norwegian Emigrant Museum».» Law 2002-01-11-1).
Since August 11th, 2002 there have been almost 90 worship services in the church, including 56 baptisms and 33 weddings. The church has otherwise been used for concerts, lectures, Christmas tree parties, summer parties and a venue for the Norwegian Emigrant Museum.
On July 18th, 2022, 125 years have passed since the church was consecrated for the first time. Those parts of the church which originate from the first Nowegian-American church in Highland Prairie, will be almost 160 years old.
This special building represents typical Norwegian-American second generation architecture.
The house was built by Iver Takle, a second generation immigrant from Norway. The following information is written about Kjell Takle, Iver’s uncle, in genealogical records: “b. 1832, traveled to America. He had is own farm there for a time, but his brother Lars got the farm, Kjel [sic!] lost his hand in a machine. Died unmarried”. Lars Takle had a son: Ivar Takle.
The house was built in proximity to Highland, Iowa, in 1902. Until 1916, Gunvald and Mari Tollefsrud lived on the farm to which the house belonged. Then the Bjorgo family took over; first Elias Bjorgo and thereafter his son Lloyd. The farmhouse was in operation as a dwelling on the Bjorgo farm until 1977.
The house is a frame house and consists of a basement, two floors, and a loft.
In the US, it stood on a two meter high basement wall made of limestone.
It was donated to the Norwegian Emigrant Museum, dismantled in 2000, and sent to Norway in 2004.
In 1882, the little settlement of Letcher in Sanborn County, South Dakota got a new school. It was a Norwegian-American schoolhouse, that also functioned as a theater and meeting place for local events.
When the school was closed down in 1968, Richard Christopher, a neighbor and former pupil, bought the building for a dollar. He moved it on a tractor to his home and had it on his property for thirty-five years. He also secured the school’s inventory, like the students’ desks, the teacher’s desk, the organ, the slate tablets, the textbooks, the workbooks, the projects and the globes.
Christopher donated all of it to the museum and, in 2015, the schoolhouse was rebuilt here.