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Norwegian Genealogy

The History of the Norwegian Community At

 Chickasaw County Iowa

  By James H. Johnson


The history of many Norwegian families in Chickasaw County is commingled with the history of four Lutheran Churches, namely Saude Evangelical Lutheran Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church (Crane Creek), Jerico Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Immanuel Lutheran Church (Saude).

The following is an attempt to chronicle a few of the significant events of this Norwegian Community, from the perspective of a descendant of the BORLAUG, FAABERG, FRETLAND, KVAALE (QUALLEY) and YLVISAKER families.

We must admire these early immigrants. Oftentimes, after they had reached the port of embarkation, they had to wait one, two or even three weeks for repairs to the vessel on which they had engaged passage. Once underway, their trans-Atlantic voyage would last an average of seven weeks. With unfavorable sailing weather, this might stretch out to ten or twelve weeks. A passenger was usually required to have a supply of food for twelve weeks. Then followed the long and expensive journey inland to Chicago and Milwaukee. All in all, in the early years of immigration, the duration of the journey from Norway to the settlement which was the immigrants ultimate destination, was rarely made in less than nine weeks; often it consumed as much as five months.


The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, commonly called the Norwegian Synod, began its work in Iowa in 1851. In the summer of that year Reverend Claus Lauritz CLAUSEN (1820-1892), one of the original founders of the Norwegian Synod, visited some of the Norwegian settlements in northeastern Iowa and preached there, being the first Lutheran minister to preach a sermon in the Norse language in northeastern Iowa. In February 1853, the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church Synod was created.


In 1854, a Norwegian settlement had been established in Utica Township, Chickasaw County, at what was then known as the Little Turkey River Settlement, and is now Saude. They came to this area in ox-drawn prairie schooners. Most of the settlers were born in Telemarken, Norway. Under the leadership of Reverend Ulrik Vilhelm KOREN, the first service was conducted in 1855. A congregation was organized at Little Turkey in 1857. Services were held in homes in those early days, and later in a log church. It was these services in the Saude vicinity that the first Crane Creek settlers attended.


The first Norwegian settlers arrived at the Crane Creek Settlement in Chickasaw County in 1863. These immigrants had settled first near Stoughton, Wisconsin. From Wisconsin, they journeyed to land near Vermillion, South Dakota, where they established homesteads. The Civil War had broken out and there was unrest and disturbances in the air all over. The bloody Indian outbreaks at Spirit Lake, New Ulm, Willmar and other places occurred. The new settlements in South Dakota were fearful of a like fate, but were at that time unmolested. The day came, however, a year or two later, when they too fled for their lives.


Another move was undertaken, this time to Chickasaw County Iowa, more particularly to the Crane Creek area. The old covered wagons, sunbaked and rickety, were hurridly loaded, the oxen hitched and the flight, at a snails pace, was on. The ten families who comprised the original settlement were: Ole Anderson MJOLVER, Thor Halvorson FAABERG, Soren Torbjornson FAABERG, Hans and Otto Olson NIGARD, Kristian Olson STEINBAKKEN, Mikkel Monson RONNEI, Halvor Nilson LYSNE, Jetmund Knudson BJERKE, Helge MATHIESON, and Mikkel SKARE. The next year found fellow countrymen arriving at this settlement directly from the Jostedal Valley, on the Sogn Fjord, in Norway.

In 1864, Reverend KOREN began to conduct services in the Crane Creek area. Many of the Lutheran congregations of northeast Iowa look to Pastor KOREN as their founder, and he is gratefully acknowledged as the one who planted the church in this community. Early records indicate that at the beginning he visited several families and later conducted services in a schoolhouse located on the Andrew ANDERSON farm 1 1/2 miles northeast of Jerico. At first, these services occurred only every six weeks. Occasionally services were also held in the Somerville schoolhouse.


A division occurred in the Crane Creek congregation in 1889, at which time the church property was divided. The majority of the congregation continued its affiliation with the Norwegian Synod, and constructed a new church building in Jerico. The minority of the congregation became a member of the Anti-Missouri Brotherhood, and continued to use the existing church building.

The SAUDE LUTHERAN CONGREGATION was organized by Reverend Ulrik Vilhelm KOREN (1826-1910) in the spring of 1857, at Little Turkey, as the Dale Norsk Evangeliske Menighed. It was organized by eleven families. A log church was built as their house of worship. Records show that burials were made in a plot of ground in Howard County about 1.5 miles north of the present site as early as 1855, before the congregation was organized.


Those who were buried there were moved to the present cemetery, "near the old oak tree with the usual commitment service on 19 May 1862."

Among the settlers who were in the area when the Congregation was organized were:
John Johnson LANDSVERK, Tollef Olsen HAUGEN, Aslak TORVILDSON, Knut Olson KULTAN, Kittle Kittleson STORDALEN, Halvor EIVINDSON, Ola TOSTENSON, all from Upper Telemarken in Norway. John Svenungson BOLAGER and the brothers Alf Olsen VAALA and Gregor Olson VAALA who came from Lower Telemarken. Knut Tostenson EINANG from Slidre, Valders.


In 1860, a 1.5 acre plot of ground in Section 20-97-11, Utica Township, was purchased. On this plot the first church, made of logs, was erected. This log church was replaced by a frame structure in 1875. That frame structure was struck by lightening and burned. The Altar painting, by the famous Norwegian - American artist Herbjorn GAUSTA, was saved from the fire. The painting adorns the present building erected in 1903. The Norwegian words on the Altar say, "Den Gode Hyrde" (The Good Shepherd).


Except for the addition of more land, this is still the location of the church and cemetery. The church was located 11 miles north of Lawler. Besides being called the Dale Congregation, it has been known as the Little Turkey Congregation, The Norwegian Lutheran Church at Howard and Chickasaw Counties and since 1922, as the Saude Lutheran Congregation. It has and is known as the "Synod" church, presently affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is the oldest congregation in the Synod with a continous affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The name ‘Dale Congregation’ was last used in 1870.


On 17 August 1875, the cornerstone of the second frame church building was dedicated by Reverend John MOSES. The masonry was done by Ola Anderson SJOBAKKEN, and the carpentry by Lars MOEN of Calmar. The church was 60 feet in length, 40 feet in width, and 20 feet in height. The steeple was 14 feet square at the base and about 100 feet in height. The Chancel was 14 feet long and 20 feet wide. The Trustees at the time this new church was built, were Ole P. DYBEVIK, Halvor HALVORSON and Nils H. OFFERDAL. This second frame church building was struck by lightening and burned to the ground on 8 July 1903.


The cornerstone of the present church was laid on 24 June 1904. Martin JOHNSON of Cresco was the building contractor. The cost of construction was over $6,000. The plans called for a seating capacity of 500. Of the original organizers, only Gregor Olson VAALA was present for this dedication. The Trustees were K.K. STEENSLAND, Muns MUNSON and Iver S. GRINDE. The Pastor was Reverend Jacob G. RUGLAND (1867-1947).


The CRANE CREEK LUTHERAN CONGREGATION was organized in 1867, by Reverend Ulrik Vilhelm KOREN, and sixty Norwegian pioneers. It was first known as the Crowe Creek Congregation. The name Crowe Creek was not used after the year 1874, when the congregation was renamed the Crane Creek Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. The Crane Creek congregation was affiliated with the Norwegian Synod, but did not officially join the Synod until 1877.


Due to the continued influx of immigrants from Norway, by 1869 the communicant membership grew to one hundred. It was in that same year that Reverend John Christian Tordenskjold MOSES became shepherd of the Crane Creek flock. He served in that capacity for twenty years. Under his leadership, the congregation was incorporated in 1871. In 1875 an ‘American’ named Sommerville donated land for construction of a church building. Johannes BJORK laid the foundation as a gift. It was also due to the efforts of Johannes BJORK, that the church received a bell, soon after it was constructed. The building site was located one mile east and two miles south of Jerico. The present church building stands on that first plot of land.


For various reasons, this building was not completed and dedicated until 1891. Although unfinished for nearly 17 years, the building was used for services during that time, and a joint confirmation service for Little Turkey Congregation (now Saude) and Crane Creek was conducted in 1875. The church was the center of the Norwegian community. Services were not held in the church every week. On Sundays when there were no services, the men would hold devotions in their homes for their own families. When services were held, they were attended with great devotion.


The Crane Creek Congregation was reorganized, by Reverend MOSES, on 16 May 1877, at which time, the constitution recommended by the Norwegian Synod was adopted. The officers of the congregation elected in that year were: Jetmund KNUTSON, Bernt SONDVOLD and E.E. SLINDE, Trustees; Helge MATISON and Halvor NELSON, Deacons; Bernt SONDVOL, Secretary; and Endre Endreson GORDON, Treasurer. Having applied for membership, the congregation was admitted as a member of the Norwegian Synod at their District Convention held at Story City, Iowa, on 9 - 17 June 1877. Lars HELGEGAARD represented the Crane Creek Congregation, as Delegate.


The 1880s were years of doctrinal controversy for the Norwegian Synod, and the Chickasaw County congregations did not remain unscathed by it. Its basis was "... whether sinful man can in any measure contribute towards his salvation by his faith, OR whether faith itself is wholly a divine gift." The later was the viewpoint of the Norwegian Synod. The congregation became irreparably divided and virtual religious war developed, with guns, pitch forks, axes, and property damage.


For a while, both congregations conducted services in the same church building. This proved an unsatisfactory arrangement. Eventually, the majority group still affiliated with the Norwegian Synod (present day Jerico), made an offer to sell their portion of the property for $600. The minority group withdrew from the Norwegian Synod. They joined the "Anti-Missouri Brotherhood" and have continued to use the existing church building to this day.


At a meeting held 27 October 1889, the congregation was reorganized and a new constitution adopted. The Presiding Officer was Reverend M.F. LUNDE; Attle ATTLESON, Vice President; Gunnar HALVORSON, Secretary; and Andrew GORDON, Treasurer.

Members of the Crane Creek congregation were (original spellings preserved): Endre E. GORDEN, John E. GORDEN, Gutorm OTTESON, Tollev J. ELLESTAD, Peder J. ELLESTAD, Atle ATLESON, Johannes ATLESEN, Jens ATLESEN, Thorkel ATLESEN, Ingeborg NIELSEN, Niels NIELSEN, Hans NIELSEN, Anders THOMPSON, Thosten A. THOMPSON, Ole I. GJELHUUS, Frederik CHRISTENSEN, Otte OTTESEN, Anders H. RONNEI, Ole O. FLATEGJORD, Ole O. HAUGEN, Jetmund ANDERSON, Severin GJELHUUS, Anders I. ASPEVIK, Ingebrekt OLSEN, Mikkel IVERSEN (NJOS), Ole IVERSEN (NJOS), G. HALVORSEN, Jacob GJERDE, Knut SNETHUN, Ole Knutsen OLSEN (OVREGAARD), Ole JACOBSEN, Ole SPERLA, Rasmus BASTESEN, Hans KAASA, Gudmund HILDAHL, Johannes HILDAHL, Otte G. NIGAARD, Thorbjorn SJURSEN, Anne PEDERSEN, Jens NORTHNES, and Jens JOHNSON [Grandfather of the author of this history].

On Friday, the 13th of June 1890 Crane Creek became a part of the United Norwegian Church in America. For two years they were without a regularly called pastor and were served by Reverend M.F. LUNDE and by Reverend Jørg L. SVENØE.


In 1891, Crane Creek, together with Immanuel Church, Saude; First Church, Cresco; and Ridgeway, called Reverend Martin Paulson DOMMERSNAES. Rev. DOMMERSNAES was installed on 28 June 1891, by Dr. F.A. SCHMIDT. Rev. DOMMERSNAES served this four-point parish for ten years, during which time, he lived in Cresco and made regular trips out to conduct services at Crane Creek.


On 14 August 1900, the first church building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. This was a tremendous blow to the congregation. Within a week a congregational meeting was held, and it was decided that a new building should be erected on the same site, as soon as possible. John A. GORDON, George OTTESON, Thomas ATTLESON, Ole THRONDSON, Mikkel I. NJOS, Ole I. NJOS and Otte OTTESON were elected as the building committee. Construction was delayed until the following spring. Total cost of the new structure was $3,600 including $332 for the bell. During the eleven months between the burning of the church and the dedication of the new, services were held in several schoolhouses in the neighborhood. The new house of worship was dedicated by Reverend G. HOYME, President of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church on 28 July 1901. Earlier in that same month, the cornerstone of the church had been laid on the Fourth of July by Reverend J.O. HAUGEN of Decorah.


Pastor Lars Wilhelm BOE was then installed as pastor of the congregation in August of 1901. Before Pastor BOE was called, the Cresco and Ridgeway congregations separated from Saude and Crane Creek and formed their own parish. Thus, Reverend BOE became the first resident pastor of Crane Creek since 1889.


In 1903 a parsonage was built on the present site. The contractor for construction of the parsonage was Ole I. Olson, a member of the congregation. It was during Pastor BOE's ministry that English services were first conducted.


In 1912, the need for a more suitable meeting place for the Ladies Aid and Luther League and for Christian instruction motivated the congregation to build a parish hall next to the parsonage. This building was constructed in 1913 by Ole I. OLSON as contractor, assisted by members of the congregation.


The parish hall was remodeled in 1953, including the addition of a large kitchen to the west and an entry way to the east. About this time, the parish hall was given the name Bethany Hall.


Up until around 1954, Crane Creek had shared its pastor with other congregation, i.e. Immanuel Lutheran Church in Saude and St. Olaf in New Hampton. It was at this time when Crane Creek began having services every Sunday for the first time in its history.

The IMMANUEL LUTHERAN CONGREGATION in Saude, was organized on 11 May 1889. Reverend M.F. LUNDE of Decorah, served as the first pastor. It was decided that the name of the congregation should be the "Immanuel Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation." The Reverend LUNDE was elected President, and William SANDERSON was elected Secretary. Ole O. BORLAUG and Hans JACOBSON were elected Trustees.

A committee consisting of Hans JACOBSON, Ole SANDERSON, and Nils O. BORLAUG was appointed to draft a constitution. Ole K. HAUGEN and Stener ELLEFSON were received as advisory members of the congregation.


The "charter families" of the congregation in 1889, were: Ole B. BERGE, Nils O. BORLAUG, Ole O. BORLAUG, Hans JACOBSON, Lars SANDERSON, Ole L. SANDERSON, and William SANDERSON.


The following families joined the congregation soon afterwards in 1889: Stener ELLEFSON, Ole K. Olson HAUGEN, John T. BJONDALEN, John J. SIME, John J. LANDSWERK, Anders P. LANDSWERK, Amund HANSEN, Thorkeld J. BJONDALEN, Baard S. VIKDAL brothers and sisters, Rolf ELLEFSON, and Sondre S. LEE.


The Immanuel Ladies Aid was organized during the first part of January 1889 by a small group of pioneer women. In 1906, the charter members drew up a constitution, with the following signing: Mrs. Cecilia VIKDAL, Mrs. Henrietta NERISON, Mrs. Aagot GILBERT, Mrs. Lena HAUGEN, Mrs. Clara ARNOLD, Miss Lena SANDERSON, and Mrs. Aasta ELLEFSON. The following ladies belonged to the Aid, but did not sign the constitution; Mrs. John HAUGEN, Mrs. John SIME, Mrs. Ole HEREID, Mrs. Oaf LEE, Mrs. John RINDE and Mrs. John VIKDAL. These ladies met once a month in their homes during the winter months and twice the rest of the year. They held devotions in the Norwegian language until 1937, when Reverend Hans FINSTAD began using the English language.


The first annual meeting was held 9 November 1889 at the Saude Schoolhouse. The following officers were elected: William SANDERSON, Secretary; Rollef ELLEFSON, Treasurer, Ole O. BORLAUG and Hans JACOBSON, Trustees.

At a meeting held 14 December 1889, it was decided that a church should be built and the dimensions of the building were stipulated. The church was built on land provided by Ole Haugen in the northeast corner of Section 29-97-11 of Utica Township. Services were first held in the new structure in the latter part of 1890.


In 1911, the church was remodeled. The Sacristy, bell tower and steeple were built, and the bell installed. In 1924 the balcony was remodeled and the basement was built. In 1935, acoustical paneling was placed on the interior walls and ceiling to improve appearances and acoustics. The floor of the Sanctuary was tiled in 1950. The sacristy was remodeled in 1951, and a new organ was purchased in 1954.

For many years the Norwegian language used in the service and for business meeting. As the Norwegian language became less familiar to the congregation it was replaced by the English language. In 1930 it was decided that all of the business meetings should be conducted in English. The constitution was translated into English in 1932. Immanuel Lutheran Congregation was incorporated under the laws of the State of Iowa in 1961.


From its organization, Immanuel was a congregation of the United Church which merged with the Norwegian Synod and the Hauge's Synod in 1917, forming the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, which later became the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1961 the Evangelical Lutheran Church merged with the American Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church to form the American Lutheran Church.

The last service was held in 1974. The burial site lies just west of the Saude Lutheran Cemetery, one-half mile north and one-half mile west of Saude, Iowa.


The JERICO LUTHERAN CHURCH was organized in 1867, by Reverend Ulrik Vilhelm KOREN, and sixty Norwegian pioneers. It was first known as the Crowe Creek Congregation, and after 1872 as Crane Creek Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. The official name of the church continued to be Crane Creek Lutheran Church until 1923, when they became the Jerico Lutheran Synod Church or the Jerico Evangelical Lutheran Church. They continue to operate under the Articles of Incorporation dated 16 May 1877.


In the 1880s, when the congregation numbered nearly five hundred souls, a doctrinal controversy developed throughout the Norwegian Synod. After much strife in both words and actions, a majority of the congregation decided to maintain their membership in the Norwegian Synod, and sell their interest in the Crane Church property to the minority group.


At a congregational meeting on 16 June 1890, the congregation decided to build a new church. The congregation purchased, from Tollef and Peter JOHNSON for $100.00, a tract of land in Section 27-97-12, Jacksonville Township, just east of the village of Jerico. The cornerstone was laid on 19 October 1890. On Thursday, 9 July 1891 the congregation marched in procession to the new church where the Dedication Service took place. The building was erected at a cost of $1,700. Because it was physicaly located in the village of Jerico, it was commonly call the Jerico Lutheran Church. This first church building burned in 1891. Eleven months later, on 16 June 1892, the church steeple was struck by lightning and the church burned to the ground. A new church was built within five months, to the east of the former building. The cost was $1,800.00. This church building was dedicated on 20 November 1892.


The congregation soon outgrew this second church building. On festival occasions the men would have to go outside in order to give the women and children a place to sit. In the spring of 1913, a building committee consisting of M.K. BLEKEN, H.J. KNUTSON, A.W. OLSON, A. BRAHAM, and Lars AASEN was elected. This new church building was constructed upon the same site as the old. Construction was begun in early June and was completed sufficiently so that the first service was held in the basement on 9 November 1913. The cornerstone was laid on 27 November 1913, and the building was dedicated on 24 May 1914. The total cost of construction was $12,000.


The Ladies Aid held their first meeting on 18 October 1905, at the home of Mrs. Nils ANDERSON. Those in attendance at the first meeting were Mrs. Andrew ELLINGSON, Miss Ida ELLINGSON, Mrs. Nils ELLINGSON, Mrs. Louie GROVE, Miss Carrie SLINDEE, Mrs. Erik SLINDEE, Mrs. J.G. RUGLAND and Mrs. E. ATTLESON (a visitor).


Services were conducted in the Norwegian language until January of 1929. Services were conducted twice monthly until 1941, when every Sunday services began in both the Jerico and Saude congregations. The regular use of Norwegian in the services continued until 1945.

In 1943, children from Jerico congregation began to attend Christian day school at Saude. In 1947, the Jerico congregation began a Christian Day School in a building that was moved from Elma to its present location. In 1968 the Jerico and Saude schools began to operate jointly with grades 1-4 at Jerico and grades 5-8 at Saude. The two schools were combined at Jerico in 1979.

In 1951 a four-rank pipe organ was installed. The basement was remodelled and rest rooms added in 1960. The church was re-sided, in 1975, at a cost of $12,400.


District Court, Chickasaw County, Iowa; Articles of Incorporation, filed for record 22 May 1877
District Court, Chickasaw County, Iowa; Quit Claim Deed, filed for record 31 March 1890
HOLAND, Halmer Rued, "De Norske Settlement Historie", (Ephriam, WI,1908), pp 390-394
"Seventy-fifth Anniversary, 1867-1942, Crane Creek Lutheran Church",(Decorah, Posten Press, 1942)
TWEIT, M.E., "One Hundredth Anniversary, Saude Lutheran Church",(n.p., 1958)
STEWART, J. David, "Crane Creek Lutheran Church, Centennial, 1867-1967", (Decorah, Anundsen, 1967)
"One hundred Twenty-fifth Anniversary, Saude Lutheran Church"
"125th Anniversary, Jerico Lutheran Church", (New Hampton, Iowa,1992)
District Court, Chickasaw County, Iowa; Articles of Incorporation, filed for record 19 July 1967
District Court, Chickasaw County, Iowa; Deed Record 82, # 3448, filed for record 28 August 1956
District Court, Chickasaw County, Iowa; Deed Record 79, # 3448, filed for record 28 August 1956
NORLIE, O.M., "Norsk Lutherske Menigheter i Amerika, 1843 - 1916", (Minneapolis, Augsburg Publishing house, 1918), Vol. I, pp 350-1
NESS, Rev. J.G., "Kirkentidende, Vol 15", (Norwegian Synod,15 August 1891), pp 518-519
FERKENSTAD, Craig, "This Generation of Grace", (Mankato, Lutheran Synod Book Co., 1993)
"History of the Scandinavians in the U.S.", page 99
The New Hampton Tribune, Vol 92, No. 22, 1 June 1967, page 1
ORVICK, George M., "Our Great Heritage, A Popular History of The Evengelical Lutheran Synod", (Mankato, Lutheran Synod Book Co., 1968), pp 25-32
BERG, Rev. Donald L., "The First Norwegians in Northeast Iowa",(Western Viking, 26 Nov 1993), page 10
MALMIN, Rasmus, NORLIE, O.M., Tingelstad, O.A., "Who's Who Among Pastors in All The Norwegian Lutheran Synods of America, 1843-1927", Minneapolis, Augsburg Pub., 1928)
New Hampton Tribune, 30 June 1955, page 3
"Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, Immanuel Lutheran Church"
The assistance of the following church historians is acknowledged and is appreciated:
a. Rev. Craig A. Ferkenstad, Rt 3, Box 40, St. Peter, MN 56082
b. Rev. Donald L. Berg, 407 Leif Erickson Dr., Decorah, IA 52101-1038
c. Duane W. Fenstermann, Archivist, Preus Library, Luther College, 700 College Drive, Decorah, IA 52101

Revised 9 June 2001
Note: We thank the researcher & compiler of this history, Mr James H. JOHNSON, for contributing his work to the website. Mr JOHNSON’s Father and Grandparents were from Chickasaw County and the Norwegian Community of which he writes. Mr JOHNSON is retired and lives with his wife, Joyce, in California. Both are avid genealogists.

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