Norwegian Heritage in South Dakota

Like elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, a lot of Norwegians came to South Dakota as immigrants and have left their mark on its history.  There are therefore several places to learn about that history around the state, and here are a few highlights to which I’ll hopefully be able to add over time.  Please feel welcome to add comments about other sites that people should check out.

Nordland Heritage Park, Sioux Falls


Chandelier at Beaver Creek Lutheran Church. Photo by author.

The Nordland Heritage Foundation’s park is on 33rd south of Bergsaker Hall at Augustana College (now University I guess…).  The park includes the Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, the Eggers School, the Berdahl-Rolvaag House, and the Rolvaag Writing Cabin.  More on the history of the buildings is posted to their website, here.  This site is particularly interesting because of the connections between the house and cabin to O.E. Rolvaag, a Norwegian immigrant who made his name as the author of the 1927 novel Giants in the Earth about the immigrant experience on the prairie–it’s a haunting book, not a beach read but quality work.  It was the first in a trilogy and he wrote several more, link to Wikipedia bio here.

Hours at the Heritage Park are touch-and-go (the only time I’ve been around when they had the buildings open was after the parade for Augie’s homecoming weekend), and the immediate parking is for dorm residents only.  If you want to just walk around the buildings, you can park on the side street by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Open with more regularity is the Center for Western Studies at Augustana.  Last I knew, they have a permanent exhibit with some features on the material culture of Norwegian immigration.  The Center is also an archive and publisher.  Their main website, here.  Updated in 2007, they also have a collection guide to Norwegian-American materials in repositories throughout South Dakota, link to PDF here.

Stavig House, Sisseton

I have not been to the Stavig House in Sisseston in northeastern South Dakota personally, but I want to.  The house was built in 1916 by Andrew Stavig, who with his brothers became merchants in Sisseton and left a collection of letters that have been a rich source for learning about the immigrant experience.  The house has been a museum since 1996 and have regular visitor hours in the summer.  There is more of its history and visitor information on their website, here.

Chapel in the Hills, Rapid City

The Chapel in the Hills was built in 1962 as a home for the radio program, Lutheran Vespers (which moved elsewhere in 1975).  It was built using plans for the Borgund Stavkirke in Norway, overseen by W.E. Bentzinger an architect with Spitznagel Partners out of Sioux Falls.  The chapel is in a beautiful location and on the site, there is also a traditional storehouse/stabbur with a gift shop, a cabin museum, a house for visiting pastors who lead the nightly evening services, and a beautiful prayer walk.  The way there is a bit convoluted and you go off Hwy 44/Jackson Blvd on Chapel Lane through a neighborhood to get there, but it’s worth it.  More history and visitor information on their website, here.  Photos below by the author, June 2016.


And more …

Site of the first Norwegian Lutheran church in Dakota Territory

Northwest of Elk Point is St. Paul Lutheran Church, a congregation that had its origin in 1863 and built the first Norwegian Lutheran church in the territory, a log church, in 1867-1868.  Though that first church is gone, the congregation’s cemetery is still on that site and the current 1922 church building is across the road.  In 1938, the cemetery association put up a monument to the first building–a simple marble plaque on a boulder along the cemetery path.  It’s been joined by a metal plaque with the church’s charter members named.

[I think that the Vangen Lutheran Church in Yankton County claims to be the oldest standing Lutheran church in SD, built 1869–maybe I’ll get there someday soon].

Photograph by author, October 14, 2017.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s