History of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church

from the 40th Anniversary Album, 1866-1906
Swedesburg, Henry County, Iowa

    See also: Confirmations

The history of the Swedesburg congregation begins with the first "Swedes" who came here in 1864 to make their homes. The very first family to arrive in what is now the Swedesburg settlement was the Swen Peterson Swenson family, who came from New Sweden in Jefferson County. This family settled in section four of Marion Township, just two miles south of the present village of Swedesburg. The house into which they moved was located on the south side of the highway about 1/4 of a mile west from the highway running north and south, but there is no trace of its location at this date. Two days later Matthew Anderson and John Tolander arrived from Biggsville, Illinois. John Tolander settled in section 28 of Wayne Twp. The family settled on the north east quarter of the south east quarter of the section which was 40 acres. This tract was near what was very likely the wettest part of the entire settlement. Matthew Anderson and his wife settled on a forty acre tract in section 34 about 1/2 mile south east from the Tolander place. Mr. Anderson bought this forty from the G. A. Fridolph family who had purchased the north half of the north west quarter of section 34. When the Fridolph family arrived in 1865 they settled on the forty acres west of the Matthew Anderson tract. Mr. Fridolph had purchased these two forty acre tracts in 1864 but did not move to the land until 1865. From this time on settlers began to arrive into the settlement quite rapidly. One thing that brought settlers into the settlement was the promotion of the area as a good place for Swedish people to establish a home. Advertising was done through a Swedish paper called the "Hemlandet" published in Chicago. The main promoter of the settlement to attract the attention of Swedish people was G. A. Fridolph. He had been chosen to do the advertising and to assist in every way possible to bring people into the area. That he succeeded is evident from the steady flow of people from other Swedish settlements to this area. However, there was another man who was the main influence in pointing the way to the settling of this area as a place for Swedish people, and that was Rev. Hakan Olson who was serving as pastor of the New Swedish Lutheran church, organized in 1848 in Jefferson county.

Rev. Olson and some friends from Jefferson county had made a trip to the north part of Henry County, in the spring of 1863, to look over the land for the purpose of establishing another Swedish settlement in Iowa. What he saw was certainly not very inviting. Pools of water were everywhere, and swampland; prairie land that was flat and wet. No trees, but tall swamp grass that was so tall that a man could walk in it and not be seen. Likewise no roads. When these men came from Jefferson county to look at this area they had to ford Skunk river in order to get here. Yet Rev. Olson was impressed with the possibilities of a settlement here by Swedish people. That same fall Rev. Olson, S. P. Swenson and son Albert made a trip to Biggsville, Illinois to talk with the "Swedes" in that area about establishing a settlement in the north part of Henry County Iowa. He talked with G. A. Fridolph, Matthew Anderson and others. The people around Biggsville were impressed with the report and decided to move to Iowa. And the following spring several families from that part of Illinois came to Henry County Iowa to establish homes for themselves. Records show that there were several Swedish settlements in the western part of Illinois. The oldest one was perhaps at Andover. Others were at Galesburg, Knoxville, Biggsville and there was a large settlement of "Swedes” in Chicago.

When the "Swedes" came from Illinois in the spring of 1864 there or were no bridges over the Mississippi River. They had to cross this river by ferry. And when these same Swedes" came to Henry County there were no well established roads over which to travel to get to their destination. They simply had to travel as best they could and pick their way. Some of the streams had to be forded for lack of bridges. Even the mile running south of our village was not passable until after a bridge was built over the pool of water that covered the road about 3/4 of a mile south of our village. This bridge was about seventy-five feet long and was built after it had been asked for by Moses Lemon and others, including the supervisor Caleb Russell from Wayne Township. The building of Liberty School in 1867 may have been a factor in getting this bridge built so the children from the north could get to school along the highway. The bridge was also necessary for north and south travel for people going to Mt. Pleasant, the county seat, and a trading center. There was no trading center in Wayne Township 1864. There were stores in Winfield which was laid out June 12th, 1852; and in Marshall (known today as Wayland) which was laid out Sept. 24th, 1851. But it was seven miles from Swedesburg to Winfield, and it was about eight miles from Swedesburg to Marshall. And neither of these two towns had a railroad at that time. Whereas Mt. Pleasant had a railroad which had been in operation for seven years or since it was completed in 1857. So it was much more desirable to go to Mt. Pleasant, to do what trading was necessary. The road running north and south through Swedesburg had also been designated as a military road and that was another good reason for building a bridge on the mile south, of what is now Swedesburg, so that travelers using the road north and south could do so without going in a round about way through the open prairie. We are using the name of Swedesburg loosely for in 1864 there was no Swedesburg. The name of Swedesburg did not come into existence until Jan. 20th, 1870 and then it was spelled ending with an "h", Swedesburgh. Looking ahead the name was changed again on May 18th, 1893 when the "h " was left off. And that gave us the name we have today, Swedesburg.

For the folks who came from Jefferson County there were equally bad roads and streams to ford. These folks had to ford Skunk river and it was not easy to get the livestock started through the water. We have the story from Oliver Stephenson, who told of the problem they had young colts to follow along in the water. And many smaller creeks and sloughs were also difficult to ford. Oliver Stephenson did not come to Wayne Township until the summer of 1865, when he purchased a farm in Sec. 18, almost four miles northwest of our village. There are no church records to show which ones came from Jefferson County or which ones came from Illinois. But we do have some conveyance records that show where they came from. So far as the adults are concerned they all came from Sweden originally. But some of them went on to Jefferson County before coming to this settlement in Wayne Township. Of the children who were here when the church organized in 1866, most of them were born in America, either in Jefferson County, or in one of the Swedish settlements in Illinois.

We have in the Iowa Historical Society building at Iowa City microfilm records from the Federal census of 1870 that will show where all of the residents were born who were residents of Wayne Township in 1870. Not all of the charter members of our congregation who were here when the congregation was organized in 1866 stayed on and made this their home. As we have stated the land here was wet and it was hard to produce a crop in a moderately wet year. Reports coming in from Nebraska told of better weather there so many of the first settlers in this area moved on to Nebraska. From the time records were started in 1877 until 1895 there were 42 members of the Swedesburg, congregation that moved to Nebraska. This number does not take into account the members who left during the sixties or early seventies. Alexander Johnson and wife in whose home the congregation was organized in 1866, stayed here only two years. Their home was located in Sec. 29, in the south east quarter; it was both flat and wet, and certainly hard to produce a crop without some form of drainage. We mention the condition of the land because it was impossible for the congregation to prosper and move forward until the farmers could get some return from the land which they were tilling.

From 1864 until April 13th, 1866 when the congregation was organized, there were over sixty Swedish people who had moved into the area here in Wayne township. And when these folks got together to organize their congregation fifty nine people were listed as charter members. During 1864 and 1865 Hakan Olson who was serving the New Sweden Congregation made occasional visits to the settlement to conduct services for them.

It was Hakan Olson who had urged the "Swedes" to come to this settlement and he did not forsake them. He made trips overland the eighteen miles from New Sweden to Wayne Township to preach to the people, and sometimes at great danger to himself. Once when Skunk river was too high to ford he took off his clothes and swam across and walked the ten miles to the area, delivered his sermon and then walked the ten miles back, swam the river, untied his horse from the tree where he had tied it and rode back to New Sweden, Little wonder that a settlement served by a minister like that would eventually move forward and succeed.

At a meeting of the Swedish people who were in Wayne Township on April 13th, 1866 it was decided to organize a congregation. The "Swedes" met in the home of Alexander Johnson and wife. They lived one mile south and one and one quarter miles west of what is now Swedesburg. Rev. Hakan Olson was present and served as chairman for the meeting. L. M. Rapp was asked to serve as Secretary. After considerable discussion it was decided by these in attendance to organize a congregation. It was decided to call the location of the church "Freeport". This was to give some honor to G. A. Fridolph. However, the records are not clear whether it was primarily to honor Mr. Fridolph or whether Mr. Fridolph made the suggestion to call the location of the church "Freeport" However the name “Freeport” did not last long. When a U. S. Gov't post office was established here on Jan. 20th. 1870, the name was changed to Swedesburgh. The post office was located in the store operated by Otto Abrahamson, and he became its first postmaster.

To those folks who may be interested in reading these pages in future years it may seem that the work of building a church here on the Swedesburg prairie in the late sixties, moved along very slowly. But let us remember how few were the members who undertook the responsibility of building this first church here in what is now Swedesburg. The following is a list of those who signed up as charter members:

John Z. Sandahl, his wife and children
Gustaf Fridolph and wife
Jonas Peter Sandahl and wife .
Fred Olson and wife
Matthias Anderson and wife
Swen Peter Swenson, wife and children
Anders J. Anderson and wife
Alfred Louis and wife
Johan Tolander and wife
Alexander Johnson and wife
Anders J. Zarl and wife
Ola. Gust Carlson, wife and children
Ola. Gust Stephenson and wife
Am. M. Anderson and wife
Otto Abrahamson and wife
John Nelson and wife
Germund Abrahamson
Isak Overstrom, wife and children
G. Nelson and wife
L. M. Rapp, wife and children
Sven Auguston
Anders Erickson
Fred Molin and wife
Mans Anderson and wife
Gust Carlson and wife

It was this little band of Swedish people that had the courage to come together and agree to build a church where they could worship God together, along the lines and traditions they had been taught since their childhood days. Some of the men in this group had just returned from service in the Civil War, and they were anxious to establish homes for their families. This was true of the Abrahamson brothers, Fred Molin and Alfred Louis. But for all of them there was the hope that they might better themselves by settling in this new settlement of Swedish people. But when we consider the physical condition of this prairie land, we marvel that they stayed on and succeeded in making a living for themselves, paying for the land they had bought, and going ahead with plans to build a church, there must of been an unwavering faith in God that everything would turn out alright in the end. Otherwise it seems to this writer that they would have given up and moved to a land that was not so wet, and where drainage was no problem. As we have already stated, many of them did move to Nebraska. But for those who stayed on during 1867 and later, if they produced more than they needed to feed their families there was the problem of getting to market with what little extra they had. It was ten miles to the railroad, which was at Mt. Pleasant, if we figure the distance from the proposed church building site. And for Oliver Stephenson, who lived about four miles north west of the point mentioned, it was fourteen miles. With all the handicaps against them it is no wonder they were poor. Yet poor as they were they still had to contribute something in the wage of taxes, to the county. The rates or levies were not high, but still if you did not have the money to Pay the taxes levied against you, the land would be sold to satisfy the tax lien. On Feb. 1, 1864, the 40 acre tract upon which Swedesburg now stands was sold for taxes. H. C. Saunders of Mt. Pleasant bought the tract for 7.59. This amount represented the accumulation of taxes and costs for two years. On Nov. 16, 1867, H. C. Saunders assigned his tax certificate to Rev. Hakan Olson, who, on presenting it to the county treasurer, received a tax deed for the 40 acres, subject to the right of redemption. The land was never redeemed.

Members of the congregation who have served in various capacities.

1866 Matthias Anderson, Sven P. Swenson, Mans Anderson, Otto Abrahamson, G. A. Fridolph and Alexander Johnson
1867 Alfred Louis, Fred Olson
1868 Chas Sandahl, John Holcom
1869 G. A. Fridolph, N. Nordgren
1870 John Schutz,C. E. Hult, Fred Molin, John Monson and Sven Nelson
1871 John Lauger and Ed Palmblad
1872 Fred Molin and Matthias Anderson
1873 John Monson, G. A. Fridolph
1874 Aron Blom, C. E. Hult
1875 Chas Anderson, Peter Johnson
1876 John Monson, G. A. Fridolph
1877 Fred Molin, C. E. Hult
1878 C. J. Anderson, O. Stephenson
1879 John Monson, G. A. Fridolph
1880 C. E. Hult, John Peterson
1881 John Holt, E. E. Palmblad
1882 G. A. Fridolph, John Monson
1883 C. E. Hult, John P. Peterson, C. J. Anderson
1884 John Holt, Gust Johnson
1985 G. A. Fridolph, John Monson
1886 C. E. Hult, C. J. Anderson, John P. Peterson
1887 John Holt, John Peterson
1888 O. L. Lindeen, G. A. Fridolph
1889 S. P. Morgan, G. B. Hult
1890 John Holt, John Peterson
1891 O. L. Lindeen, G. A. Fridolph
1892 S. P. Morgan, C. E. Hult
1893 John Holt, A. F. Lauger
1894 O. L. Lindeen, G. A. Fridolph
1895 S. P. Morgan, John P. Peterson
1896 John Holt, A. F. Lauger, Nelse Monson
1897 Olof Anderson, G. A. Fridolph
1898 S. P. Morgan, Nelse Monson
1899 John Holt, Ed. Palm
1900 G. A. Fridolph, Olof Anderson
1901 S. P. Morgan, Nelse Monson .
1902 John Holt, Ed. Palm
1903 C. O. Nelson, O. L. Lindeen
1904 S. P. Morgan, C. E. Hult, Nelse Monson
1905 John Holt, Ed. Palm
1906 O. L. Lindeen, Magnus Alvine

1866 John Z Sandahl,L. M. Rapp, Claus Stephenson
1867 John Z Sandahl, Fred Molin, John G. Sandahl
1868 C. E. Hult
1869 Claus Stephenson
1870 John Peterson
1871 O. L. Lindeen
1872 C. Stephenson, C. E. Hult
1875 C. E. Hult
1874 O. L. Lindeen
1875 Otto Abrahamson
1876 S. P. Morgan
1877 Oliver Stephenson, O. L. Lindeen .
1878 O. L. Lindeen
1879 S. P. Morgan
1880 Oliver Stephenson
1881 O. L. Lindeen
1882 S. P. Morgan
1883 Oliver Stephenson
1884 O. L. Lindeen
1885 S. P. Morgan
1886 Andrew Lauger
1887 Oliver Stephenson
1888 D. B. Alvine
1889 Nels Klen
1890 John Gladd, Oliver Stephenson
1891 D. B. Alvine
1892 John Gladd
1893 Oliver Stephenson
1894 C. J. Nelson, John Hultquist
1895 H. Alvine
1896 Magnus Nelson
1897 J. E. Lindell
1898 H. Alvine
1899 M. Nelson
1900 J. P. Lauger
1901 H. Alvine
1902 G. W. Larson
1903 J. P. Lauger
1904 A. J. Anderson
1905 C. W. Larson
1906 J. P. Lauger

Secretaries of the congregation:
1866 L. M. Rapp, Swan Swanson |
1867 - 69 Swan Swanson
1870 L. M. Rapp
1871 - 73 Peter Ingmanson
1874 P. L. Anderson
1875 Axel P. Swan
1876 - 77 P. Liliedahl
1878 P. D. Alvine
1879 - 85 P. Liliedahl
1886 - 87 J. E. Lindell
1888 John Ingmanson
1889 John Ingmanson, Nelse Monson, John Gladd
1890 - 92 John Ingmanson
1895 - 1900 C. O. Nelson
1901 Nelse Monson
1902 C. O. Nelson
1903 Nelse Monson
1904 Nelse Monson
1905 - 06 Henry Ingmanson

1866 - 74 Oliver Stephenson
1875 Otto Abrahamson
1876 - 86 O. L. Lindeen
1887 - 95 Oliver Stephenson
1894 - 95 C. J. Nelson
1896 - 97 H. Alvine
1898 - 99 Magnus Nelson
1900 - 03 H. Alvine
1904 - 06 J. P. Lauger

1869 L. M. Rapp
1870 - 75 L. M. Rapp
1874 - 76 Olivia Olson
1877 Thilda Olson, Jenny Monson
1878 - 80 Mrs. Wallen
1881 - 83 Anna Anderson
1884 Jennie Monson
1885 - 86 Mrs. Franzen
1887 - 92 Anna Anderson
1895 - 97 Florence Morgan
1898 - 1906 Ella Larson

1869 - 70 A. P. Borg
1871 - 72 M. P. Peterson
1875 - 74 P. L. Anderson
1875 - 76 C. Hedstrom
1877 P. L. Anderson
1878 J. C. Sandburg
1879 - 82 P. L. Anderson
1883 - 86 A. G. Liff
1887 P. L. Anderson
1888 A. G. Liff
1889 C. A. Monson
1890 Henry Ingmanson
1891 -1906 J. C. Sandburg

The ministers who have served here during the past 40 years are the following: Hakan Olson who was called to serve full time after he had helped organize the congregation in 1866 was the first full time pastor to serve the congregation. Rev. Olson had served the congregation from the time of its organization to the time he was called here,but it had been on a part time basis. After the congregation built the church in 1868 it felt it needed a full time pastor. On March 22nd. 1869 after its Annual meeting,which was held in January, the congregation came together on its own,and decided to call a pastor. Gust Fridolph presided at the meeting. There was much discussion. But after considerable debate it was decided to call Rev. Hakan Olson from New Sweden, Iowa. Rev. Olson accepted the call and soon came to what was then called "Freeport" Iowa. This was in the year 1869. There was no parsonage for the new pastor. Rev. Olson was a man of ability and strength. He built and paid for his own house, which he used during the years he was here. When he left in 1876 the congregation bought the house from him and continued to use it as a parsonage for other pastors.

Rev. Chas. Wallen came to serve the congregation in 1877 and stayed until 1882. When Rev. Wallen came to Swedesburg, the hardest years were past. Because: wet soil was now being conquered by the use of drain tile, and the land was producing crops in great abundance. However it was a new settlement,and it needed help as any new settlement does. It is not our intention to add or detract to the abilities of any of the pastors who have served here. But we wish to point but that Rev. Wallen took steps to have the organization of the church recorded in the records of the County Seat. This was done in 1880. Rev. Wallen also urged the young folks to organize a young peoples society, which they did, and which is still a strong organization within the church. Rev. Wallen left here in 1882.

Rev. Franzen took up the work here in 1882 after Rev. Wallen had left. And he had not much more than become acquainted with the congregation when their church was destroyed by fire Jan. 19th, 1883. The fire was caused by an overheated stove. Wood fuel was used. It was now necessary for the congregation to decide if it wanted to build another church or not. When the question was put, the congregation voted unanimously to rebuild. The work was started and completed the same year 1883. Rev. Franzen moved in the summer of 1889. Rev. Bring accepted a call to serve here when he was still a student at the seminary, and came in 1890. He was bachelor and was under certain handicaps in rendering service to the congregation. However the congregation made progress during his stay. He moved in 1892, having served the congregation just two years.

Rev. Sylvan followed Rev. Bring and came here in 1893. One of the big projects that was done during his stay was the building of what is now called Parish Hall. This building was begun and completed in 1893. It has been remodeled several times since that time, but part of the original building is still there. Rev. Sylvan stayed 3 years. He moved in August of 1896.

Rev. A. Norrbom followed Rev. Sylvan and moved here in Oct. 1896. Rev. Norrbom was an organizer and it is not hard to see the progress that was made during the years that Rev. Norrbom served the congregation. He was a gifted musician. He not only led the choir and the singing generally, but he also wrote music. He was young and he was active. He took part in many activities outside the church. He was a minister whom the congregation loved. When the family moved in the fall of 1906, after the 40th Anniversary Celebration, it was hard to see the family leave.

During the years 1868 and part of 1869 a student by the name of N. Nordgren served the congregation. It appears that he also taught school. When Rev. Olson accepted the call to serve the congregation, N. Nordgren went to Ottumwa, Iowa and did work there. Later N. Nordgren was ordained and became a minister and served various congregations.

The following are listed as having taught summer school in the congregation:

1874 C. J. E. Haterius
1875 H. P. Quist
1876 F. A. Lorell
1877 M. Wahlstrom
1878 J. D. Nelsenius
1879 J. A. Rinell, J. W. Skans
1880 E. J. Systrom, P. A. Edquist
1881 P. A. Edquist, Nelly Klen
1882 Ida Anderson, stud. A. Sundell, Pastor Franzen
1883 C. G. Olson, Joshua Anderson
1884 A. J. Ryden
1885 J. T. Torngren, J. G. Dahlberg
1886 J. G. Dahlberg,
1887 E. T. Lindeen, Frank Swenson
1888 Pastor and Mrs. Franzen
1889 J. G. Dahlberg
1890 Frank Nelson
1891 Frank Nelson, E. T. Lindeen
1892 E. T. Lindeen
1893 E. T. Lindeen, Clara Amanda Hultquist
1894 C. A. Randolph, Otto Jonason
1895 Otto Jonason
1896 S. F. Svenson, A. R. Shelander
1897 Olof Vellin (Wallin)
1898 J. O. Kronholm
1899 Carl W. Ronge
1900 Albin Anderson, Frans A. Wallin
1901 J. O. Kindstrom
1902 Oscar Liden
1903 - 04 M. J. Olson
1905 - 06 C. O. Gulleen

The following is a list of those from the congregation serving either in church work or in public service.

G. J. E. Haterius, minister ordained June 20th, 1880
P. A. Edquist, minister ordained June 28th, 1885
A. J. Ryden, minister ordained June 16th, 1889
C. A. Randolph, minister ordained 1895
E. T. Lindeen, minister ordained 1899
J. A. Edquist, became a Professor
Frank Nelson, graduate State University of Iowa
Wesley Holt, graduate State University, Law
C. O. Nelson, served as Treas of the Iowa Conference
Alfred Morgan, served as Treas of the Iowa Conference
Edwin Hult, Committee clerk in State Legislature
John Gladd, served as County Recorder
F. A. Johnson, served as County Clerk
Walford Lindeen, Swedesburg Post Master
P. L. Anderson, Justice of the Peace
S. P. Stephenson, Mayor of Olds

Women of the congregation who have become pastor's wives: Olivia Olson, Jennie Monson, Nellie Klen, Amalia Fogerstrom, Josephina Peterson, Lillie Liliedahl.
Transcribed and contributed anonymously, November 2019.

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