History of the First Lutheran Church

St. Ansgar, Iowa


If we could have been here on June 17, 1853 we would have seen moving slowly across the prairies from the east, a winding thread of gray which as it came closer resolved itself into a line of covered wagons drawn by oxen with a herd of cattle bringing up the rear. This long line of prairie schooners moving slowly from east to west, had as its cargo a people bringing with them all their worldly goods with which they intended to build new homes in this new land and these people were the founders of St. Ansgar and our First Lutheran Church.

This migration was no haphazard movement, but the result of careful investigation and planning. After much thought and prayer, the Rev. C.L. Clausen and a group of Norwegians at Rock Prairie, Wisconsin, decided to move westward and find a place to make their future homes. During the years of 1850 and 1851 Rev. Clausen traveled through parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota looking for the best site for a future colony and in the spring of 1852, accompanied by two companions, while passing through Minnesota as far west as Albert Lea, decided to turn south into Northern Iowa. After a short journey they came upon a small stream flowing in a southeasterly direction which they named Deer Creek and followed it to its entrance into the Cedar River. They explored the woods along the river. They noted the vast prairies both to the east and to the west. Here was fertile soil, good drainage, pure water, plenty of timber and building stone for the buildings they would erect. This was the place for their colony. They hastened back to Wisconsin with the good news and made prepartions for the trip.

The following May 1853 this fleet of prairie schooners of thirty wagons, about seventy-five people, three horses, one carriage, one hundred fifty cattle started out. In so vast and trackless a wilderness, it was easy to take different routes and this company divided, although both were working toward the same goal--a new home in the Cedar Valley. They all had faith in their pastor, faith that he was leading them right. He had proven himself wise, just, capable and honest. His advice was to be heeded at all times, and they were willing to trust him in this new venture of finding homes. This was the fleet of prairie schooners which we would have seen if we could have been on watch this June in fifty-three carrying a people slowly westward until they reached the spot where they were to establish homes for themselves and their children.

One can picture the hardships of this westward trip, the weariness of it. Their goal was certain--westward over the prairies of Wisconsin, crossing the Mississippi on a ferry at McGregor, over the prairies of Iowa, through sloughs, across rivers, through woods, passing a Norwegian settlement at Calmar, until between the 16th and 18th of June, 1853, these people reached the place which, through the earnest leadership of a pastor, the energetic efforts of a people and by the grace of God, was destined to become the town of St. Ansgar.

Who made up this group of seventy-five people? Rev. clausen with his wife and two children, his brother Peter S. Clausen, Mikkel Tollefson Rust and family, Hans O. Rust and Family, Erick H. Espedokken and family, and Peter Gunderson; also Erick Thorson Sagabraaten, Halvor Thorson Sagabraaten and son, the families of Ole Grovo, Tollef Grovo, Hans Halverson Smesrud, Helick Rasmussen, Assor Knudson Gulbrandsgaard, Jacob Asleson, Ole E. Sando and Ole H. Haugerud. These people all settled near the Cedar River within a few miles of St. Ansgar.

Sever Johnson, Levi Olson Lindlein, Ole Haroldson, Helge Johnson Roningsand Ole Haugerud and Ole Torgerson settled near Rock Creek. John Johnson, Helge Johnson's son, returned to his home in Wisconsin, but came back the next spring to live here. Gulbrand Mellem settled at Northwood.

Others who came in late 1853 and early 1854 were N. H. Nelson and brother Gulbrand, Ole Lee, John Lee, Tore Thompson Mork, Torsten Reierson, Torkel Reierson, Peter A. Golberg, G. Blakkestad, Assor H. Groth, Christopher Hanson, Knute Rauk, C.G. Clausen, and Knute Kittleson, Hans Knudsen, John Helgesen, Erick Stovern, Endre Olsen, Helek Benson, Narve Golberg and Knute Tollefson, each with his family.

The St. Ansgar Congregation was organized by Rev. C.L. Clausen on December 4, 1853. Some of the early members were the following: Assor Knudson Gulbrandsgaard, Peter A. Clausen, Halvor Thorson Sagabraaten, Mikkel Tollefson Rust, Jacob Asleson, Assor Halstenson Groth, Hans Halvorson Smesrud, Hellek Rasmussen, Peter A. Golberg, Ole A. Lee, Elling Meier, Ole H. Haugerud, Erick H. Espedokken, Christopher Hanson, Simon Hanson, Ole O. Haugerud, Ole E. Sando, Hans O. Rust, Levar Lindlien, Sever Johnson, Ole Haroldson, Ole Torgerson, Harold O. Ulen, Tor O. Lee, Torkel Reierson, Tostem Reierson, Ole Braaten, Ole Grovo, Tollef Grovo, Ole T. Fagrebakken, Asle H. Hageie, Gulbrand O. Mellem, Helge Johnson Rodningsand, John H. Johnson, Thore T. Mork, Peter Gunderson, Erick Thorson Sagabraaten, Lars Asleson, Colbjorn Hanson Rust, Gullick Blakkestad, Peder Nelson Borsheim, Halvor Anders Lysaker, Hellek Benson Brekke, Erick Stovern, Endre Olson, Nels H. Nelson, John Helgeson, Gilbert Gilbertson, Narve Colbertson, Lars Ask, and Ole Davidson.

From Centennial History 1853-1953, pp 4-5


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