Swedish Churches in the Area by Bob Greenwall


My new/old friends of the Walnut Genealogy Society have given me the opportunity to show and explain my website, www.walnutel.net/~greenwll. At the February Valentine’s day meeting we enjoyed doing just that.

About that address, above: Walnut Communications has a wonderful internet system through Iowa Network Services that makes it easy to post a website. My name was too long for the address, so I had to leave out the “a” in Greenwall. I’m trying to think of a word on my website that would be distinctive, easy to remember, and would Google right away. Let me know if you think of one.

The first part of the site is the oldest (and needs to be improved on). It is in keeping with genealogy anyway, and is just the transcription of work done by a relative on our family. The pictures were scanned years ago, so they aren’t as good as the newer ones.

The second represents an interest I have as a retired minister in the person and legacy of John the Baptist. Not really genealogy, but a good way to get that out of my system.

The third part is for airplane fanciers, another interest through the years which resulted in an amateur-built plane and a restored 1938 antique plane. I have enjoyed sharing in this way with pictures of how they were built, etc.

Skipping over the fourth part, the last section is how I keep track of my books; it’s a database which makes it easy to add new books and organize what I have. There are two parts: the religious books and the aviation books/magazines. Isn’t it amazing how they pile up through the years?

As to the fourth part, called for now “Mission Friends”, I have already written an introduction which is as follows: “The past decade has been spent in the state of Iowa. Our home is Nebraska, and more than a decade was spent in Illinois. For that time, Iowa was an inconvenient extension of several hundred miles on the trip from Nebraska to Chicago. Now it has become home as well, and a chance to fill in many stories in the history of our Swedish churches in America.

The oldest Mission Covenant Church was founded in Iowa, at Swede Bend. Its pastor, C.A. Bjork, became the first president of the Covenant. The Iowa story blossomed with the discovery of books about the early Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist incursions into eastern Iowa from the Illinois settlements just across the Mississippi.

It continues to be a most interesting subject for investigation, and the format of posting letters about these findings makes for an easy way to preserve and share the experience. Thanks to our friends at Pietisten magazine for encouraging us!”

The Mission Friends section is growing fast, and may soon be called “Midwest Swedish Churches” or something like that. Pictures and information about this history just keep turning up, and I’m trying to improve my understanding of the Swedish language to help the cause. It’s a great retirement pastime. Darlene Vergamini sent me some pictures and articles of Swedish churches in Council Bluffs that I knew almost nothing about. (Thanks!)

The Halland settlement, headed by Pastor B. M. Halland, extended from Stanton to Shenandoah along the Burlington Railroad. Stanton, Red Oak, Fremont and Essex are among the Covenant Churches which are part of this settlement.

In 1855, Bengt Magnus Halland left difficult circumstances in Sweden to come to America, to Illinois. He soon distinguished himself among other farmhands and became one of pioneer pastor L.P. Esbjörn’s most influential students. Beginning with the school at Springfield, Halland followed his teacher to Paxton and into ministry with the Augustana Synod.

Not content with ordinary parish duties, he sought out the Burlington Railroad to become a promoter of new lands in the promising west. His decision to focus on Southwest Iowa was the beginning of the largest and most prosperous Swedish settlement in the state. The story of that settlement is told in the book “Gracious Bounty” and preserved by the efforts of the Swedish Heritage and Cultural Museum of Stanton, Iowa. By 1870, the railroad had laid out the town of Stanton, arranging in exchange for Halland’s promotion among “pious Swedes” to provide building lots in the prominent spot in town for a church. That church, Mamrelund, stands today in fulfillment of that arrangement. O.M. Nelson’s book on the Swedes in Iowa gives a brief sketch of Halland’s role:

The Burlington railroad was then building to the Missouri river, and, in 1869, the railroad officials offered B. M. Halland the right to select for Swedish colonization such lands along the road in western Iowa, as he thought suitable for his countrymen. In April of the same year, B. M. Halland made a trip from Burlington to Council Bluffs, in company with an official of the road, and selected Frankfort, Scott and Grant townships of Montgomery County, and Douglas and Fremont townships of Page County, for colonization. Several excursions were run to the lands in the fall of 1869, but no land was sold till the following year. To B. M. Halland was granted the sole agency for the sale of these lands which were sold to Swedish settlers for from $6 to $11 per acre. The railroad was finished in 1869.

Stanton was named “the little white city” in an era before certain sensitivities to political correctness, when it was noted that virtually all of the houses there were painted white. Prominent on its highest hill stands the Mamrelund Lutheran church founded by Pastor B. M. Halland and a group of immigrants from Burlington, Iowa. Nearby is the Stanton Covenant church, served in the past by our friends Bud Swanson and Dick Lindstrom.

Just a month after Stanton’s congregation was organized, another church, Fremont, was formed to the south. A few months later, a congregation organized at rural Bethesda and in 1872, at Red Oak. To these were added Tabor (Wallin) and St. Johns (Essex). These might be called “daughter” congregations but more properly perhaps, “sisters”.

The Fremont church was at a site called Nyman, east and north of Essex. There was once a post office, but now it consists mainly of the Lutheran church, parsonage and a farm site or two. The cemetery adjacent, called “New Hope” is the final resting place for many mission families as well as Lutherans.

Pastor Halland had a particular empathy for the fatherless, as he himself had been, and sought also for land on which to build an orphanage. That dream also came true. Lastly, he accepted a 160 acre tract for himself, presumably at reduced cost, illustrating the way in which many Swedish settlements were developed at this time by railroads and clergymen to their mutual benefit. The Halland communities rallied to their Pastor’s worthy cause and, in time, the Iowa Conference of the Augustana Synod would endorse this noble endeavor two miles south of Stanton. The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Orphans Home was dedicated in 1881, a major achievement of its time, but now sadly lives largely only in memory.