Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Swedish immigrants moved particularly to the Northern Great Plains, especially North and South Dakota, although a good number of communities also took root in the Prairie Provinces and the Central Plains states of Kansas and Nebraska. For example, the Swedish settlement of Lindsborg in central Kansas formed in the late 1850s and the 1860s. Now about two thirds of Lindsborg's more than 3,000 inhabitants claim Swedish ancestry. The western reaches of the Plains and the states of Texas and Oklahoma attracted relatively few Swedes.

For Swedes, as for other settlers, a dugout or sod house often served as their first dwelling. Sod blocks, used like bricks, were a cheap building material, and a house could be constructed by the settler within a week. In time, the dugout or sod house might be replaced by a log cabin and relegated to shelter for animals. Whether sod house or log cabin, the Swedish single-room cottage was the model, with one big room (stuga) serving as an allpurpose room, with a corner fireplace, small entrance hall, and perhaps a small storage room behind.

Replacing the sod house or log building with a frame house was an important step in the development of the pioneer homestead. Numerous architectural plan books published in the latter part of the 1800s presented a "picturesque" American architecture with elements of Swiss and English rural building techniques as well as the Gothic style. The next step toward the industrialized building process was prefabricated houses, available from mailorder companies in the early 1900s. The standard patterns for frame buildings and houses built of bricks and stones resulted in a definitive break with the old building traditions.

Churches built by early Swedish immigrants generally were copies of the vernacular church styles of the homeland. One of the most outstanding examples is the Bethany Lutheran Church in Lindsborg. It bears a strong resemblance to the cathedral of Karlstad in Värmland, Sweden, where the majority of the people in Lindsborg have their ancestry. The church was built in 1874 of brown sandstone, but in 1904 it was plastered with stucco and painted white. Also in Lindsborg the McPherson County Old Mill Museum includes the Swedish Pavilion. Designed by the Swedish architect Ferdinand Boberg (1860– 1946) and built in Sweden, the pavilion is a reproduction of a Swedish manor house. The building contains a large main room and two wings. It was shipped in pieces to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis. Later, it was moved to Lindsborg in sections and rebuilt at Bethany College, where it was used as an infirmary and for classrooms. In 1969 the Swedish Pavilion was moved to its present location and renovated. The pavilion represents a Swedish building tradition that is rare among Plains pioneer buildings and serves to remind Swedish Americans of the traditions of their home country.


Lena Palmqvist Nordiska Museet

Lindquist, Emory. Smoky Valley People: A History of Lindsborg, Kansas. Lindsborg: Bethany College, 1953.

Palmqvist, Lena. Swedes, America's Architectural Roots. Washington DC: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1986.

Winquist, Alan H. Swedish American Landmarks. Minneapolis: Swedish Council of America, 1994.

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