Celebrations are planned in 2019 for a sesquicentennial,
the 150th birthday of the founding of Lindsborg and to recognize
communities in the Smoky Valley that help to anchor
its heritage. Here is the first of some occasional history, of
what brought the settlers here, how they managed their hard
lives, and why they stayed. – JM
The Swedes arrived long ago, and among the first and
most solid structures to go up were the churches. They built
the first one a mile north of the river on a plain among the
low hills of the Smoky Valley. The walls were sandstone
carved from the bluffs of the river, and mortar was made
from volcanic ash deposits along Indian Creek. The weather
was unkind and they fashioned a roof quickly, with branches,
to keep the dirt floor from turning to mud.
This was Freemount, as it was first spelled, in 1870, the
incubation of a Swedish community of settlers west and
south of Lindsborg. It was the first building among the three
churches established that year.
In a pure sense, a church is a whole body of Christian
believers and by this, the Freemount Lutheran Church had
actually been established a year earlier. Four families had
met in front of a river bank dugout, decided to conduct their
own service, found a Bible, sang from the Swedish Psalm
Book, and prayed – the first religious service held in that
part of the country. A month later, in June, 38 settlers decided
formally to establish a church and to build their house of
It stands in Freemount today just off 8th Avenue, a proud,
squat predecessor to the great church west in the yard
beyond. Here is a place of two churches, now showing their
Christmas wreaths and garland, the small cemetery just to
the north, elements in a proud place now breathing a history
of 148 years. It speaks of the grace and devotion that carried
generations, often by faith alone, through times that often
seemed to offer nothing more than the ceaseless cadence of
Eight miles on foot or horseback to one store, 15 to another.
Blizzards froze men in their wagons. Drought cracked
skin and soil. They first hacked the ground with axes and
dropped seed in the slits in a fragile hope for “sod corn.”
There was a relentless threat of disease, or injury, the plague
of insects, the nagging grip of hunger.
Still the settlers had their church, their faith.
Sixteen years ago on December 9 the old church, the settlers
and their history, were commemorated with the dedication
of Lindsborg’s 23rd Wild Dala: The Freemount Filly, the
first out-of-town addition to a renowned Dala herd that now
is nearly three dozen. Verne Lundquist, the venerable CBS
sportscaster and descendant of the settlers, sponsored the
commemorative horse and spoke at the dedication. The late
Eldon Swensson created the designs and painted the body
of the horse.
“I decided to concentrate on images related to the founding
and early years of the congregation,” Swensson wrote in
a memo about the work. “The side (view) of the first church
would be included… the names of the first four pastors: 1)
lay preacher J.P. Rodell; 2) A.W. Dahlsten, 1869-1873; 3)
Olof Olsson, 1874-1876, and 4) J. Seleen, 1876-1897, would
be included on a stylized old-fashioned cleric collar. The
stone lintel over the front door gives the 1870 date of the
building of the first church.”
Also on the Dala a likeness of the first church itself, the
names of the immigrants’ home Swedish provinces (Smaland,
Dalarna, Ostergotland, and Skane) and the three spellings of
the name of the church: Fremont, Free Mount and now,
Freemount – and another reminder of the early days, the high
native grass about the legs of the horse, and the images of a
family arriving at church in a horse and wagon.
The little building was almost lost.
Over the first seven years membership in the little church
had grown to 265 and they began building a second Church,
a massive stone and brick structure that reached into the sky
over the bottomland. Pictures from those early days indicate
that it may have been twice the size of the current large
church now on site, with rows of seven four-story stained
glass windows on the north and south sides, and a massive
belfry and spire soaring 100, even 140 feet high. Inside, the
sanctuary yawned, enormous.
Some of the congregation wanted to raze the original
church. In the shadow of the new, massive building it seemed
so tiny and minimal, almost embarrassing.
But it stayed.
In the summer of 1926 a fire caused by lightning gutted
the massive building and left the shreds of its remaining
walls crippled. In front of the wreckage and smoldering ruins
stood the small, original church untouched.
The Freemount congregation would rebuild. Eighteen
months later, in December 1927, the congregation’s third
church – which is there today – was dedicated.
The small stone church, the vision and work of 38 unshakable
settlers generations ago, remains squat in the foreground.
It has been touched up, refurbished, equipped with temperature
and climate controls. There were rows of pews from the
second church, saved as people ran in through the fire to save
what they could grab. A heavy oak case with glass windows,
pulpit lamps from the burned church, old books: BIBELEN
… Kyrko Handbok … Alfwegren Hvilostumer … HYMNALs
… Sondags Skolbok.
Bookends were made from molten metal of the incinerated
church bell. The bell’s clappers (one for funerals, one for services)
were saved, intact. There was original china from the
old church, an offering basket, a Freemount Band uniform,
desks from the old school house, and on a revolving stand
of metal frames, a photo history of the church and congregation,
There was an original plat for the town of Freemount, a
dozen long blocks, with Garfield, Main, First, Second and
Third streets south to north, and Grant, Washington, Lincoln
and Church Streets west to east. The Council Grove Smoky
Valley and Western Railroad cut through the north part of
town, between Second and First. There was a post office.
In the church a woven, wicker-like object, oval, with rope
handles and a wooden top hinged in the middle. A sign:
“This basket was used as a suitcase by Christine Rapp on the
way from Sweden to America in the 1880s.”
It was next to a small heavy box: “Chas. Sundgren’s
father’s trunk. He had his valuables in this trunk when he
came from Sweden.”
There is an inscription stone from the destroyed second
church. It was carved from rock quarried at Hedlund farm in
Andover, and it took several teams of horses to move it to the
old building for installation. In the center:
The church was burned to rubble, and this stone – it was
on the east side of the tower – fell several stories, and didn’t