Svenskamerika – Minnesota

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Svenskamerika – Minnesota

Isn’t that Swede: Two Days of Swedish Immersion around Minneapolis

If Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it also may rightfully claim the moniker, “Land of a Half-Million Swedes.” No state in the country has more residents of Swedish ancestry than does the Gopher State. At last count, some 586,517 ethnic Swedes – about 10 percent of the state’s total population – call Minnesota home. In fact, there is such an affinity with Mother Sweden that the state’s tourism promotion office, Explore Minnesota, has organized a Swedish Heritage Itinerary, a two-day excursion that gives visitors and locals alike a chance to immerse themselves in Swedish history and culture. Let’s check it out.

American Swedish Institute
American Swedish Institute

Day One – Minneapolis

Appropriately enough, your tour starts with a grounding in all things Swedish. First stop is the American Swedish Institute, just south of the city in the culturally diverse Phillips West neighborhood. ASI is a celebration of old and new, featuring the city’s only historic castle – the spectacular Turnblad Mansion – alongside the four-year-old Nelson Cultural Center, a magnificent 34,000-sf contemporary structure that houses the institute’s artistic exhibits, scholarly library and archives and material collections (Swedish glass, textiles, artworks and the like by Swedish-American artists). There’s also the popular FIKA café whose traditional Swedish fare (gravlax, anyone?) has been toasted by no less than The New York Times, NPR and the Food Network, among others.

For many visitors, it’s the Turnblad Mansion – built by Swedish newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad between 1903 and 1908 – that best captures the life and times of turn-of-the-century Swedish-American culture, at least for the well-to-do.  Visitors can marvel at the masterful woodworking – hand carved by as many as 18 craftsmen – throughout many of the mansion’s 33 rooms as well as admire the 11 unique tile stoves (kakelugnar), made in Sweden and installed mainly for decoration. And a few years ago, a restoration of the tile-floored kitchen was completed, giving visitors a peak at where servants prepared the family’s meals, the servants’ parlor, butler’s pantry and walls of cabinetry for china, linens and other meal-time accessories. A stroll through the kitchen is a perfect preview for heading over to the FIKA café.

Just about a mile away is the next stop – Ingebretsen’s, itself an institution of Scandinavian heritage in the city’s Powderhorn neighborhood.  A fixture on East Lake for 95 years, four generations of Ingebretsens and Dahls have been helping locals stay connected to the food, crafts and traditions of their ancestors, whether it’s the store’s famous lutefisk, its signature Swedish meatball mix or its Swedish sausage, literally sold by the ton during the holidays.  Beyond its popular butcher shop and deli, Ingebretsen’s gift shop is teeming with Scandinavian products, those imported from overseas as well as novelties handcrafted locally by Nordic artisans.  From collectibles to cookware, candles to crystal, the shop is stocked floor to ceiling with authentic Scandinavian wares. And there’s also a special section of the store dedicated to needlework and knitting.  If you have time, sign up for one of many classes offered right at the store – learn to make a Singlade Ball, bake a towering kransekake or braid a Sámi Bracelet.

Day Two – The Swedish Suburbs

About 45 minutes northeast of the Twin Cities, Scandia lays claim to the earliest Swedish settlement in Minnesota.  The Swedish Settlers’ Monument honors those first sturdy Swedes who put down stakes in the early 1850s. Near the marker is the Hay Lake School. Built in 1896 – with classes held there for the next 67 years – the school building opened as a museum in 1974 and has since been named to the National Registry of Historic Places. Next door to the brick school building is the Erickson log home, a two-story log building that was originally built as the Erickson family home but later served as a granary, garage and playhouse.

Fågelsjö Gammelgård Interior by Catasa
Fågelsjö Gammelgård Interior by Catasa

A real step back to mid-19th century immigrant life happens at the Gammelgården Museum, an open air museum that recreates the family farming culture of the day. Tour the restored buildings on the 11-acre “Old Farm” – the Gammel Kyrkan (Minnesota’s oldest Lutheran church), the Immigrant Hus (a log home), Ladugård (barn), Präst Hus (parsonage) and Swedish Stuga (guest cottage).   

Travel 10 miles north on the Olinda Trail and you’ll arrive in Lindström. The giant Swedish coffee pot-shaped water tower festooned with the greeting, Välkommen till Lindström (Welcome to Lindström) should give you a friendly hint that you’ve just entered “America’s Little Sweden,” as the town likes to remind visitors. And there are plenty of reminders around, from the Gustaf Anderson House to the Moody Round Barn to the Karl Oskar House. That accent you may be picking up is likely the traditional Småland dialect still spoken by many locals.

Photo via Mykl Roventine
Photo via Mykl Roventine

Farther north into Isanti County the town of Cambridge proudly boasts its ties to the Swedish settlers who first populated the area often called the “Dalarna of America” in the late 1800s. The archives room and pioneer cemetery at Cambridge Lutheran Church and other sites have preserved the county’s historic ties, even the genealogical records of generations of Swedish immigrants.

Another half hour north lands you in Day Two’s final destination, the town of Mora, which shares its name with its sister city in Sweden. Amid the many city monuments honoring the town’s Swedish heritage, Mora boasts a pair of iconic landmarks – the world’s largest dala horse (standing at a Trojan Horse-esque 25 feet high) and a decoratively painted klocka, a Swedish bell tower whose face measures four feet in diameter.

Forty-eight hours in and around the Twin Cities should give anyone a healthy slice of Swedish history and culture, but the truth is, these sites merely scratch the surface of Minnesota’s long and storied connection to Sweden. Let us catch our breath, and we’ll be off to explore more of the Gopher State’s Swedish traditions before long.

In our original story, we misspelled Välkommen when mentioning the water tower in Lindström. Umgås regrets the error.

© 2023 Swedish Match. All right reserved.

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