I recently took Kirsten to visit Swedesburg, a small town that was originally founded by Swedish immigrants, not far from where I grew up. I remember visiting as a little girl at the height of my infatuation with Kirsten (and therefore all things that related to Sweden or pioneers), but I decided it was time to make another visit.
The town itself is tiny and unincorporated, with a population of less than 100. Amazingly, though, they maintain a very impressive little museum run entirely by volunteers and donations. We most unfortunately were the only visitors there at the time, which makes me wonder about the museum’s future. The volunteers were thrilled to show us around and were extremely excited to see Kirsten. Our guide gave me many enthusiastic suggestions as to where I should pose Kirsten for photos.
Swedesburg was established in the 1860s, as a secondary town to a community of Swedish immigrants that was already established not far away, but apparently this is the town that survives. One of my favorite displays was of the trunks and baggage that was brought here to Iowa by actual Swedish immigrants. That trunk looks so big compared to Kirsten, but imagine having only that trunk to carry everything you own. It would fill quickly. I love the painting on it, it really makes me appreciate the realistic qualities of the hand-painted items in Kirsten’s AG collection.
Farming of course was what Swedish immigrants (and pretty much everyone else at that time) did when they came to Iowa, and that plays a central theme in Kirsten’s books. Kirsten lived in Minnesota, though, which is not nearly as good of a place to farm as Iowa (sorry, as an Iowan I am obligated to say things like that). Kirsten posed with some of the tools of the trade and we also got to learn about all the different kinds of barbed wire (who knew there were so many).
Church is never really mentioned much in Kirsten’s stories, but no doubt it would have been an important part of her life, supposing there was a church close enough to her Uncle Olav’s farm. This display showed some of the instruments that the early church of Swedesburg was lucky enough to own.
The museum didn’t have a huge amount of continuity regarding time period; the displays incorporated items from the earliest days in the 1860s to probably the 1930s or so. Kirsten didn’t mind, though, and was still happy to pose with some dolls that were once owned by some fortunate little girls in Swedesburg. You can also see various children’s books in this picture that are written in Swedish.
One of my favorite parts was a building set up to look like a General Store. Again, there was a certain lack of continuity when it came to time period; there was a variety of items that spanned several decades, but it was still a really cool effect. Here Kirsten is sitting at the checkers board set up by the wood stove. Probably not a place where a young girl like Kirsten would have spent a lot of time, but I still liked how it was set up.
Kirsten is posing with a replica of a huckster wagon here, which was used to sell and trade goods in the rural community. This would have been especially helpful to farmers who would not make it to town on a regular basis. I believe they told me that this practice was common in the 1880s, so Kirsten and her family probably would not have benefited from this kind of convenience in the 1850s. The huckster wagon was displayed in what was the original building of a tinsmith’s shop, and upstairs….
…was where the family lived! This felt very Laura Ingalls to me!
Outside there was a replica stuga, a Swedish cottage intended to bring people closer to nature, which I learned is something very important to the Swedish. I think it is so cute and would love to stay in one when I visit Sweden someday. I found some interesting additional information online about the Swedish stuga that you can read here: http://www.beeswedish.com/what-to-expect-from-a-swedish-sommarstuga/
There was also a giant Dala horse named Ole! I have some more things to share about Dala horses that I have decided to put in an upcoming post.
I really enjoyed my visit to Swedesburg and my husband had fun too. It’s a relatively small museum, we probably spent less than an hour there total, but I would like to go back and bring some more people with me to spread the word! There seem to be a lot of fun events throughout the year, I was particularly interested in coming back for a Swedish pancake breakfast (yum) or a Midsummer celebration. I have great-great-grandparents who immigrated from Sweden to Iowa in 1900, but as is often the case when several generations removed, there does not remain any Swedish culture or tradition in my family apart from occasionally eating Swedish meatballs. I think Kirsten has always helped me to find a bit of a connection, though, so that is another reason why she is so special to me.
I did find another great article about Swedesburg here if you are interested in learning more about Swedesburg!