HENDRICKS - he city of Hendricks on Thursday welcomed 67 visiting Norwegians intent on exploring the genealogy of the region while experiencing a small town with big Norwegian roots.
At the heart of their visit was the Singsaas church, a building located four miles outside of town that was built by the original Norwegian settlers to the area.
As the story goes, 31 immigrants traveled from the Singsaas region of Norway to Lake Hendricks and founded the church in 1874, a full 26 years before the city of Hendricks was founded.
Photo by Phillip Bock
Two busloads of Norwegians visited Hendricks on Thursday and Friday to explore the city's genealogy. Hendricks resident Phil Trooien, left, presents a book that chronicles the stories of early settlers in Hendricks to Norwegian Torill Johnson during a potluck dinner Thursday.
"This is the oldest Norwegian congregation in the area," current church president Trygve Trooien said.
"We're the fourth generation of the ones who started the church in 1874. My great-grandfather was a founding original member."
The Norwegians visiting Thursday, all members of a genealogy society based in Norway called Dis-Norge, walked the ancient cemetery looking for names of their own relatives who may have traveled to this area of the country more than 100 years ago.
"We want to look more into our relatives and what happened to them here," Norwegian group leader Torill Johnsen said.
According to Johnsen, Minnesota was a common destination for Norwegian immigrants in the late 1800s. She said she believes some of her distant cousins settled in the Hendricks region. The other visiting genealogists were looking for similar ties to the old Hendricks farming community.
"We are coming from all over Norway," Johnsen said of her group. "We are all not related and are all looking for different things."
The church itself is steeped in Norwegian heritage. The founder of the church, Elling Eielsen, was the first Norwegian-American pastor in the United States. Founded Oct. 27, 1874, the church was modeled after a sister church in Singsaas, Norway.
"It's built like a Norwegian church by the same name," said Lisbeth Dyrnes, a librarian from Norway.
The original church bell was forged in Norway in 1878, but has since been moved to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. But what really sets the Hendricks heritage site apart from other sites across Minnesota is the records that were kept by early settlers.
"Our history is well documented," Jay Nelson, a Hendricks resident, said. "In the church we have our first church council minutes from 1874. We even know the names of the horses that dug the basement; They kept records on everything."
For visiting Norwegians, a chance to look at the old records was exactly what they were searching for.
"My grandfather was always telling stories of the past. I would listen to the stories and became interested," Dyrnes said. "I've been doing a lot of research in Minnesota lately trying to find out more."
Hendricks was one stop for the traveling Norwegians as part of a nine-day trek across the midwest. They started in Minneapolis and traveled to Fargo, Alexandria and Moorhead before reaching Hendricks. Still left on their tour is Madison, Wis., Chicago, Ill., and Ellis Island in New York.
The group spent the night in Hendricks, which presented a special challenge to the small-town community. Lacking a hotel, the community instead came together and asked area residents to house groups of Norwegians for the night. Nelson, who helped organize the event, said they placed an announcement in the newspaper and had more than enough beds in less than a week.
"They wouldn't have been able to come if there wasn't housing in the area," Nelson said. "So our only option was to break them into small groups and host them in houses."
However, just days before the Norwegians' arrival, Nelson was left scrambling for more beds after flooding around the lake made cabins unsuitable for the guests.
Several of the guests also had special considerations and had to be switched to other houses, Jay said, but in the end they found beds for all of them.
"Internet access was a big concern," Nelson said. "And some had allergies and had to be switched."
According to Johnsen, a few of the Norwegians were a little nervous about staying at someone's house, but after seeing the town and meeting the people those concerns melted away.
"We would like to say thank you very much to the community for showing this kind of hospitality," Johnsen said. "We are appreciative of them letting us stay here."
The groups were paired up Thursday night and a potluck took place in the church basement, which just days earlier had been flooded with several inches of water. It was cleaned up just in time for the dinner, Trooien said. Following the potluck both town residents and the visiting Norwegians took part in a special service at the Singsaas church. Hymns sung in both Norwegian and English echoed through the church and, much like the visit itself, melded together in perfect harmony.