Winnebago County, Illinois
PIONEER DAYS IN SWEDISH CHURCH LIFE
Church Played Big Role in Swedish Settlement
HERMAN G. NELSON
"Stina" day was almost an institution in Rockford during the early history of Swedish immigration. Almost every Swedish girl in the 'fifites and 'sixties of last century was a "Stina," that is a hired girl and Thursday afternoon and evening was the hired maid's day off. Thursday therefore became known as "Stina dan" or the hired maid's day. Since the church was at that time both the religious and social center of Swedish life in Rockford, the mid-week services were held on Thursday, instead of on Wednesday as is now the case. Thursday night was chosen by the church for the week-day meeting in order to permit the many Swedish "Stinas" to attend services. At the church they also met their friends, probably their only opportunity for social contact during the entire week. The organization of a congregation and the erection of a church was the first concerted and co-operative project by the early Swedish settlers in Rockford. The majority of the Swedish people who settled here were of the deeply religious and pietistic type, and it is not to wonder that they thought of building a church almost before they were decently housed.
Rev. Carlson Visits City
In the month of October, 1853, the Rev. Erland Carlsson, pastor of the newly organized Immanuel Lutheran church in Chicago, the man who sent the Sedish immigrants from the metropolis of Chicago to smaller centers, made his first visit to Rockford. His main object in coming naturally was to look into the spiritual conditions of the Scandinavians who had settled in and around Rockford. The few settlers from Sweden received him with open arms. Encouraged by the Rev. Carlsson's visit, the Swedish group here sent a petition to the United Chicago and Mississippi Evangelical Lutheran conference which was to meet early in January, 1854, for assistance in obtaining a pastor to take charge of the unorganized church work. In response to this petition, the Rev. Mr. Carlsson was assigned to go to Rockford on Sunday, Jan. 15, 1854, to organize a congregation if conditions were favorable.
45 Members In First Church
The Rev. Mr. Carlsson, as instructed, arrived in Rockford on the appointed Sunday. Communion services were celebrated in the morning and "the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran church of Rockford, Ill.," was organized at a business meeting in the afternoon. The new congregation, which was the first Swedish congregation in Rockford, had 45 original communicant members, with a total membership, including children, numbering 77. Two deacons and two trustees were elected at that first meeting. The deacons were Johan Peterson and Jonas Larson; the trustees were Johan Lundback and Joseph Lindgren. Agreement was reached with the Rev. Mr. Carlson that he come to Rockford four Sundays during the year when regular services with communion would be celebrated and also one Monday a month when services were to be held both afternoon and evening.
Used Old School
The organization meeting, as well as all other meeting of the congregation until the first church was built in 1855-56, were held in a disused one-room red brick school house situated facing south in what was then called the east side public square, now called Haight park. The official name of the congregation, "The Skandinavian Evangelical Lutheran church of Rockford, Ill., " was adopted so that Norwegians as well as Swedish people could belong. As very few Norwegians came to Rockford, the name was changed to "The First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran church" was not adopted until 1927. That the church should call itself "The First Swedish Evangelical Lutheran church" at a time when it was the only Swedish Lutheran church it explained by the fact that it was only following the custom of the early Rockford churches, for instance, First Congregational, First Baptist, and First Presbyterian.
Bad Weather Delayed Meeting
The first annual meeting was held March 5, 1855. It was originally scheduled to be held on Jan. 15, but the weather was so severe on that date that it was postponed for two months so that all members could attend. The Rev. Mr. Carlson presided at this meeting. Carl Samuelson, Johannes Anderson, and Jonas Larson were elected deacons and John Nelson, Carl J. Carlson and Isaak Peterson were elected trustees. One of the most cherished and valuable documents in the possession of the First Lutheran church is a report signed by this board of trustees authorizing the organization of the congregation and filed with the county clerk of Winnebago county, who was Charles H. Spafford, an Uncle of George Spafford, president of the Third National bank.
Spent $4.56 First Year
The treasurer's report for the first year of the congregation shows that the total income for the year was (?). Thus there was a balance on hand of $5.93. The railroad fare and other expenses of the Rev. Mr. Carlson are not included, as these were taken care of private subscription given to him direct and which therefore did not go through the hands of the church treasurer.
The income reported by the first treasurer was as follows:
Franc Carlson, $3.40; and collections, $.36; .26; 1.57; 1.53; and 1.65; total $10.49.
The expenses were as follows: candles, $.16; paper, .05; Christmas candles, .40; communion wine, .80; rent, 1.50; candles, .45; account book, .10; rent, 1.10. The balance in treasury was $5.93.
Inquired For Swedish Foxes
The Rev. Mr. Carlsson, himself a newcomer, although highly educated, was deficient in the use of the English language, particularly in pronunciation of words. On first arrival in Rockford he inquired of one he met on the street if he could direct him where to find the Swedish foxes. He was surprised and dumbfounded when the person addressed and a companion to this man laughed in his face instead of directing him. What he had intended asking was the whereabouts of the "Swedish folks: and not Swedish foxes as he expressed himself. Eventually he was understood For many years after that, when a friend wanted to poke some fun at the Rev. Mr. Carlsson, he would ask if he been to Rockford lately inquiring for "Svenska ravar" (Swedish foxes).
Joseph Lindgran was elected son leader, or cantor, at the first annual congregational meeting. To get the proper pitch in singing the leader used a "tra-harpa" (wooden harp) which lay flat on a table. On this was strung a number of wires, which when struck with a wooden mallet or a bow similar to that used for a violin, would sound the proper note.
This crude affair was the first Swedish musical instrument in Rockford and is quite a contrast with the $30,000 pipe organ now in use at First Lutheran church.
The second musical instrument was an "aeolicon" purchased July 3, 1857 from Marsh and Sparr for $85. It took about a year and a half for the congregation to pay for it but the receipt in full payment is in the possession of the church today. This aeolican, made of rosewood and resembling a melodeon with lyre ends, though somewhat the worse for wear, is still in the possession of the church.
Felt Need of Church Building
When more and more Swedish immigrants came to Rockford in 1854 and 1855, although very poor financially, they began to feel the need of a proper church building in which to hold services. Decision was reached at a meeting held June 30, 1855, to circulate subscription lists both among the Americans and the Swedish settlers to raise money for a church building. The result was most satisfactory and at a meeting held Aug. 20, 1855, the lots at the corner of N. First st., and Rock st. were purchased for a church site. The location was recommended by John Nelson and Jonas Larson, who acted as a committee for this purpose. The price paid for the lot was $325. A contract for the erection of the church building was awarded Lars Gronlund and G. Johnson at a meeting Sept. 12, 1855, the cost to be &775. The building was to be ready by Dec. 1, according to agreement made by the contractors, but only the basement was completed in the specified time.
Paid $3 as Architect's Fee
The plans for this, the first Swedish church in Rockford, were drawn by R. Holland, of Rockford. His charges were $3. The receipted bill for this amount as an architect's fee is on file with other documents in charge of the first Lutheran church board of trustees. The first Swedish church building was 45 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 16 feet high. The basement was 28 and 7 feet high. All the members of the congregation being poor, this to them a huge undertaking, would have been a burden if it had not been for the splendid manner in which the best American element in the community came to the assistance of these Swedish newcomers. Too much praise cannot be given the American element in Rockford, for to read the list of donors to the church fund is to read "Who is Who" of early Rockford. Nearly all the manufacturers, professional and business men of that time are on these subscription lists. The original two lists are still in the possession of the church.
The dedication of the first Swedish Lutheran church in this city took place Nov. 23, 1856, at which occasion Dr. T.N. Hasselquist officiated.
Description of Dedication
The following is a verbatim report (as translated from the Swedish) of the dedication of the church written by Dr. Hasselquist in No. 25 of "Hemlandet, " 1856, a Swedish weekly paper published in Chicago.
"We have now the pleasure to report that even our country men in Rockford own a church, completely finished, and that it most beautiful; in all likelyhood the prettiest church the Swedes have yet erected in America. The church's location is very beautiful. It lies on the east bank of the river on a site from which the ground slopes gently to the water and from which one gets an excellent view of the more important and upbuilt part of the city on the other side of the river, as well as over the fruitful valley to the north of the city through which the stream flows. As one enters the church, one becomes possessed of a feeling of joy because of the agreeable impression which the church's elegant appearance gives. That which not least aids in giving the interior of the church a neat appearance are the carpets, with which the aisle, and altar and pulpit floors are covered. (It was at that time quite unusual to find carpets in Swedish churches.)
"On the Saturday preceding the dedication, the 3rd of November, two services were held; in the afternoon, one in Swedish, and at night one in English, the latter conducted by one of the city's American pastors.
"Partly because of the severe weather which preceded the dedication day and partly because of sickness, only one pastor, namely the publisher of "Hemlandet,: was present, and he and the pastor of the church took charge of all the services.
"The solemn services on Sunday morning began with a hymn, after which the significance of a church was explained in reference to Jacob's dream as related in Moses 28:. After several Bible verses had been read, the entire congregation arose while the dedication ceremony was conducted. In truth, this was a solemn moment.
Collection Amounted to $215
"After the ordinary service was over and when the need of financial aid had been presented, a free will offering was raised toward paying off the church indebtedness, and can our readers guess what this offering came to from this little group of poor Swedes? "Jo" it came to not less than $215."
Rev. A. , father of Dr. G.A. , now president of Augustana college and theological seminary, was the first Lutheran pastor in Rockford. He served here from 1856 to 1860.
The Rev. Mr. was a large stately appearing man and was an imposing figure in the community. As a student pastor, he was assistant to the Rev. Erland Carlsson in Chicago and before his ordination he had made several visits to Rockford in 1855. Being acquainted and well liked in Rockford, he received the call to come here after his ordination, and in 1854 he took up his residence here.
Objection to Minister's Salary
His salary the first year was $150 and out of this he had to pay his own house rent. One member of the church, a sincere but odd character, objected strenuously to even this small salary, he contending that an ordained minister should hold himself about money matters and that God would see that his needs were supplied. The following year, when the Rev. salary was raised to $200 this man raised a bigger objection than before, even going so far as to write Dr. Hasselquist, editor of "Ratta Hemlandet" asking him to use his influence as editor to object to pastors getting salaries or wages as "we ordinary laymen do." In the early days, church services were much longer than they are today. The sermon alone lasted from an hour to an hour and a half. It was common to see men pass around the snuff box ("snus dosan") and to be polite, almost everybody would take a pinch of snuff and nod their heads as thanks. The women, nearly all of whom wore a "hukla" (small head shawl), did not sit with their men relatives or friends as is the custom now. The women sat on the left of the main aisle and the men took the seats on the right of the aisle.
Women Pass Candy in Church
The women did not partake of the snuff, but they had their own way of being sociable and agreeable to each other. Most of them would carry "strutar" (cone-shaped containers) filled with candies, mostly peppermint drops, and others filled with caraway seed. These the women would pass around. Incidentally this custom is still in vogue in some of the country communities in Sweden.
Probably the most eagerly-listened to part of the church service was the announcement of events which had taken place and which would come in the future. These were always given immediately after the sermon. In the early days, Swedish newspapers were scarce and the church announcement of events was the newspaper of the week. The Swedish people were even then as eager for news as they are today when they await early the delivery of a Star or Register-Republic daily at their doors.
"Si ja e kar, ja"
In going to church, the men folks would never walk beside their wives or relatives. The wife always walked a few steps behind her husband and the children trailed behind unless they were so small they had to be carried. One of the early Swedes was asked why he did not walk to church by the side of his wife and he replied: "Si ja e kar, ja" (Oh, I am a man, I).
Every church goer carried his or her own hymnal. These books were scarce and expensive and therefor they were often neatly wrapped in a handkerchief.
The women also had the custom of carrying a spray of rosemary leaves, or sometimes a rose geranium, which they would smell of and draw along their cheeks as they sat in church. In the springtime they would carry small bouquets of lily-of-the-valley, and these they would put to their noses every now and then. This flower was a favorite of the Swedish immigrants, it growing wild in many parts of Sweden. As some of the Swedish women became Americanized, they substituted the flowers in their hands for a bottle of perfume, of which they smelled, but this custom did not last long as it was frowned upon by the pastor and the older members.
Walked 14 Miles to Church
The early Swedish immigrants to Rockford were hungry for the word of God. Eva Greta Carlsdotter, latter Mrs. J. Brolin, and a member of the first confirmation class, 1857, lived in Pecatonica, but in spite of the long distance, 14 miles, she had her heart set on attending the Christmas Matin service in her own church in Rockford. Having no conveyance of any kind, but being young and strong, she started out Christmas eve for Rockford on foot. The weather turned extremely cold, the snow was deep, almost impassible in places, but Eva Greta plodded on and came to her church on Christmas morning. Her feet, however, were severely frozen and had to be thawed out at a home near the church. Such was the spirit of the Swedish pioneers who came to Rockford first in 1852 and came in ever increasing numbers.
Another instance of the hunger for the word of God is the case of John Sparf, who came to Rockford in 1853. At that time, the Rev. Jonas Swensson, at Andover, Ill., was probably the most gifted speaker of all who had come from Sweden to America. Knowing this, Mr. Sparf walked nearly the entire distance from Rockford to Andover and attended services there for a whole week. The round trip is nearly 300 miles and most of this Mr. Sparf negotiated on foot.
Such is the history of the fist co-operative project of the early Swedish immigrant to Rockford. The spirit of the pioneers still exists in the Augustana Lutheran church work in this city.
[--Rockford Morning Star, October 5, 1930]
The dedication of the new Swedish Lutheran church at Pecatonica occurs this evening. Rev. G. Peters of this city, will assist in the service [--Rockford Daily Gazette, March 23, 1882]
FORTY YEARS A CHURCH IN ROCKFORD
First Lutheran's Anniversary Celebrated with Fitting Ceremonies
Rockford, Ill., Jan. 15-- One of the most notable celebrations in Swedish circles ever held in Illinois was the fortieth anniversary of the First Lutheran Church of this city, which was observed with proper ceremonies with evening. The big edifice was crowded to the doors, many being turned away. The society has a membership of 2,066, the largest of any Swedish church in America. Address were delivered by Dr. O. Ohlson, president of Augustana College, at Rock Island; Red. G. Peters, of Lincoln, Neb., and other prominent Swedish divines. [--Daily Inter Ocean, 16 Jan 1894]
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