28 August 2018

Religion and the Early Swedes: The First Church Building

The earliest religious services were held at the homes of various members of the community, especially in the home of Germund and Catherine Johnson. The Johnsons donated land across the road from their house for the essential burial ground (now the Hessel Valley Lutheran Cemetery) and this became the site of the first church built by Swedish immigrants in our area. When Rev. O. G. Hedstrom returned to the area to establish the Swedish class in the Jamestown Methodist church in 1852, he gave money to the Sugar Grove community to construct a fence around the church (cemetery) grounds to keep the pigs out.

The original wood structure no longer exists. It was built in 1854 and was a basic, nearly square, gabled house of worship with three windows on each side and likely a door between windows on the end. Overall, it was about 28 feet (8.5m) long by 30 feet (9.1m) wide.1 A later expansion added 16 feet (5m) of space onto the front of the building and a steeple.  This is the configuration of the church as it appeared in the only known photograph.

Forsamlingens gamla kyrka byggd 1854, Chandlers Valley, Pa.
Photo date unknown, collection of Jamestown First Lutheran Church.
A duplicate print is in the collection of the Warren County Historical Society.

Likely form of the original Swedish community church in Sugar Grove.  Model by John Everett Jones

The exterior shows Greek Revival influences common in our area.  It is not known if the clapboard was original or part of the improvements carried out after the Civil War.  The interior details are unknown.  Frederick J. Johnson was commissioned to construct the pews - there are no known surviving examples.

The interiors of the churches in Hässleby and Lönneberga (the origin parishes of the largest contingents of emigrants) may suggest the detail of the ceiling and other interior finishes. 

Hässleby church interior.  Image on a website dedicated to Swedish churches
 © Barbro Thörn [https://www.kyrkokartan.se/055847/images/55847_82930440]

Lönneberga church interior.  Image on a website dedicated to Swedish churches
 © Barbro Thörn [https://www.kyrkokartan.se/055939/images/55939_89527748]

Few churches built by Swedes in America during the 1850s are known to survive.  One of the oldest churches still in use is the brick Jenny Lind chapel (1854) in Andover, Illinois - the subsequent congregation of Rev. Jonas Swensson after he left Sugar Grove.  Aside from the atypical Colony Church (1848) of the Janssonist community at Bishop Hill, Illinois, the earliest (before 1860) wooden churches in Iowa and Illinois no longer exist.  The New Sweden Lutheran Church in Lockridge, Jefferson County, Iowa dates from 1860 and replaced the original structure at Peter Cassel's community.

An early (1856) wooden church in Scandia, Minnesota may suggest aspects of the original structure in Chandlers Valley.

Original Elim (Marine Country) Lutheran) Church, 1856, relocated to
 Gammelgården Museum, Scandia (Washington County), Minnesota.
Photos Copyright © 2017 Gammelgården Museum

1854 Initial Construction

This information comes from an article about the history of the Sugar Grove congregation published in Hemlandet almost certainly with information contributed by Frederick J. Johnson [1846.003].

De skaffade sig snart en egen kyrkogård och redan på hösten 1854 hade de genom gemensamt arbete och gemensamma uppoffringar byggt sig en egen liten Träkyrka.  På ett möte i G. Johnsons hus i December mänad 1853 fattades enhälligt beslut att bygga kyrka, och, såsom nämdt är, var beslutet redan 1854 under en bullersam tid verkställt. (Än i dag samlas församlingen omkring Guds ord i denna kyrka, vilken på senare tiden blivit tillbyggd och reparerad.)

They soon established their own cemetery and by the autumn of 1854, through their joint work and sacrifices, they had built their own small church. It was at a meeting in the house of G[ermund] Johnson in December 1853 that a unanimous decision was made to build the church.  As mentioned, the decision was already realized that year [1854] during a busy time. (Today, the congregation still gathers to hear the word of God in this church, which has been recently expanded and repaired.)

Source:  “Svenskarne i Sugar Grove (Pennsylvanien), Jamestown (N.Y.) och å kringliggande platser.” Hemlandet, 28 Mar 1877, page 2.

1865 Expansion (C.O. Hultgren era)

The 1865 Protokol called for the addition of 16 feet long plus steeple.

§1 Beslutades att kyrkan skall tillökas 16 foll på längden med att torn i form af tornet på Methodistkyrkan i Sugar Grove och med spira.

§2  Beslutades att 5 fot bredt inom kyrkadören skall afmålas för att rum, samt för trappa till uppgång i tornet.

1. It was decided that the church should be enlarged 16 feet in the length with a steeple in the tower like the spire of the Methodist Church in Sugar Grove.
2. It was decided that the church doors should be expanded to five feet wide, as well as the provision of stairs for access to the tower.
(1865.09.26 Protokol)

1885 Last service in the old church

The decision to build a new brick church and locate it a mile east in the village of Chandlers Valley divided the congregation.  A group that included Frederick J. Johnson established the new Mission Covenant congregation across the road from the original church and cemetery.  The last service in the original church was held 16 August 1885 (Anniversary Program - History of Church, collection of Hessel Valley Lutheran Church).  The brick church in Chandlers Valley (Hessel Valley Lutheran) remains in service.


  1. These measurements are based on a 3D model created by the author that was then matched to the projected image of the photograph.  References in the Protokol to the size of the addition provided additional guidelines for creating this model.

1 comment:

  1. My father's ancestors are buried here Bergmans and Engstroms