Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A bit of Norway at a country church in the Sogn Valley November 10, 2021

A simple country church, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

WHENEVER I HAPPEN upon an aged rural Minnesota church, as I did recently in Leon Township south of Cannon Falls, I wonder about the immigrants who founded it. What are their stories? How did they feel living an ocean apart from their beloved homelands and families? I admire their strength. Their ability to board a ship and sail toward The Land of Opportunity.

A Norwegian name in the Eidsvold Church cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Oftentimes, the very names of these country churches and the names of those buried in the churchyard cemeteries reveal roots and heritage.

A brief history of the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The small white clapboard church Randy and I discovered on 70th Street in the Sogn Valley area was clearly founded by Norwegian immigrants. Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church banners a sign with a brief history. Founded in 1893. Also known as “Ring Church.” Built by Gulbrand Nilson. Last service in 1949.

My initial view of the Eidsvold Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

An online search dates the congregation’s organization to 1860. Perhaps the signage date references building construction. I couldn’t find much other information other than parishioners originally meeting for worship in homes, a common practice.

My own great grandfather, Rudolph Kletscher, who immigrated to the US from Germany in 1885, eventually settling on a farm near my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, opened his home for worship. A pastor from the Lutheran church in neighboring Echo led services for 8-9 families and in 1900 those German immigrants built St. John’s Lutheran Church in town.

For those brave souls settling in a new land, I expect their faith provided comfort, strength and hope. And a place to gather, to sing and pray in their mother tongue, to support one another, to socialize. To celebrate. Baptisms. Weddings. Confirmations. Christmas and Easter. And to mourn.

Marthina Ring’s unassuming marker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The final service held at Eidsvold, as noted on the church sign, was the funeral of Marthina Ring on April 11, 1949. I determined to find her grave marker and I did. It’s a small, unassuming stone engraved with her birth and death dates. Born March 7, 1865. Died April 6, 1949. Other Ring family stones are larger, more prominent. John Ring, I learned online, was a leading supporter of this church. I have no idea of his connection to Marthina.

Beautiful flowers grace the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

This cemetery appears cared for with golden marigolds, red and pink geraniums and other annuals splashing color among the grey and brown tombstones.

Water at the ready… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Jugs of water snugged against the church foundation show me that someone comes here regularly to water those plants.

A token of love left for a mother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And a painted stone placed atop a marker for Virginia Jacobson reveals how much she is missed. Has been missed since her 2006 passing.

The door into Eidsvold was padlocked. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

That this church and graveyard have not been abandoned here among the fields in the Sogn Valley pleases me. This land, this church building, this cemetery meant something to those long ago Norwegian immigrants. And that is to be valued. Cherished. Honored. Celebrated, even by those of us with no connection to Eidsvoll/Eidsvold, Norway.

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IF YOU KNOW more about the Ring Church, please share. I welcome additional information. As is often the case at rural churches, I found the front door locked.

The Goodhue County Historical Society placed this historical interest sign at the ghost town of Eidsvold. The sign was erected to preserve the history of this former post office site and to recognize its historical contribution to the area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Goodhue County Historical Society marks its ghost towns with road signs. In 2010, I photographed the above sign for Eidsvold, near County Road 30.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads of Sogn Valley November 9, 2021

Along a backroad in the Sogn Valley, an aged barn and silo hug a curve on a gravel road. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

MINNESOTA’S DIVERSE LANDSCAPE inspires. From the vast prairie to the northwoods. From lakes to rivers. From hills to valleys. My home state, minus mountain ranges and ocean, is truly a beautiful place. We are so much more than cold and snow, as many non-residents equate with Minnesota.

The countryside near Nerstrand, on our way to Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Autumn, especially, showcases Minnesota’s natural beauty. This fall, Randy and I took many rural drives to immerse ourselves in the countryside and the season. We chose road trips over staying home and doing chores on the weekends. Our priorities change as we age. The work can wait. We recognize, too, the approach of winter. We felt an urgency, a need, to hit the road before the snow flies.

We drove through Nerstrand, past the grain elevator, on our way to the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Often we choose a destination, this time Cannon Falls. But sometimes we simply head in a general direction, oversized Minnesota Atlas & Gazetteer available to guide us. We prefer paper maps to GPS. This trip, we aimed east toward Goodhue County, driving through the picturesque Sogn Valley.

The rolling countryside of the Sogn Valley provides a beautiful backdrop for farms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I love this rural region defined by farms and fields and winding gravel roads. Hills and river valleys and prairie intermingle and it’s all like poetry writing upon the land.

I delight in finding cows grazing deep in Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As a farmer’s daughter, I hold a fondness for aged barns, at one time the anchor of an agrarian life. I labored for years on my southwestern Minnesota childhood family dairy and crop farm, most of that time inside the barn. Or the silo.

Abandoned building, abandoned tractor in the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Now, when I pass by barns weathering in abandonment, I feel overcome by sadness. I recognize that a way of life is vanishing. I understand and appreciate advances in agriculture while simultaneously grieving the loss of farm life as I knew it.

I worry about all the barns we are losing. They hold history. Stories. Memories. And they are falling in heaps of rotted wood.

Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church, rural Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But, on this drive through the Sogn Valley, we happened upon a small country church that uplifted my spirits. Country churches and adjoining cemeteries rate as another draw for me deep into rural Minnesota. They are historically, poetically, spiritually and artistically relevant.

Along 70th Street in Goodhue County, on a small plot of land ringed by a row of trees and set among cornfields, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church rises. The last service was held here in 1949. Yet, the aged clapboard structure remains. Important to someone. And on this Friday morning in mid-October, appreciated by me.

PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow as I take you on a tour around, but not inside (it was locked), Eidsvold church.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling