Little church on the blue mounds

The story of the Hauge Log Church National Historic Site and the little town that fought to protect it

Photo: Peter Gorman

Photo: Peter Gorman

Doug King
Mount Horeb, Wis.

For over 160 years, the Hauge Log Church has stood alone and undisturbed, high on a hill in the Town of Perry, Wisconsin. Early Norwegian settlers built the Hauge Log Church in 1852. In 1927, over 2,000 people attended its 75th anniversary. This year is its 162nd anniversary.

The building was constructed by early Norwegian settlers in search of freedom in a new land. They named it after Hans Nielsen Hauge to honor one of their spokesmen from the old land.

Each settler was called upon to provide oak logs and help erect the structure. The logs were cut and drawn during the fall and winter of 1851, and construction of the 22-foot by 22-foot square building was completed in 1852.

Photo: Wisconsin State Journal/Craig Schreiner  The preserved view can be seen indistinctly even from inside the church, and adds to the feeling of peace and serenity about the place.

Photo: Wisconsin State Journal/Craig Schreiner
The preserved view can be seen indistinctly even from inside the church, and adds to the feeling of peace and serenity about the place.

It has a unique, panoramic view of the famous Blue Mounds, located in Wisconsin’s Blue Mound State Park, a geologically unique “driftless area” so named because the Continental Glacier that extended south to St. Louis Missouri did not invade the surrounding hills and valleys.

The Dane County Wisconsin Historical Society recognized the site for its historical significance, and dedicated a Historic Marker there on October 11, 1964, that is still seen at the site today. In 1974, the church property was listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

Photo: Vicki France

Photo: Vicki France

The cemetery in the National Historic Site is home to the remains of U.S. military veterans. The pews, pulpit, altar rail, and balcony are all completely original and have been preserved in excellent repair to this day.

The historic site is internationally recognized as a Norwegian cultural symbol, so precious and respected that for over three-quarters of a century the doors have never been locked. The guest book is filled with heartfelt memories signed by some of the over 50,000 visitors from 45 states and 22 countries. Among them are: “Priceless,” “Thank you for preserving this lovely place,” “We will be getting married here one day,” “Found peace, calm, and serenity in this beautiful House of God,” “I just lost my son a month ago. I needed to pray. Lovely spot. Thank you for preserving it,” and “We miss you Dad.”

Thirteen years ago, the Hauge Log Church National Historic Site was threatened by development proposed on land next to the site that would have blocked its scenic views and disturbed its pristine serenity. In response to these threats, town residents overwhelmingly approved a resolution to acquire 30 acres of surrounding land to create a Hauge Historic District Park that would encircle and permanently protect the historic site.

Most of the acres for the park were acquired from willing sellers, and were paid for by the town with the help of charitable donations and grants. In one instance, however, an adjacent landowner, who had previously proposed development next to the church, retained attorneys to challenge the amount of the compensation offered by the town. This set in motion more than a decade of extended and complex litigation. Although the courts upheld the town’s right to acquire the acres in question, the legal fees and judgments arising from aggressively litigated cases over what constituted “fair value” ended up costing the small Town of Perry more than $1 million.

Throughout this long legal struggle, the town received encouragement and support for their efforts from across the state, the country and, indeed, across the world.

Among those supporting the town’s struggle to protect the environs of the National Historic Site were: The King of Norway; American and Norwegian ambassadors and consuls (from as far as Puerto Rico!); the Stortinget, Norwegian Parliament; the Sons of Norway; the Norwegian-American Weekly; the Oslo Times; and many more.

With encouragement like this, the town persevered. And it succeeded. Today, a Hauge Historic District Park has been established that will protect the surrounding environs of the historic site for generations to come. The extraordinary historic site and historic district park are gifts that town residents have given to the world.

But this achievement has come at a price. Although the town was fortunate to secure a supportive 20-year $1.1 million loan from the State of Wisconsin’s Commissioners of the Trust for Public Lands, the tiny community now faces the burden of making significant payments on that large loan every year over the next two decades.

It is a tall order for a small community of only 230 taxpayers; especially for those older residents on fixed incomes who can ill afford any increases in their levy. Some elderly, retired, and hard-working residents and farmers worry that they might lose their own homes and farms.

Some town residents are already stepping up and pledging annual voluntary donations to ease the burden on their less fortunate neighbors. But more help is needed from supporters and friends from far and wide who appreciate what this little community did to honor and protect an important cultural and historical treasure.

The people of the Town of Perry need your help. Donations will be recognized with a memorial photograph of the historic site suitable for framing. Opportunities are being planned for you, your family, or a designee to be remembered on a permanent memorial marker in the Hauge Historic District Park for a charitable contribution or a sustained monthly or annual contribution or a matching grant encouraging donations from others. Anonymous contributions are also welcome and can be honored privately.

Charitable, tax-deductible contributions can be made to:
Hauge Historic District Park Support Fund
c/o The Friends of the Parks of Perry Township
Larry Price, Treasurer
1004 State Road 78
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin 53572
United States of America

Donations can also be made electronically via PayPal by visiting www.friendsofperryparks.org and clicking on “donate.”

For more information about charitable contributions, contact Larry Price, Treasurer, Friends of the Parks of Perry Township, by email at larryprice@friendsofperryparks.org or phone at (608) 437-4553

For information about the Friends of the Parks of Perry Township, contact Mick Klein Kennedy, President, by email at mick@friendsofperryparks.org, or visit www.friendsofperryparks.org.

For information about the Hauge Log Church National Historic Site, visit www.haugelogchurch.org.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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