Stave church may move yet again

Orkdal community plans to buy Little Norway’s 122-year-old stave church and move it back home

Photo: Micha L. Rieser / Wikimedia Commons This stave church, currently in Wisconsin, was built in Norway for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and now may return to Norway.

Photo: Micha L. Rieser / Wikimedia Commons
This stave church, currently in Wisconsin, was built in Norway for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and now may return to Norway.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

For 122 years, the Midwest has preserved a beautiful Norwegian stave church known as the “Norway Building.” But now the building may return to Orkanger, a city in the Orkdal municipality near Trondheim, where it was originally constructed in 1893 for the World’s Fair in Chicago.

Following the World’s Fair, the stave church made its second move to a vacation estate in Lake Geneva, Wis., and eventually settled in Blue Mounds, Wis., by Isak Dahle in 1935.

Here Dahle went on to found Little Norway, a living museum on a Norwegian homestead from the mid-1800s. The tourist attraction featured the stave church as the showcase as well as more than 7,000 Norwegian and Norwegian-American artifacts, the largest private collection of such objects outside of Norway.

For nearly 80 years now, four generations of Dahle’s family have preserved the property. The current owner is Scott Winner, Dahle’s great-nephew.

Little Norway has welcomed millions of visitors wishing to learn more about Norwegian and Norwegian-American culture and history throughout its 75 years, rightfully earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

But when the expense of keeping the museum open became too high, Winner was forced to close Little Norway in 2012. He remained optimistic that Little Norway would reopen in the future, but eventually decided to put the property up for sale. He explored several options to keep the buildings on site, including selling the museum to a foundation or using the land for weddings and retreats.

Photo courtesy of Little Norway Arne Asphjell, Ingebrit Ustad, Ansgar Selsto, and Oddmund Stenset, take their first look at the pavilion with owner Scott Winner.

Photo courtesy of Little Norway
Arne Asphjell, Ingebrit Ustad, Ansgar Selsto, and Oddmund Stenset, take their first look at the pavilion with owner Scott Winner.

Meanwhile, he started receiving messages from residents in Orkdal with a significant connection to the building: their grandfather, Peder O. Kvaale, had carved some of the intricate designs on the church back in 1893. They expressed interest in purchasing the stave church and bringing it back to its original home. The Orkdal community then formed a group to explore the idea and organized a trip to see the building in person.

Winner was reluctant at first—he had hoped to keep the building in Blue Mounds for future generations of Americans to enjoy—but his perspective began to change when he saw their reactions: they spent three hours in tears as they explored the church their grandfather had helped to build. “If it can’t be here, what a wonderful thing to have it go back to Norway,” commented Winner.

The group leader Arne Asphjell was pleased with the state of the building and excited to learn that it can be moved and rebuilt relatively easily; it has already been moved three times, after all.

The Norwegians then returned home, excited to share their dream with their community. A budget is currently being prepared, and a council of 35 people will meet to discuss the project’s practical aspects, as well as its emotional significance, and make a final decision on May 27.

This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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