A Brief History

G. M. Bruce

Ninety-six years ago, among the early settlers in the Valley Grove territory, there was a young lad eight years old. He appears to have been a keen observer and grew up to be a self-made man in every respect. Sixty-six years later he was called upon to become the historian of Valley Grove Norwegian Lutheran Church. According to his own statement he was at the time he wrote this history, seventy-four years old. The material for his history, he tells us, was drawn from his own memory and other available sources. It was completed in 1923, in which year it was read at the annual meeting of the congregation and turned over to the secretary of the congregation for safe-keeping. This history traces the beginnings and development of Valley Grove from the earliest settlements of Norwegian Lutherans within the areas of its membership in 1854 to the installation of the Reverend Rolf Rosenqvist on September 18, 1920. It was read by Pastor Rosenqvist at what is known as the Sixtieth Anniversary of the congregation on August 5, 1927. The author of this sketch was the venerable 0. H. Stenbakken, who informs us that at the time of its composition he had lived in this vicinity for sixty-six years.

This valuable account of early settlements and the rise and growth of church work in this section of Goodhue and Rice counties is the principal source of this brief sketch, supplemented by information gleaned from a variety of other sources, such as “Norsk Lutherske Menigheder i Amerika, w 1918; the three volumes of pastoral biographies published by Augsburg Publishing House, 1914, 1928, and 1952; the publications of the Norwegian-American Historical Association dealing with Minnesota history; ‘History of the Norwegian People in America’ by 0. M. Norlie, and personal researches at the Register of Deeds’ office, Faribault, Minnesota.

Goodhue, Rice and Dakota counties were among the earliest counties settled by Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota. The U. S. Census of 1850 reports only nine Norwegians in the territory of Minnesota. That same year, the vanguard of Norwegian settlers, consisting of only two men, located at Red Wing. Two years later’ Goodhue county was opened to settlement, and ten years later, that county and the eastern tier of townships of Rice county had become quite thickly settled by Norwegian Lutherans. As a rule, the Norwegian immigrants were a deeply religious people, who brought with them from the mother country their Bibles, hymnbooks, catechisms and other devotional literature. They were from the very first deeply concerned with having the Word preached and the Sacraments administered among them and their children instructed in the fundamentals of the Christian religion. Hence, they were strongly interested in the establishment of churches and schools and securing the services of pastors and Christian teachers. The early pioneers of the Valley Grove territory were no exception to this rule. Consequently, they had barely established for themselves their primitive homes, when they earnestly looked for the coming of the itinerant ministers of the Gospel and cordially welcomed them into their midst.

Divine services were first conducted among these early settlers by the Reverend Nils 0. Brandt of Rock River, Wisconsin in 1855; the Reverend H. A. Stub of Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, in 1856; the Reverend J. S. Munch of Dodgeville, Wisconsin, in 1857; the Reverend P. L. Larsen of Rush River, Wisconsin, in 1858 and 1859, and by the Reverend A. C. Preus of Koshkonong, Wisconsin, in 1858 who conducted the first confirmation service. On his first visit in 1858, Pastor Larsen baptized no less than thirty-three children at an open air service near the site on which the churches of 1862 and 1894 are located. During the visit of Pastor Stub in 1856, a beginning of organized church work in the newly founded settlement took place with the organization of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Goodhue County, which became the mother-church of a very large number of congregations in Goodhue, Rice and Dakota counties. Its membership was spread from ‘Tyske Groven (the German Grove) in the west to Zumbrota in the east. At the same time, the Church Council of the Norwegian Synod was authorized to call a permanent pastor for the congregation. This authorization was signed by twenty-two men. The call was subsequently extended to a newly ordained young pastor in Norway by the name of B. J. I. Muus. He accepted the call, arrived in the United States in 1859, and conducted his first service in the congregation on November 6, 1859.

The early services were held in the homes of the pioneer settlers and conducted under primitive conditions. The need for a church building soon made itself felt, and as early as 1860 meetings were held to consider church building. It was finally decided to build a church of stone and locate it on the site where this venerable structure stands today, a monument to the vision, religious convictions, courage and enterprise of the pioneer founders of the Valley Grove congregation. The church was built in 1862, but was not dedicated until October 18, 1868.

The same year, 1862, the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Goodhue County was divided into four districts to facilitate administration and arrangement of services. Zumbrota; Eastern, now Holden; Valders, now Vang, and Tyske Grove, now Valley Grove. From a strictly historical point of view, the origin of Valley Grove congregation dates back to September 12, 1856, with the organization of the Norwegian, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Goodhue county, of which the later independent congregation was an integral part. As an independent congregation, however, it originated with the division of the original body into four districts and the erection of its own house of worship in 1862 by the Valley Grove district. From this date, rather than from 1867, when the Reverend N. A. Quammen was installed as pastor after Tyske Grove had severed its connection with the original parish the previous year. To all intents and purposes, Tyske Grove congregation had operated as an independent congregation from the year 1862, though it was not admitted into the Norwegian Synod as an independent congregation until 1867. Accordingly, the celebration held on October 5, 1952, should be designated the Ninetieth Anniversary instead of as announced, the Eighty-fifth. The reckoning from the year 1867 no doubt stems from the statement by 0. H. Stenbakken: “From that time (1862) Tyske Grove may be considered an independent congregation, for the same summer it was admitted into the Synod.”

The Christiania settlement, with which Tyske Grove became connected in 1866 as a member of the same parish, was founded the same year as the settlements out of which Tyske Grove had arisen, namely 1854. By 1860 there were forty-eight Norwegian families who had settled in Eureka and Greenvale townships, Dakota county. Christiania Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1857, and like the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Goodhue county had been served by the Reverend B. J. I. Muus from 1859 to the arrival of the Reverend N. A. Quammen as pastor in 1866. Tyske Grove’s connection with the Christiania parish continued till 1908.

In 1870 the name of the congregation was changed from Tyske Grove to Valley Grove, and the following year it was duly incorporated under the laws of the State of Minnesota. Until 1873, there had been no definite amount fixed as salary for the pastor, but at a meeting on March 13, 1873, it was decided that Valley Grove’s share of the pastor’s salary was to be $200.00 per year. In 1874 the church bell was bought and installed. The new church in the country was built in 1894 and dedicated on November 8, the same year. The church in Nerstrand was also built in 1894, but was not dedicated until the following summer.

On account of the distance between the Christiania church and the Valley Grove church, the question of severing connection with the Christiania parish and forming closer connection came up for consideration from time to time, but it was not until 1908 that the question was finally decided. In that year it was decided in an amicable way to sever this four-decade relationship and form a new parish with the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church at Zumbrota and the little Cannon Evangelical Lutheran Church, both of which had originally been a part of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Goodhue County, organized in 1856. Valley Grove stipulated as a condition that the pastor live at Nerstrand or in that immediate neighborhood. The Reverend S. J. N. Ylvisaker was at that time pastor of both Zumbrota and Little Cannon churches. He was called to be pastor of Valley Grove also, but decided to accept a call to Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The Reverend Sven Berven of Luverne, Minnesota was subsequently called. He accepted the call and located at Zumbrota, where there was a parsonage. The following year, Valley Grove and Little Cannon jointly built a parsonage in Nerstrand, and Pastor Berven and his family moved into the new parsonage in 1910. Zumbrota then withdrew from the newly formed parish, and secured the Reverend J. 0. Dreng of Merrill, Wisconsin, as its pastor. Thus the Valley Grove parish came to consist of Valley Grove and Little Cannon congregations, with a joint parsonage in the village of Nerstrand.

Pastor Berven served the parish until 1917, when he was succeeded by the Reverend B. A. Johnson of St. Paul. In 1921 he resigned and was followed by the Reverend Rolf Rosenqvist of Reeder, North Dakota. He died on May 22, 1946, and was laid to rest in the Valley Grove Cemetery. The Reverend Chester A. Olson of Miller, Iowa, succeeded Pastor Rosenqvist and served until 1948. From January 16, 1949 to January 29, 1950, Dr. G. M. Bruce of Luther Theological Seminary served as temporary pastor. The present pastor, the Reverend T. H. Rossing of Sacred Heart, Minnesota, was installed on February 5, 1950.

After due deliberation and recommendation of a committee of ten members, Valley Grove voted at a meeting held in the country church on May 20, 1949, Dr. J. A. Aasgaard, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, presiding, to divide into two independent congregations as members of the same parish. The properties of Valley Grove Church were amicable and equitably divided between the two congregations. Valley Grove retained the name and title to the church properties in the country, and title to the church property in Nerstrand was conveyed to Grace Lutheran Church. joint ownership and control of the parsonage and the cemetery are specifically provided for, each holding a one-half undivided interest in the cemetery and a one- third undivided interest in the parsonage. At a meeting held on July 22, 1950, at the Nerstrand church, the members of the original Valley Grove congregation who worship there met and organized under the name of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was duly incorporated under the laws of the State of Minnesota immediately. Both Valley Grove and Grace have Ladies’ Aids, organized in 1890 or 1891, which have contributed much to the local church. work as well as to the benevolences of the general church body during their many years of existence and service.