The Scandinavians
of Bosque Co., Texas

rock church

Photo Elroy Christenson 2009


The Old Rock Church

The Old St Olaf's Lutheran Church, 1886
located four miles east of Cranfills Gap, Texas

The Texas Historical Marker installed in 1974 states:

"built in 1886 of native stone by architect Andrew Mickelson and his brothers, Christian and Ole Michelson, it originally had a dirt floor and planks laid on wooden kegs for pews. The bell wsa acquired in 1897. The church served the Norwegian of settlers this area, who were members of Our Savior's Lutheran Chruch of Norse. In 1902, the growth of the community necessitated separation from the Norse church, and the St Olaf congregation was organized.  A new edifice was erected in Cranfills Gap in 1917, and this church has since been used only for special services. "

The First Norwegian families started coming to this area of Texas as early as 1841. The State of Texas offered major land incentives for settlers of Norway and Sweden. They were lead to Texas by a number of Norwegian agents. The settlers for Bosque County were largely brought her by Cleng Peerson who helped Norwegian settlements across the United States.

An article in a newspaper in Louisiana is reprinted in The Evening Post,  New York, 13 Mar 1867 shows the process and attitude of the agents and the expected settlers to Louisiana or Texas.

Norwegian laborers in Texas.
    The New Orleans Picaynus says: "We have already noticed that Mr Paulsen, a Norwegian gentleman of good standing in Northern Texas, was about leaving for his native land afor the purpose of securing the services of a large number of his countrymen as farm laborers in Texas. The  Planters' Banner  has a copy of a letter from Wm. McKerrall, of Waco, Texas, who says:
     " I am engaged here now as an agent of Norwegian emigration.  The gentlemen who is associated with the with me will leave for Christians, Norway, about the 1st of March, and will have the laborers and servants at Galveston by the 1st of September. We  have engaged about two cargoes for this county.  The trouble here is that each employer takes too few: and it is just the same to the agent, and much easier to deliver fifty or one hundred.  Transportation is so convenient in your part of Louisiana that I have an idea of engaging in the emigration business in your parish. 
    " The Norwegian laborers are strong, large boned, men and women honest, sober and industrious.  They have no disposition to run about, they are always at home, humble and tractable.  It is true they do not speak English: but we do not hire men and women to talk, but to work.  We will bind ourselves to bring along a Norwegian young man who speaks English.  If desired, who can attend to three or four plantations, for one year, for a reasonable consideration.
     " The terms in regard to these laborers will be as follows: " For each laborer or servant, sixty' five dollars in specie, or its equivalent in currency, for transportation, contingent expenses and compensation fee to the agency.  Where ten or more hands are taken, thirty-three dollars in specie, or its equivalent, must be paid down, and thirty-two dollars in specie when the laborers arrive in new Orleans. They are to be received in New Orleans by the employers, or arrangements made to ship them to their places of destination.  When any number, from one to ten, is engaged, the entire amount of sixty-five dollars  will be required.  We make contracts with the laborers for two years.  The cost of hire for two years, of Norwegian men and women, will be as follows:
"First year the agency expense (sixty-five dollars in specie, or its equivalent in greenbacks), clothing and food, and thirty dollars in specie to the laborers, men and women the same.
"Second year, one hundred dollars and food and clothing for the men, and seventy-five dollars a year and food and clothing for the women. 
" We bring on any kind of laborers employers may want, farmers, gardeners, women of all work, etc.  For mechanics the prices will be somewhat higher than for field laborers.
" My partner will take none but men who have good recommendations, as required by the laws of Norway and Sweden.
     "The above are the prices for common laborers.  If a contractor wants a particular kind of servants. such as bring higher prices at home, their wages must be higher here.  If planters want such laborers at the prices --  heaven knows it is little enough--- we can supply them with tow or three thousand just as easy as two or three.  We can have them in New Orleans or Berweick's Bay by the 1st of September. 
    "The Norwegians here in Texas are the very best planters and citizens we have . They are raised in humble circumstances, and know nothing but to work and to obey orders promptly,  They work in Norway sixteen hours in a day, but i do not suppose we should require that much from them." [Norge I Texas p114]

Cleng Peerson found himself in sympathy in Norway with the plight of the Quakers who were being persecuted by the state Lutheran religion and locked into an economic caste system. He started his investigation for settlements to America on a three year journey on the behalf of the Quakers. He encouraged the Quakers but also promoted the economic opportunities and freedom to every Norwegian. Although Cleng had obtained land for the new settlers and went back to Norway to promote it, he returned to the United States on a separate ship from the settlers.  The Quakers and Haugeans(a sect of pieist Lutherans), although separate and competing religious organizations, had purchased, refurbished, and sloop-fitted a twenty-four year old freight hauling ship renamed as "the Restauration".   It was only 54 feet long but was packed with 52 passengers.  It left Stavanger on July 4, 1825 and headed south to Madeira where it was re-supplied. From there they took the easterly trade winds to the Caribbean.  This was a tiny ship for 53 men, women and children who took 98 days for the journey to  New York.  Cleng Peerson met the ship as promised but the captain was temporarily arrested for overloading the ship.[Viking 23] The first colony of 52 immigrants was settled in Kendal, New York. These first setters from Norway have been known among themselves and Norwegians as "Sloopers" for the sail configuration on the ship. When this settlement appeared likely to fail Cleng started exploring more territory in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. [The Norwegian Texans]

Early settlers any where in the States did not have an easy time.  Especially in Texas, compared with Norway, the weather was hot, the water was scarce, and the land ran from fertile to rocky. The environment was populated with a few Indians and everything else that stings and bites.  Accidents were frequent and the work was grueling. Disease also took its toll.  One report from 1846- 53 shows the problem with some settlements in south Texas. 

"Malaria epidemics were frequent. When the heat struck in the early summer, it was followed by haemorrhagic fever. No homes were spared. Some doctors were not around - and if there had been some, it had hardly helped in particular. One did not know the source of the disease, and the only medication was quinine. JR Reiersen obtained this medication and yet many Norwegians died. In the years 1846-1853, we know with certainty that 45 people were killed in the two Norwegian colonies, and most deaths are due to malaria." [Norge I Texas. p75]

John Nordboe was the first settler in Texas in 1841. As a friend of Cleng Peerson and member of his first settlement in New York, his presence here apparently drew Cleng to explore Texas. In 1847 Cleng Peerson was 64 years old and had married a young Swedish woman in a communal settlement in Bishop Hill, Illinois. When the marriage failed he sold everything to bring a few families to Texas. He lived with the Ole Canuteson family, a neighbor to John Nordboe, ten miles south of Dallas for four years. [The Norwegian Texans]

St Olaf's
            interiorThe Altar 1912 - 2010

Bosque County was founded in 1854 by the State of Texas and offered 320 acres free to each settler. Cleng Peerson placed an ad in an Illinois newspaper and offered half of his land grant in the State of Texas in exchange for a home in his declining years. One particular method of getting from Illinois was by steamboat to New Orleans, then by ship to Galveston and then by oxcart to Bosque county. He lived with Ovee Colwick family near the Norse community a few miles southeast of Cranfills Gap until he died here in the Norse community, Dec. 16, 1865 where he is buried at the age of 82 in the Norse Cemetery. [Bosque Co. Hist., p35]


The Old Rock Church is situated on a rise overlooking Meridian Creek valley. It was constructed in 1884 on land purchased for $25. The main architect and builder was Andrew Michelson who with the help of his brothers Christian and Ole, as well as, many local farmers quarried the native limestone two miles away. The stone had to be dressed and carted to the site where the church was built in their spare time. The bell for calling worship weighs 3200 pounds. It was lifted into place and the remaining covering for the steeple was constructed around it.

St Olaf's pulpit
This was a true Scandinavian community where Norwegian was the primary language although there were Danes and Swedes here as well. Even after the new church was constructed in Cranfills Gap 1917 we find that 44 services were held in Norwegian and only 22 in English. Still today it is well known for its Septemberfest and the Lutefisk Dinners that the Lions Club still puts on as an annual event for first Saturday in December. Due the communities strong ties to its original heritage this area was also visited by the King Olav V of Norway on Oct. 10, 1982. He came to commemorate the birth of Cleng Peerson and visited the Lutheran Church in the village of Norse, which is very nearby. Here he placed a wreath on the grave of Cleng Peerson. [Bosque Co. Hist. , p35]

Rock Church
            parsonage  The pulpit from c1912 -2010



Until about 1920 a parsonage also stood near the church.  This photo hung on the back wall of the church before the remodel.  I would assume that the water for the church and the parsonage would have to come from a hand dug well.   I have seen no sign of the parsonage and I assume the well has long been sealed. 

The Restoration of the Rock Church.

Since my original interior photos included here on this page were taken about 1995, there has been a major restoration.  It has been returned to its original colors which has been somewhat shocking to those of us that don't remember the 1886 version.   The Rededication service of the church brought 400 guests on June 12, 2010.  Wayne Rohne, who was involved in the work, explains some of the logic around the changes. 

        " Two or three years ago, a noted restoration architectural firm made an extensive study of the Rock Church.  Paint samples were taken and identified through a process which is used at Home Depot, or Lowe's or many paint stores.  The colors inside and out at the Rock Church should be close to the original 1886- or whenever the first paint was applied.
   Taking off the plaster and getting down to the original rock  on the exterior was another effort at getting back to the original.  In this process some voids and cracks were filled. A water resistant coating may be applied to the exterior if this has not already been done

   The major change in the inside of the Church was installing the pulpit over the altar where it was when the church was built in 1886.  In 1912, a new pastor came to serve the congregation.  He thought it was presumptuous for a mortal  such as he to be over  the Sacrament of the Altar-The Lord's Supper.  Some thought that the pastor felt that he would be more equal if the pulpit were on a platform where it stayed until May 2010, when it was removed to its original position. 
   The first Norwegian Lutheran congregation in North America was organized in 1843 in the Muskego community near Racine, WI.A church was built there in 1839 by  early pioneers.This church had the pulpit above the altar.  In 1904, the Muskego church was removed to the campus of Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Mn where it is an historical landmark today.A large number of churches in Norway have the pulpit above the altar.  In this country, the motivation for the location is attributed to the followers of Hans Nielsen Hauge who believed that the authority of the Word of God prevailed over the formal worship service and the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar.  I find this interesting.  It is probable that in 1912, Pastor Estrem was motivated by Haugean  thought as well-equality?  In any event , two different outcomes.
   Some $228,000 has been spent at the Rock Church in the past two or three years in enlarging the church grounds, for surveying, fencing and the restoration..  I think it was and is a magnificent effort. "   [Wayne Rohne, 7/31/10]

restoration interior   steeple
The new colors of the interior and the steeple.
Tony Rohne photographer 2010

Rock Church Interior 2013
Rock Church Interior 2013
photo Kent Christoffersen

Many of the original families of the region are buried in the cemetery adjacent to this church. Here you will find Rohne, Christenson, Johnson, Michelson, Bertelson but to name a few. Andrew Michelson, the church builder and his brother, returned to Norway after a few years and bought a farm in the Løten Parish area. His heirs are still there. [Michelson. email]

Cleng Peerson is buried only a few miles from the Rock Church in the old town of Norse. Here his fellow expatriates celebrated their good fortune when the King of Norway visited his grave. 

Cleng Peerson    
Pioneer of Norse Emigration for America.
Born in Norway, Europe 
May 17, 1782 
Landed in America in 1821  
Died in Texas December 16, 1865    

Grateful countrymen in Texas erected this to his memory 


Cleng Peerson's tombstone Cleeg Peerson
            marker

Norse community cemetery, Bosque Co., Texas


photo Elroy C. 2003

A full list of cemetery records for St Olaf's can be found on the following web site - http://www.mustangtexas.com/St_Olaf_Cemetery.htm
















PS:   A reproduction of the original ship, "The Restauration" has been built by Ryfylke Trebatbggjeri(Ryfylke Wooden Boatworks) in Finnøy, Norway, not far from Stavanger. The reconstruction using original techniques of the 1801 vessel cost NOK 8 million or $1.3 million dollars in 2010. [Viking 25]

sources:

Tergerson, Charlene and Pendleton, La Verne. article, Bosque County: Land and People , Bosque County Historical Commission, 1985
The Norwegian Texans, The University of Texas Institute of Texan Culture, San Antonio, Texas. 1971.
Michelson, Andreas. grandson of Andrew Michelson. correspondence, Nov. 2002, email--anmick@online.no
Robinson, Lana. Texas Highways, September 1984, Vol., 31, No. 9, Austin, Texas 78701, p. 18 - 29
Rohne, Wayne.   email letter on the Restoration of the Church.  7/29/10  - rohneway@att.net
Syversen, Odd Magnar and Johnson, Derwood. Norge I Texas, Et bidrag til norsk emigrasjonshistoire. (in Norwegian), Stange Historielag 1982. Norway
Viking. "Norway's First Emigrant Ship". publication of the Sons of Norway, Minn., MN. Oct. 2013.
White, Velma Eggen. article Bosque County: Land and People , Bosque County Historical Commission, 1985
Cranfills Gap, Texas || Thrashing Bee || Cranfills Gap Slide Show (allow time to load)
 Johnson/Rohne/Christenson photo map || Løten, Norway history

Egeberg/Johnson lineage map || Johnson Family Index

Elroy's Family Index || Ancestor Chart #1 || Regional History Index


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