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.
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.
"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." 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.
"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.
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
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]
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.
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]
Until about 1920 a parsonage also stood near the church. This photo hangs on the back wall of the church. 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.
Restoration of the Rock Church.
Since my original 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
" 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]
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.
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]
Egeberg/Johnson lineage map || Johnson Family Index
Elroy's Family Index || Ancestor Chart #1 || Regional History Index
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