In 1840, the U.S. Census reported only nine Norwegians in the entire Minnesota territory. A few years later, Goodhue, Rice, and Dakota counties were home to a swiftly growing community of Norwegian homesteaders.
The first Norwegian immigrants conducted worship services in their homes with the help of itinerant pastors. One of these was Laurentius Larson, who conducted a baptismal service for 33 children at an open-air service under a large oak tree on June 18, 1858. A newly ordained young pastor from Norway, Bernt Julius Muus, arrived in the United States in 1859 and conducted his first worship service in the congregation on November 18, 1859. (Pastor Muus later became one of the founders of St. Olaf College.) The following year, the community decided to build a church of locally quarried limestone. The one-room structure, with a gallery and steeple, was finished in 1862 and dedicated on October 18, 1868. You see it before you on the left.
In 1870, the congregation changed its name from Tyske Grove to Valley Grove, and in 1874 the members purchased and installed the first church bell.
The congregation outgrew its original building, and in 1894 the white wood- frame church facing the original church was completed. The older stone church became the guildhall, and the pulpit and bell were moved to the new clapboard church, where they are today. The organ was delivered by sleigh and is still in use there as well.
With the decline in small farming and the growth of other congregations, Valley Grove attracted fewer members. The church was decommissioned in April 1973. The Society for the Preservation of Valley Grove Churches formed under the leadership of neighbor and St. Olaf art professor John Maakestad in June 1974. The group later changed its name to the Valley Grove Preservation Society.
In 2000, the Valley Grove Preservation Society raised funds to acquire many acres surrounding the churches in order to prevent development of the land. They began prairie and oak savanna restoration efforts soon after.
Today Valley Grove is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. It is the cover photo of the book Churches of Minnesota by Alan K. Lathrop of Minneapolis. It’s also on the cover of From the Valley, a CD by hardanger musician Andrea Een of Northfield, who recorded it in part at Valley Grove. The site is also known for its connection with the family of economist Thorstein Veblen and with the Kvi family, ancestors of former Minnesota Governor Albert Quie. It is the location for weddings, concerts, and art shows and carriage club drives, as well as its annual Country Social and occasional special church services, including the well-loved candlelight Christmas Eve service
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