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Gammelgården Museum celebrates America’s immigrant story

Julie Erickson
20880 Olinda Trail, Scandia, MN 55073, USA

Gammelgården Museum, located at the bottom of the hill in the town of Scandia, runs primarily on an amazing corps of volunteers and is owned, but not funded, by Elim Church. Its 5 historic buildings tell the story of immigrant life in Minnesota from 1850 to 1880. Although the settlers in Scandia were primarily Swedish, the immigrant story is a truly universal American story!

The history of this “little museum that could”, began over 150 years ago when the first Swedish immigrants settled in this lovely valley that reminded them so much of their homeland. The eleven acres of land where the museum is located was carved from the prairies and woods of the St Croix Valley wilderness. It was to become a working farm; with a large farmhouse (Präst Hus) and later a barn (Ladugård) built and donated by the immigrant community, as a permanent home for a Pastor and his family; giving the GammelKyrkan (oldest Lutheran church still standing in Minnesota) its first regular ministerial presence.

Eventually the Elim congregation outgrew this first log church and built a new church at the top of the hill. A new Pastor’s home was built next to this new church as the town of Scandia grew. The small farm at the bottom of the hill, consisting of the old Präst Hus, barn and corn crib, was sold to the Nelson family. This Swedish immigrant family arrived with their children, the youngest Annie, only 13 weeks old who was born during the long journey on board the ship. Annie Nelson Johnson lived in this house, farming the old small farm, until 1971. Annie was famous for her coffee parties and giant sugar cookies and today, at the museum, we still hold our traditional Annie’s Swedish Coffee Parties in her honor! She eventually sold the farm back to Elim Church who’s congregants then created the Gammelgården Museum (Gammel meaning Old and Gården meaning Small Farm) dedicated to Presenting, Preserving and Promoting Swedish Immigrant Heritage.

From 1972 straight through to the present day 40 years later, this museum continues its mission of Preserving, Presenting and Promoting Swedish Immigrant Heritage. Each year, we have added programs and classes; fine-tuned our festivals; created different events; focused on new exhibits; continued our restoration of the buildings entrusted to our care and are always proud to tell the story of the true American dream: the Immigrant Story.

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