Välkommen Hus is the heart of the 11-acre museum complex and was built to resemble a Swedish farmhouse. Its cheerful exterior is painted Falu Red (Falu Rödfärg): a unique concoction that has been brushed onto houses and farm buildings for several hundred years. The pigment derives from the waste products from an ancient copper mine in Falun, Sweden, and when mixed with flour, linseed oil and water, it protected wooden surfaces from the elements and lasted a long, long time. Today, genuine Falun Red paint is a registered trademark and can only be manufactured with ore from the Falun mine.
Inside the house are permanent displays of artifacts brought or crafted by area immigrants, special exhibits (Swedish woodworking, on our last visit), meeting rooms for children's programs, language classes, community and seasonal events, and restrooms. The gift shop, Scandia Butik, has a nice selection of clothing, jewelry, books, toys, imported goodies and other items that celebrate the Swedish culture.
Guided tours of the Gammelgården complex begin here as well: stop by between 1:00 - 4:00 on Fridays-Sundays from May through mid-October. Tours cost $5 per adult and are free for youngsters under 12. Otherwise, the museum is open from May 1st through December 23rd from 10:00 - 4:00 Monday - Saturday, and 1:00 - 4:00 on Sunday. As hours and information can change, double-check the website for current info before your visit.
The Swedish settlers were a faithful bunch so one of the first things they did - after throwing up shelter for themselves - was build a church. Gammelkyrkan was constructed in 1856 on a lake just down the road and then relocated for use as a school and extra storage after a larger Elim church was built in 1861, where the cemetery above the museum is now. Its last owner donated the log chapel to the Gammelgården, where it was moved, restored and rededicated in 1982. This is the oldest Lutheran church building in Minnesota and still used for special services and weddings.
A church needs a pastor, and a pastor needs a house so they built that too. This oldest of Minnesota parsonages still stands today in its original site on the museum grounds. Präst Hus served the church's clergy from 1868 until 1884 and was sold back to the Elim church by its last owner in 1970. Annie Nelson Johnson was born in Sweden and her family moved into this house, where she resided until the age of 88, when she was just 13 months old. "Annie's Tours" bring her to life in interactive guided walks especially designed for children and families (see website).
The barn (Ladugår) is also original to the property and was constructed in 1879. It's built into the side of an embankment so that livestock could be herded in and out of the lower level, with the upper portion used for workspace, feed and wagon storage.
Immigrant Hus is typical of the construction methods and size of homes the settlers first built. This one dates to around 1855 and was moved here from a different location but was occupied until the early 1900's. Like the parsonage and chapel, it's constructed of logs, and the current wood flooring was probably a later addition: the original was likely tightly packed-and-swept dirt. These tiny dwellings often sheltered not just the owner's family but also new arrivals from Sweden who needed a place to live while building their own houses. The plaque mentioned that this was used as a granary for some years before being moved and restored. Around the turn of the century, my father-in-law, his 5 older sisters, parents and grandfather lived in their granary, while building a larger house; one mighty tight squeeze, to be sure!
The stuga is the newest of the buildings and was constructed as a guest home by a local architect who then donated it to the museum. These little cottages were originally the homes of rural peasants but today serve as cabins for weekend getaways - and can be much larger. This one is also painted with Falu Rödfärg and charmingly fitted out with a brick hearth and built-in alcove beds. I'm guessing curtains could have been hung across the openings for warmth and privacy.
You may visit the interiors of all five of the buildings on one of the tours, and all have been furnished with tools and housewares of the period. If you can't make it at a time when tours are scheduled, all have plaques that describe what they are, and you can view some interior photos on the website.
Besides exploring the museum, Gammelgården is just a peachy spot to have lunch alfresco, stretch your legs and let the kids wear off some energy. Johnson Memorial Park is adjacent to the museum site and provides picnic tables and a playground for a casual lunch or mid-afternoon break. Picnic supplies or take-out can be picked up at a couple of places just a stone's throw from the park:
Scandia Store and Deli
14758 Oakhill Rd
This is just across the street from Elim Lutheran Church and the cemetery
21079 Olinda Trail
Right behind the deli
Meister's Bar and Grill
14808 Oakhill Road
An easy cut-over from the park on 209th St - you can walk to it.
The museum property backs up to a pond with a small walking bridge: a pretty place for family photo-ops. You might even land in here during one of the outdoor festivals or musical to-dos so check the website for events.
If you have the time and the interest, drive just a mile or two south on Olinda Trail to The Hay Lake School and Erickson Log House Museum; another piece of area history and the original location of the Gammelgården's chapel. Nearby is a monument marking the site of the log home built by those first three Swedish settlers to come to Minnesota in 1850. See this website for information:
Another park - Lion’s Park at Hay Lake - is close to this museum and has grills, picnic tables and a shelter.
Swedish author Karl Vilhelm Moberg came to the area in 1948 to research the history of the large number of immigrants from his native country, more specifically from Småland, who settled here in the mid 1800s. He turned that material into a series of four books collectively referred to as "The Emigrant Novels" that follow the lives of fictional couple, Karl-Oskar Nilsson and his wife, Kristina, from poverty and famine in Sweden to settlement and acclimation in America. While originally consider a bit shocking for, among other things, some sexual references and liberal use of profanity, the novels are considered an accurate documentation of the multitude of reasons behind the mass emigration of one million Swedes during this era, and the many challenges faced among those who traveled west to homestead the St Croix Valley region of Minnesota.
What with neighboring Chisago County providing the setting for the story, Mr. Moberg and his literary characters are a big deal here.
In the nearby town of Chisago City, you'll find Vilhelm Moberg Park with its bronze likeness of the author with the bicycle he used to travel around on his research.
Also nearby is Lindström, where you'll find the fictional Karl-Oskar and his homesick wife, also cast in bronze, in their place of honor near the western edge of town. And if you're here on the right weekend in July, you can join the locals for the Karl-Oskar Days parade, fireworks, street dance and Swedish heritage food and events.
A movie was made of the first book, and Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA fame even made a musical, "Kristina från Duvemåla", of the saga. Go figure: Karl-Oskar's homesick wife being a stressed-out, neurotic bundle of woe, that must a really entertaining piece of work that'll get happy toes tapping (not).
Anyway, the series is among the items carried in the gift shop at Välkommen Hus so pick them up if interested in a bit more about what life was like here for the early settlers.