We visited this beautiful place, Norway Lutheran Church, in April of 2017. It’s in McHenry County, about 15 miles southwest of Towner, North Dakota, and it is perched on the hill above the Souris River Valley. The Souris, known to locals as the “Mouse River”, has flooded many times, particularly in 1969 and 2011 (a 1976 flood was serious, but not as severe as ’69 or ’11), and 6 years later, the legacy of the 2011 flood can still be seen everywhere. Just down the way from this church, a gravel road still stands blocked-off, partly underwater. Dead wood lies along the river bank in heaps, piled there by land owners after thousands of trees, live and dead, were uprooted and sent drifting downriver in the deluge. In places, there are the remains of flooded buildings, but in many more, new constructions, nicely landscaped and brightly painted. From a safe spot well above the flood plain, and in the tradition of the hardy settlers who came here more than a century earlier, Norway Lutheran Church overlooks perseverance.
We know every little about this place except what we could see from the outside, but it is clear that someone works very hard to take care of this church. Norway Lutheran looks as if it was nicely painted sometime in the not too distant past, all of the basement window wells are diligently covered to prevent the elements from getting in, and it looks as if someone had gone around the outside and knocked down quite a few birds’ nests from the eaves recently. We don’t know if they still hold regular services here, but it certainly looks like they could.
There is a stone monument in the cemetery across the road from the church (above), erected in 1952, and the plate reads in-part:
UPON THIS SITE
STOOD THE FIRST LOG CHURCH OF
NORWAY LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
COMPLETED MARCH 1, 1886
FIRST SERVICE OCTOBER 17, 1886
LAST SERVICE NOVEMBER 9, 1890
NORWAY LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
VILLARD, MCHENRY COUNTY
FIRST CONGREGATION ORGANIZED
IN MOUSE RIVER LOOP
ORGANIZED JULY 20, 1884
BY REV. O.H. AABERG
AT VILLARD POST OFFICE
Above: a memorial to Sondre Norheim, considered the father of modern skiiing. Norheim and his his family emigrated to America in 1884, first to Minnesota, and then to this part of North Dakota. He has been honored in the opening ceremonies at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, and the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
The road to Norway Lutheran Church is like something from a storybook.
More photos of Norway Lutheran
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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy