CHICAGO SWEDETOWN

The single factor which made the notion of writing about the Swedish immigrant church in Chicago plausible was a map. Without the Robinsons Map of Chicago, 1886, available online through the Newberry Library, the network of threads from the Swedish Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Mission stories would have seemed impossibly tangled. To that we must add the threads of Swedish Episcopal, Independant and Moodyite groups. But the map provided the key. Think of being on Google Earth in 1886!

For its great size and complexity, the metropolis of Chicago reduces into a familiar pattern on that map: just as we had seen in Omaha, within just a few square blocks, each of the immigrant groups built their churches! Chicago's Swedetown was no bigger in physical size than, say, the town of Stromsburg, or Wausa, Nebraska! Now the immensity of the task became simplified in graphic form, and some of the peculiarities of historical developments illuminated. Before one's eyes it is possible to put together the various denominations' stories about Chicago in a more manageable way. One can even find the south side Skogsbergh Tabernacle with a bit of searching. We have just scratched the surface.

A sample of views possible with Robinson's 1886 map
Link to Map

A colorful picture of Chicago in the early immigrant days of the 1850's is available in very readible form in Rev. Gustaf Unonius' "A Pioneer in Northwest America", U. of Minn. Press, 1960. His St. Ansgarius church appears in the map above on Sedgwick street. While it represents certainly the particular "point of view" of that Swedish Episcopalian founder, it provides another candid perspective on the times that no reader would fail to appreciate. It is an early perspective; Unonius has already returned to Sweden by the time of the Chicago fire.

According to his story, the first Scandinavian congregation in Chicago was organized among the Norwegians by a Rev. J.G. Smith with the assistance of "the Presbyterians" (Home Mission Association?) Smith is hardly painted in worthy colors, reportedly in trouble with the law on both sides of the Atlantic. It is his group that Rev. Paul Anderson inherits and guides into the Franckean Synod which Unonius characterizes as "Reformed". Anderson figures in assisting the earliest Swedish Chicagoans by providing a place for their meetings and other guidance as cited by Esbjörn. Unonius is also welcomed to his pulpit, though he likens Anderson's church to a "barn" and is offended that there is a "settee" behind the pulpit.

Gustaf Unonius

Soon Unonius rallies former Wisconsin friends and others inclined to a church more in the Swedish and Norwegian state church models to organize a new congregation; St. Ansgarius. His comments indicate that his motives were under fire from the Franckeans in the religious press. This is an early dawning of the perennial question: "who are the true Lutherans?" That debate would echo with even greater volume as Augustana and the Missionfriends joined the chorus. Even the Baptists and Methodists had their words, but perhaps more along the lines; "who are the true Christians?"

Unonius was early to conclude that American Lutherans, and in particular the Synod of Northern Illinois, were in his words, "heretical." The Augustana and Missionfriend people were later to draw approximately the same conclusion, but only after the American Lutherans had ordained their clergy and aided in other ways.

Since his earliest encounters with the American Episcopal church in Wisconsin and the bonds formed at their seminary there, Unonius has no problems with that body. A student of history, he is well aware that the original Swedish colony along the Delaware long ago aligned with the Episcopal church. But modern readers will surely be taken aback that at Pine Lake, Unonius' facilities included provision for baptism by immersion in an outdoor stream!

His Chicago charter permits the use of the Swedish rite and he is free to proceed according to his own preferences. At one time, he is temporarily leading worship not only at St. Ansgar, but at the other two existing Episcopal Churches in Chicago as well. In the cholera outbreaks, he calls upon earlier medical training in Sweden to assist in improvised hospitals. He clears part of his house to accommodate children orphaned by the plague. He cannot resist chiding Esbjörn for "standing in the doorway" when offering prayers for the sick, while Unonius' wife delivers more "hands on" care.

1) Moody Church 2) St. Ansgar Episcopal 3) Mission
4) Baptist 5) Immanuel Lutheran 6) Methodist
The astonishing proximity of the Swedish churches!

BUILDING ST. ANSGARS

Having made a fund-raising trip through the eastern states, Unonius returns to undertake the building of a church edifice. Prior to this, the congregation had been quartered in various termporary locations. We pick up his story:

"To begin with, we bought a lot of adequate size in what was then a remote part of the city where the Swedes and the Norwegians had settled. (the area on our map) As luck would have it, the place itself as well as the entire region round about had been occupied by Irish laborers who had, as they termed it, 'squatted' and built one miserable shanty after another... Just on the spot where we proposed to build our church a couple of Irishmen had built their shanties, and in spite of our orders to betake themselves off our land, they gave no sign of planning to move their dwellings. Furthermore, neither they nor their numerous neighbors looked kindly on our preparations to erect a Protestant temple. Making harsh demands on them to vacate might have caused trouble and might possibly lead to violence, to which they were already inclined by their aversion to Protestants. Therefore we preferred to pay a few dollars extra to persuade the Irish to move their shanties away. One of these was not so large but that four men who had been hired to work on the church were able to place stakes under it and carry it a few rods away from our lot."

In connection with these events Unonius permits himself some characterizations of the Irish which, to repeat, would be a disservice both to him and to later generations of successful Irish Chicagoans.

The only image we have found of St. Ansgars church

As a sample to illustrate the scene in Chicago at this time, as well as to frame the storytelling skill of Unonius, we offer his account of other house movings:

"Some of the older wooden buildings which had been built in what is now the better part of the city have been moved on sled-like runners to outlying districts where new streets are constantly being laid out; eventually they will be moved even farther away to make room for modern and more beautiful buildings.
Some of the houses thus moved from one place to another are not so small as one might imagine. I have seen even three-story buildings travel down the street. The contrivance by which this is done is really quite simple. A capstan is used, seldom drawn by more than one horse, around which a chain is wrapped and fastened to the rollers places under the building after the foundation has been removed. The capstan is moved from place to place according to the length of the chain, and while the chain is rolled up on it the house is pulled forward; a few men are kept busy moving the planks and rollers under the runners, and the house is pulled evenly and steadily to its new site... Moving the house does not necessarily mean that those living in it must move out. I have seen houses on the move while the families living in them continued with their daily tasks, keeping fire in the stove, eating their meals as usual, and at night quietly going to bed to wake up the next morning on some other street. Once a house passed my window while a tavern business housed in it went on as usual. Even churches have been transported in this fashion, but as far as I know, never with services going on."

The name of Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightengale," appears again and again in the immigrant church story. The legendary profitability of her concert tours, which in America enjoyed the counsel of that great showman, P.T. Barnum, afforded the Swedes more largesse than even that of the goldfields. When funds ran short for the proper completion of St. Ansgar, Unonius undertakes another trip east with the express purpose of putting his case to the singer.

Jenny Lind, unretouched

He achieves this goal, but is interrupted by an eager artist who imposes on the pair to display his portrait of her for approval. "That is not like me at all; that is a very pretty face, and I know very well that I am not pretty!" she objects. The artist continues to compound his flattery, and Miss Lind turns to Unonius for his opinion: "...in the interest of truth I had to admit that the artist had made her much prettier than she really was. With a smile she patted my shoulder and said, 'Well, thank God, I have finally found an honest man'."

He receives $1,000 for St. Ansgar, and later another $1,000 for himself and still later a silver altar set that is a prized artifact of the Chicago Episcopal Church to this day.

The elaborate Jenny Lind chalis for St. Ansgars

"Now I took personal charge of the work and soon had the pleasure of seeing our beautiful church completed, with heating system and carpeted floor as is customary in America. The small temple, built in Gothic style, now appeared most attractive within as well as without, with its beautiful chancel and altar, its plain oak-stained pulpit, and its open pews which, like the doors and the frames around the colored glass windows, were painted in imitation of oak." It is the zenith of Unonius' work, and he now takes fond trips back to his earlier haunts in Wisconsin, and even a voyage to Sweden.

His memoir was written after his permanent return to Sweden, from whence he can be completely candid about the situation in Chicago. His very readable account must rank right up there with that of Norelius in charting the immigrant record.

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HISTORY: Founded in 1849, St. Ansgarius Church was first located at Illinois and Franklin Streets, Chicago, IL. It was founded by Gustav Unonius, a convert to the Episcopal Church who previously led a group of Swedish immigrants to settle at Pine Lake, Wisconsin. At the end of the century, St. Ansgarius was located on Sedgwick Avenue, one block north of Chicago Avenue, in Chicago. The church remained at this location until 1920, at which time the church effectively closed due to the departure of the rector, Carl August Nybladh and the majority of the congregation. However, in 1924, the bishop of Chicago re-opened St. Ansgarius at a temporary location on Lincoln Avenue, and later built the Jenny Lind Memorial Chapel at 2514 West Thorndale Avenue, Chicago. In 1940 the church was re-dedicated as St. Francis Church, and this congregation survived into the 1990ís. (Information courtesy of Richard R. Seidel, Historiographer, The Diocese of Chicago, 1999)

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AUGUSTANA LUTHERANS IN CHICAGO

Chicago Avenue and Sedgwick streets were the axis of Swedish immigrant church development in that city, and to great extent for the whole midwest and the whole country. In this neighborhood we have seen the emergence from shanty town to booming ethnic community. From Minnesota to the Dakotas, from Iowa to Kansas and Nebraska; nearly all the Swedish immigrants had come through Chicago.

Unonius' picture of the early days is before us and now we turn to those who considered his Episcopal Lutheranism a misnomer if not an outright deception . This is the time of the birth of the Augustana Synod and its famous founders; Esbjörn, Hasselquist and Erland Carlsson. Chicago Avenue and Sedgwick were familiar streets to each of these pioneers.

We must remember that at this early stage the Norwegians and Swedes were together, and Norwegian Pastor Paul Anderson took the budding Immanuel congregation under his wing. They shared the church at the Superior St. location marked with a small #8 on the lower right of our map and would eventually purchase it when the Norwegians moved on. Unonius had scoffed at it as "barn-like" and disapproved of the worship style.

Immanuel on Superior St. as inherited from
Rev. Paul Anderson and the Norwegian Lutherans

Erland Carlsson became synonymous with Immanuel and faced the monumental challenges of helping waves of immigrants, dealing with the plague of cholera and ultimately the great Chicago fire. As is well documented in his book, "Shepherd of an Immigrant People", Emory Lindquist finds Carlsson equal to the task.

This wonderful book is filled with interesting stories, many of them set in our Swedetown, but none more memorable to me than the following: Pastor Carlsson was very frequently found meeting new immigrants at the train stations. Since they were always burdened with trunks and baggage, he would bring along his milk cow to carry freight. Troublesome draymen had him called before a judge, since he did not have the prescribed license. The judge, when he learned the circumstances, dismissed the case.

Pastor Erland Carlsson

It fell to Carlsson to shape the character of the new Swedish-American Lutheranism in the writing of Immanuel's constitution, a document which became the standard for Augustana. There were many issues to navigate. Doctrinally, it specified the "unaltered Augsburg Confession", a reaction to the American Lutheranism of the day. In this it stood with the later Missouri Synod and the conservatism of Lutheran immigrants. But in practical matters it departed from patterns in the old country. There would from the beginning, be Sunday Schools; a reformed innovation. And for Augustana there would be no bishop, but elective officials as in the Presbyterian system.

A critical issue was that of "regenerate membership." Esbjörn had been obliged to conform in Andover to the Congregational / Presbyterian Home Missionary Association's requirement that communing members profess conversion. For many of the immigrants, this was foreign. Carlsson and the others made the deliberate choice of following the Swedish model. The spirit of American Protestantism in the era of the "great awakening" ran against them in this, and many a Methodist, Baptist and Mission Friend would be heard to murmer: "they're not even saved."

It was a remarkable product which emerged in this Augustana ethos: and the map tells its own story. Immanuel was literally born between a bastion of American revivalism at Moody's and the proud high-churchly voice of St. Ansgars Episcopal. How these forces influenced it can only be imagined. But in spite of plague, fire and a constant flow of members in and out as a waystation on the immigrant path, Immanuel thrived.

Historians have derived the following numbers: roughly half of the immigrant Swedes did not identify with any of the Swedish-American denominations. Of those who did, roughly half became Augustana Lutherans. The rest were divided among the Methodists, Baptists and Mission Friends. The same pattern would prevail in Chicago.
Unonius is just leaving the stage as Carlsson arrives; he does not want to be placed in an inevitable competition with this Swedish brother and so chooses to return to Sweden. He observes that many St. Ansgar members are going over to the Augustana congregation. So many new members come to Immanuel that it is time to build a new church, and this is done up on Hobie and Sedgwick. But before this, the need to provide space for a school has resulted in the acquisition of yet another Norwegian building along Chicago Avenue (see small #7 on the map, lower left).

Eric Norelius' first day as teacher in this school we have in his own words: "September 26.--Today I started out teaching school in the aforementioned chapel out on the prairie... It is a rather motley crowd I have to teach. Some of the children are Norwegian, and they read in their mother tongue; some are Swedish and of course they read in their own language; and still others cannot read either Norwegian or Swedish, but only English."

Immanuel's school building: with a story of its own

Of the Norwegian group who worshipped in this building we have this information from Norelius: "The people who worship here are known as Elling Eielsen's Friends. Eielsen is a lay preacher from Norway, who is supposed to have been ordained to the ministry by some German pastor here in America, and who is now traveling in various parts of the country... These people seem very pious, even in their outward life, but it seems to me that they are in bondage under the law and are very narrow." We recognize here the roots of one of the Norwegian synods, who were conducting their own quest for "true Lutheranism" in America.

Consider the threads of history which pass through this building, and its successor built behind the newer Immanuel church later on. It is here that L.P. Esbjörn brings his students after breaking with the American Lutherans at Springfield. This will be the home of Augustana's seminary till it moves down to Paxton under Hasselquist.

This will be the school where the perennial schoolmaster, Magnus Munter, will hold forth. He who is remembered for butchering a sheep in the classroom! We have visited Munterville, Iowa, where he ended his days and is buried at Bergholm church.

Immanuel school's first teacher: Eric Norelius

Here too, Eric Norelius sojourns on his way to the great northwest...Minnesota. "The Early Life of Eric Norelius" provides many priceless vignettes on early Chicago and the region generally. He seeks out Erland Carlsson and finds him a true friend and colleage in the poverty of his early existence. He is an eager listener to both Carlsson and Rev. Paul Anderson in the days the Swedes and Norwegians shared Immanuel on Superior Street. He also hears Methodist Pastor Newman (Nyman) and earlier had encountered Unonius who attempted to enlist him in the Episcopal cause. At other times he engages face-to-face with Baptists G. Palmquist and A. Wiberg, and Methodists O.G. and Jonas Hedstrom. In these and other encounters, Norelius exemplifies a spirit which would not shun opponants but sets out his own firm convictions in earnest discussion. It was still a time in which underlying similarities trumped doctrinal differences and for this reason we treasure it.

This is the school in which the young J.G. Princell enrolled as a student in 1860; lived for a time with Erland Carlsson and formed a life-long relationship with his daughters Emmy and Anna as their teacher. Josephine Princell recalls in her biography of him that, till the end of his life he called them "mina snälla skolflickor"..."my lovely schoolgirls". Princell had a Bible in which he wrote: "A gift of my fatherly friend, pastor Erland Carlsson, 1867". We who know the sad course of history can only marvel and wonder what might have been.

Carlssons' children; the girls taught by Princell!

This, too, is the birthplace of "Hemlandet", Augustana's newspaper. How many stories are connected with the Immanuel school! Devastating hardship came with the 1871 Chicago fire, which burned the homes and churches of the Swedes in Chicago. Immanuel's newly finished building (at #5 on the map) was a victim, and with a sizeable unpaid debt and failed insurance coverage. In spite of all this, there had been no loss of life among its members and Carlsson's leadership did not fail. The church was rebuilt at the same place and would continue to thrive under the leadership of Rev. Carl Evald, both Carlsson's successor and son-in-law.

Immanuel's new edifice

We were privileged to attend Immanuel Lutheran church at its present far north location in the 1960's, where among its artifacts is the bell from the old Swedetown church. Passavant Hospital marked the original Immanuel neighborhood long after it had moved on. The Augustana Hospital had its beginnings in Carlsson's house on Lincoln Avenue just to the north.

Swedetown Continued
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