Norwegian immigrants founded a settlement southwest of Cambridge in June 1855 and a second colony east of Story City in June 1856. Twenty-five years later, 6,500 Norwegians were living in central Iowa, and central Iowa was the third most popular settlement area for Norwegian immigrants in Iowa.
Story County historian, William O. Payne, noted the dramatic increase in central Iowa’s Norwegian population in his “History of Story County, Iowa,” “Not in the earliest years but in the first decade, there was a movement here that perhaps has counted more than any other one similar movement upon the character of the county and its population. This movement relates to the coming of the Norwegians. Theirs was in the beginning not a straggling movement, nor one in which a number of individuals of family relationship or previous personal association joined their efforts, but it was a matter of deliberate colonization.”
Arlen Twedt’s history in volume one of “The Central Iowa Norwegians” covers the settlement period from 1855 to 1880. It traces emigrants’ migration from hillside farms along fjords in southwest Norway to the prairie of northern Illinois and westward to Iowa. He describes what early frontier life was like for 97 families living in log cabins and dugouts on the virgin prairie of Story, northern Polk and southern Hamilton counties. He also follows the experiences of 46 central Iowa Norwegians who volunteered for the Civil War. Volume 1 includes a paper by Jim Mason explaining why Lisbon, Ill., 60 miles southwest of Chicago, was an attractive initial destination for the Norwegians, who later moved to central Iowa. This volume also contains all the early histories of the central Iowa Norwegians written by other authors, including a translation of the oldest history, Erik Travaas’ 1888 account of two Illinois Norwegian immigrants who made a scouting trip to central Iowa in 1856 to investigate the possibility of purchasing land.
Volumes two and three of The Central Iowa Norwegians will be published in 2018 and 2019. They also begin with signature pieces by Twedt, followed by memoirs, biographies, and histories written by others. Volume two will feature “The Early Pioneers 1855-1860: Biographic and Demographic Profiles,” containing short family biographies of the 640 Norwegians who lived in central Iowa by the end of 1860, plus memoirs written by early settlers. The signature piece in volume three is “The Town Building Period: 1880-1905,” followed by translations of Norwegian newspaper articles about the central Iowa Norwegian settlements, reports of the 50th anniversary celebrations in Cambridge and Story City in 1905, and an extensive bibliography for learning more about the central Iowa Norwegians.
Arlen Twedt is a descendant of two families who helped found the settlement east of Story City. He grew up on a farm south of Roland, and began learning about the history of the central Iowa Norwegians in 1977 when he began researching his family’s history. In 1995, Twedt started the Central Iowa Norwegian Project to collect information for writing a history of the first 50 years of settlement. Volume one of The Central Iowa Norwegians is available on Amazon.com, and it can also be ordered through local bookstores.