Early 1870’s, the descendants of Scandinavians who had 20 years earlier settled in Iowa after traveling from Norway to America to seek a better life now began flooding the Red River Valley. The East Coast was already saturated with immigrants from other countries before the Norwegians left their homeland. Throughout the 70’s immigrants settled along the Goose River just southwest of here, coming either from Iowa, Minnesota or directly from Norway. Names of those early settlers that you may recognize are: Trageton, Ostmo, Ruud, Swenson, Bry, Thingelstad, Korsmo, Thorsgard, and many more.
Arriving in covered wagons, they made houses out of sod & dugouts in the river banks, before they could afford to build bigger homes. The homes were furnished with furniture they could build from the trees along the river. Everyone was considered squatters because the land was not open for filing until 1878. There were lots of large mosquitoes in the grasses before they started to plow their allotted acres and of course there were no tractors so they used horses. Paul O. Johnson, the postmaster at the time, named Northwood after Northwood, Iowa. The post office was located about a mile west of town on the Johnson land. By 1884, several businesses were built in Northwood and in August of that year, there was a regular train arriving in Northwood. All this gives you a little background that life was not easy for the pioneers.
The Norwegian settlers were affiliated back home with a Norwegian Church denomination and carried with them a deep Christian conviction and appreciation for ordered worship in the church. Since there were no churches here in the early 1870’s, the settlers within weeks of arriving met occasionally in someone’s sod or log house, arriving on foot or in oxcart. Organizing a congregation was a priority, and by 1874 a congregation was formed and from that branched out additional congregations when the original congregation reached about 150 members.
In 1879, the first schoolhouse was built and that was used for church services. Much shuffling of congregations took place, but by 1886 a congregation named Northwood Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation was established in the village of Northwood. In 1888 the land just west of Northwood became the city cemetery. Passionate and strong-willed people always meant there would be shuffling between congregations, uniting and bargaining their positions. Remember all this was happening before North Dakota became a state in 1889!
In 1892, three congregations, Northwood, Hol, and Clermont united as Northwood Evangelical Lutheran Church with 42 men approving a new constitution. The North Cemetery was owned by the Hol congregation and the South cemetery by the Clermont congregation. So, many of the founders of Ebenezer were first the founders of NELC! Soon within the structure of this congregation there were disagreements, however.
In the 1890’s, outsiders of the community came to our community and a spiritual revival swept over the Goose River Valley and really shook things up! At the same time another movement was stirring in the Norwegian Lutheran churches all centered around differing views and their relationship with Augsburg College. There were strong positions on both sides which could not be reconciled. Many families believed their loyalty was with the Norwegian United Lutheran Church Synod and were sympathetic to the “Friends of Augsburg”. So on May 24, 1898 those who had threatened to leave the church, did so. Twenty-six members withdrew from the Northwood Congregation and formed a The Christian Brotherhood, later known as Ebenezer Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in June, 1898. Thirty-two people and their families became the charter members. Again the same familiar names: Ruud, Ostmo, Brorby, Thingelstad, Trageton, Bry, Hovland, Korsmo, and so on. December of 1898, the first Confirmation services were held and several other firsts happened that are now Ebenezer’s history, such as, in 1899 women were finally invited to church meetings, but it is doubtful that women attended or spoke up at those meetings until much later.
Jumping ahead to1909, a decision was made to build a church, having worshipped at the Odd Fellows Hall for the past few years. Farmers took out mortgages on their land to raise the money needed. A steeple was built on the church so the farmers could see it from their homesteads. Electric lights were installed in 1912 and the building was completed in 1913. The total cost of the church, its furnishings, the lot, and the sidewalk was $22,765. In 1914 services were occasionally conducted in the English language rather than Norwegian, and English Hymn books were purchased. In 1919, a decision was made to build the existing parsonage which cost just under $15,300. Services were conducted 100% in English in 1949!
This gives you a glimpse of the founding of Ebenezer and the struggles the pioneers faced to do so until they sorted everything out and became the congregation of Ebenezer.
Pieces of this history were taken from the Gold 50th Anniversary booklet, the Northwood celebration books, and the stories we heard growing up. We have numerous members today who are direct descendants of these Norwegian settlers and founders of Ebenezer: Rayne Korsmo, Ginger Ruud Vogelwede, Jerry Thingelstad, Tammy and Teddy Peterick, LuAnn Stevens, Ryan, Riley and Ryland Korsmo, Judy Engen, Kristine, Ava, Reed and Victoria Chandler, and others. It is interesting and cool that we have 4th to possibly 7th generation members still in our congregation! And there are many descendants through marriage that lead back to our original founders. Their histories are Ebenezer history and they have knowledge of all things Ebenezer Free Lutheran Church!
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