12 September 2009

Swedes of the Lakeshore


Chellburg House

During the second half of the 19th century Swedish immigrants began to descend on northern Porter County in huge waves to the extent that generally speaking, a full one-quarter of all Swedish immigrants living in Indiana between about 1860 and 1920 lived in this area. The towns of Chesterton and Porter had high concentrations of Swedes, but an unincorporated area just to the south of Lake Michigan's shore had a rural Swedish flavor all its own. The Swedish enclave of Baillytown developed as a loosely organized but highly relational community of immigrants whose descendents still call this area home.

Augsburg Cemetery
Much of what was known as Baillytown is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore today and incorporates several historic Swedish farms, the largest of which is the Chellberg Farm where the Lakeshore holds an annual fall festival on the interpretive farm. Many of the existing farms have summer kitchens, granaries, and windmill & pumphouses. A few have log cabins underneath the main structure. The most "Swedish" of the cabins was relocated to Portage. It has such fine scribing of the logs in v-groove channels that no chinking is required between the logs. That is some skill! Furthermore, the cabin was made from white pine, once native to that part of the state but now extinct in terms of natural habitat.
Linden Cabin, Portage (awaiting restoration)

If you have an interest in ethnic heritage and you happen to be near the Indiana Dunes, you should take a few minutes to drive to adjacent Baillytown to view the farms and visit the Augsburg Church cemetery which is full of stroms, sens, sons....among other Swedish names with many of their stones inscribed in their native tongue. Also look at the large bell that once hung in the previous church building from 1901. It too is cast with words in Swedish.
Bell at the Augsburg Church

Another must see is the Swensk Skola, or small Swedish schoolhouse on Oak Hill Road. It has a certain folk-inspired design and sits just below the Burnstrom Cemetery, a smaller Swedish cemetery on a knoll overlooking the skola. I wonder if Jens Jensen wasn't partially drawn to this area because of his Scandinavian roots. Jensen is largely responsible for the ecological protection of the Indiana Dunes.
Swensk Skola of Baillytown

Having familiarity with another small Swedish enclave near Donaldson, Indiana, probably diminished my appreciation for the Porter County Swedes; not understanding the rarity of the enclave or their determination to retain their culture. This makes me want to investigate the Donaldson Swedes more thoroughly because based on my understanding, outside of northern Porter County, other Swedish immigrants simply didn't have this same community mentality.

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