This rural church, a replica of a church (1795) in Tynset, Norway, typifies a cultural resource rapidly vanishing from North Dakota’s prairie. Built by a rural immigrant community of Norwegian families, Tonset’s restrained Gothic Revival design was built by local woodworkers. Much like the establishment of homesteads on “unproven” land for agriculture, churches like Tonset reflect the community establishing itself spiritually. Standardized designs also were offered to immigrant congregations by the Norwegian Lutheran Synod based in Mankato, Minnesota. A century after many of these churches were built, communities in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have shown interest in acquiring some of the vacated buildings for relocation to the “Old Country” as a way of celebrating cultural ties. As in many dwindling rural communities, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a sufficient number of worshippers to keep an active congregation, but the buildings have become icons. The State Historical Society and the nonprofit organization Preservation North Dakota (PND) initiated several exhibits and publications to document these rural churches. With modest financial support from PND, successive generations of congregants from churches like Tonset have formed local preservation volunteer groups to maintain the church buildings and adjoining cemeteries.
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Tonset Lutheran Church
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