You have probably
all heard it by now, but I want to mention it anyway here in my Newsletter. Sad news from North Dakota was one of the first thing I saw when I opened my newspaper Morgunblađiđ
last Thursday. The beautiful icelandic church in Eyford had burned down two days earlier. The church, commonly known as Thingvalla church
, was built by the Icelandic settlers in the region in the years 1892-1893 and thus 110 years old. The Eyford region is in Pembina county, about 5 km south of Mountain in N-Dakota.
Click to see enlarged photo.
The paper quotes Mr. Curtis Olafson, president of the Icelandic society in N-Dakota, who said the church was not only a well known landmark but also one of the greatest Icelandic cultural heritage in North-Dakota and therefore this incident is a great loss for the community.
Mr. Olafson's ties to the church was obviously very strong. His grandfather, Ólafur Ólafsson, who emigrated from Eyjafjörđur in Iceland in 1883, was one of those who built the church and Curtis' mother, Lovísa Guđmundsdóttir, played the church organ for more than 60 years.
On the north side of the church was a big monument dedicated to the Icelandic poet K.N. Julius
, who lived for years in the area. This monument, originally built in 1936 and recently reconstructed, is now what is left on place.
Having tried to put the above together, I received the following from Arlan D. Steinolfson
our correspondent in N-Dakota
Eyford (Thingvalla) Church is Destroyed by Fire
The last symbol of the Icelandic community at Eyford, North Dakota, has fallen victim to a quick and devastating fire. Thingvalla Church, the bulwark of the Eyford community, is no more.
Located in southwest Pembina county, 8.5 miles south of the intersection of Highways 5 and 32 and 3.5 miles south of Mountain, the church had for almost 110 years served its congregation well.
The community center of Eyford, built where the old ox-cart trail crossed one of the many branches of the Park River, and named for Jakob Sigurđsson Eyford (from Eyjafjarđarsysla in Iceland), on whose land the post-office and store were located, had long since ceased to exist. But the church, built just
across the road, remained as a pleasant reminder of its existence.
The church, originally constructed as a 26 x 40 foot building with a 52 foot bell tower or spire, and costing some $2500, was dedicated on August 9th, 1893. It almost reached its 110th birthday.
Originally formed as the ‘north Gardar congregation’, Thingvalla Congregation served an area of something over a half township or so, roughly the northern six sections of Gardar Towship and the southern twelve sections of Thingvalla Township, with a few members from Crystal and Park Townships in Pembina County and the eastern edge of Cavalier County. The Thingvalla cemetery and church were both on land donated by one of the earliest Icelandic pioneer homesteaders in the area, Jón Ásmundsson from Kolfreyjustađur Parish, Suđur Múlasysla, Iceland.
The Eyford Ladies Aid, which had been formed the year before the church construction, made many contributions to the church. The first was the ‘sweet tone bell that calls its members to the house of prayer’. It is believed they also funded the organ and, through the years they kept the church
handsomely outfitted. Sadly, the fire was complete; none of the furnishings were recovered.
Although it had not been in regular service in later years, the small numbers of remaining congregation members managed to continue keeping it maintained and of respectable appearance. Unfortunately, it appears the fire that destroyed it was actually the result of this continual effort at maintenance.
Apparently, it was during the process of removal of some of the built-up paint on the windows that the fire started.
The most recent major public performance in the church had been during the 100th Annual 2nd of August celebration in 1999. The Icelandic Quartet, which had given such a magnificent performance the previous evening at Vikur Church in Mountain, had performed at Eyford in the morning prior to the rededication
of the K. N. Julius monument, located just north of the church, and which was highlighted by the attendance and words of the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. However, an event which no doubt shook the church more than any in recent memory was the visit of the Karlakór Reykjavík (the 50 member men’s chorus group from Reykjavík, Iceland) on their performance tour through the Icelandic communities in 2000. Tradition makes it necessary for any visiting Icelander to stop and have a drink with KN (Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus
[1859-1936]), the Icelandic community’s most famous satirical poet and one who is even more noted in Iceland than in America. After sufficiently toasting the old guy at his recently reconstructed monument, they all gathered inside the church and gave an impromptu performance for the ages. The audience of one, Lesli Geir, coincidentally a grandson of the family with whom KN lived and who still operates the same farm, was the only beneficiary of this. Judging from what they did later in the large church in Fargo, more than a few nails were loosened during this performance.
Unfortunately it now joins the long list of prairie churches that are no more. The church had served the community well and will be sorely missed. ads