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Maine's Swedish Colony, July 23, 1870

The Coming of the Swedes, 1870-73

Log Cabin, New Sweden, 1938
Log Cabin, New Sweden, 1938

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

In 1870, the original 160-acre lots were re-surveyed and made into 100-acre lots. The plan of the Immigration Board representative, Mr. Albert A. Burleigh, Esq., was to select 25 of these lots, have the state clear five acres on each, and build 25 log houses. When W.W. Thomas and the first group of Swedes arrived on July 23, 1870, however, Burleigh's work was not yet finished - only six of the 25 log houses had been built.

Coming of the Swedes Re-enactment
Coming of the Swedes Re-enactment

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

One of the first pieces of business once the Swedes arrived was to assign families to lots. In order to keep families and friends together, clusters of four contiguous lots were drawn as a unit at random and provided to groups of four families/friends who wished to work together. They then set to work building roads, clearing lots, and building cabins. The four-lot clusters were cleared such that the five-acre house clearing was created on each lot where the four lots intersected. This enabled the four families/friends to remain in close contact.

By the end of 1870, this small group of 51 settlers had roughed out seven miles of road; cut 180 acres of forest (of which 100 acres were burned off and readied for planting); and built 26 houses and a community center known as the Kapitoleum (Capitol). Work on the 30' X 45' two-story building began in September and was mostly completed by November 1870. More Swedes arrived to swell the population to 114 by the end of 1870.

Horses, obtained in Caribou in 1871, were used to plow and to assist in clearing the land the next summer. A 30' x 40' stable was built behind the Capitol, and an apple orchard was established just west of the building. Colonists also noted that the first song birds (robins, sparrows, chickadees) appeared in the spring, attracted by the cleared land.

Trunk, New Sweden, 1860
Trunk, New Sweden, 1860

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

The spring of 1871 saw a tremendous influx of Swedish immigrants as the result of an aggressive campaign by Captain G. W. Schroeder, Thomas's immigration office manager in Gothenburg, Sweden (and the leader of the Baptists in Sweden). There were so many immigrants arriving that Thomas sent an urgent message to Schroeder to stop the flow. Lots of land were taken up and occupied in New Sweden as soon as there was a trail to get to the plot.

Aurania, Cunard Line, ca. 1900
Aurania, Cunard Line, ca. 1900

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

The population of New Sweden had grown to 553 by the end of 1871, an increase of almost 400% in one year. This peak of immigration was not exceeded in subsequent years. As more immigrants arrived from Sweden, some took over abandoned farms in Woodland and Perham, expanding the Colony from the original T15-R3 footprint.

Rev. Andrew Wiren, New Sweden, ca. 1890
Rev. Andrew Wiren, New Sweden, ca. 1890

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society
First school, New Sweden, ca. 1875
First school, New Sweden, ca. 1875

Item Contributed by
New Sweden Historical Society

The first school in New Sweden was held in the Kapitoleum in November 1871. The Lutheran pastor, Andrew Wiren, had been in America four years before arriving in New Sweden and had learned English. The 31 children learned mainly English, as did the adults who attended the weekly adult class. Dedication to the cause was his motivation to ski to the Jemtland section of New Sweden to conduct school for part of the week, returning to preach and teach school at the Kapitoleum the other half of the week.

The population of New Sweden had grown to 553 by the end of 1871, an increase of almost 400% in one year. This peak of immigration was not exceeded in subsequent years. As more immigrants arrived from Sweden, some took over abandoned farms in Woodland and Perham, expanding the Colony from the original T15-R3 footprint.

A survey of the Colony in 1873 found that a population of 600 had cleared 1500 acres of land and built 130 homes and nearly 130 barns.