This Date in Danish American History - Solvang, California Land Purchase

  • January 12, 2022
  • (PST)
  • January 12, 2023
  • (PST)
  • 2 sessions
  • January 12, 2022 (PST)
  • January 12, 2023 (PST)
  • Solvang, California


On Jan. 12, 1911, nearly 9,000 acres of land were purchased for a new Danish colony in the Santa Ynez Valley. Within a month, settlers began to arrive and a name was selected for the new town: Solvang, literally “sunny field” in Danish.

2021 "Skål Solvang" Year Long Event

The Danes who eventually founded Solvang were a part of the great 19th-century European exodus to the United States. Neither Denmark’s agricultural communities nor industrial cities could successfully employ the burgeoning lower and middle classes, and by 1881 emigration was in full swing. All in all, between 1865 and 1914 some 300,000 Danes headed to the United States.

      Many Danes, determined to remain true to their agricultural roots, settled in the American Midwest, sometimes clustering in Danish colonies in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Nebraska, as well as in Montana and Texas. But these immigrants were a restless crew. When they saw new opportunities and greater prosperity in the West, many pulled up stakes and moved to Washington and California.

One of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Danish approach to religion and education was Benedict Nordentoft, who was born in Brabrand near Aarhus in 1873. After graduating in theology in 1898, he was soon tempted to travel to the United States, where he began coordinating relations between Danish Lutheran churches in Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. In 1901, he returned to Denmark specifically to be ordained in Aarhus Cathedral. Back in America, he continued his work as a lecturer at Grand View College, a folk high school in Des Moines, Iowa, which was also set up by the Danish Lutheran Church. He was appointed president in 1903, a post which he held until 1910, when disagreements with his Grundtvigian colleagues forced him to resign.

From 1906, Nordentoft, together with Jens M. Gregersen, a pastor from Kimballton, Iowa, and Peder P. Hornsyld, a lecturer at Grand View, had discussed the possibility of creating a new Danish colony with a dedicated Lutheran church and school on the west coast. In 1910, together with other Danish-Americans, they created the Danish-American Colony Corporation in San Francisco. Later that year, suitable land was found in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara. On January 12th, the Danes purchased almost 9,000 acres (36 km2) of the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata land grant, paying an average of $40 per acre.

Among the other early arrivals with Mads Frese were Mr. and Mrs. Sophus Olsen, Hans Skytt, John Petersen and John Ahrenkild. Skytt was to play an important role as the carpenter, who constructed many of Solvang's early buildings. The first to be constructed was a hotel close to the Mission where new arrivals could be housed. Gregersen became president of the Danish-American Colony Company, and Nordentoft was named head and Hornsyld a teacher at the school, which opened on November 15, 1911, with 21 students. 

More Solvang History from the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art...

Elverhøj Museum Website

National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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