Solvang was founded in 1911 on almost 9,000 acres (3,600 ha) of the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata Mexican land grant, by a group of Danes who traveled west to establish a Danish colony far from the midwestern winters. The city is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. The architecture of many of the façades and buildings reflects traditional Danish style. There is a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, as well as one featuring the bust of famed Danish fable writer Hans Christian Andersen. A replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower or Rundetårn in the scale 1:3 was finished in 1991 and can be seen in the town center.
Mission Santa Ines, one of the California missions (National Historic Landmark), is located near the center of the town, at the junction of State Route 246 and Alisal Road.
Between 1850 and 1930, a considerable number of Danes left Denmark, which was suffering from poor economic prospects. According to some estimates, as many as one in ten Danes emigrated during this period, mostly to the United States. The most popular destinations for Danish settlers were Utah, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In many of the new communities, churches and schools were set up in accordance with the ideas of N. F. S. Grundtvig, an influential Danish philosopher, hymn-writer and Lutheran pastor. In particular, the so-called folk schools introduced a new approach to education based on a spirit of freedom, poetry and disciplined creativity. Folk schools were established in Elk Horn, Iowa (1878–1899); Grant, Michigan (1882–1888); Nysted, Nebraska (1887–1934); Tyler, Minnesota (1888–1935); and Kenmare, North Dakota (1902–1916); and finally in Solvang (1911–1931).
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 Company in San Francisco. Later that year, suitable land was found in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara. On January 23, 1911, the contract was signed and Solvang was founded. The Danes had bought 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.
Personal Experience: When I initially read about Solvang from another blog, I was under the impression that there were maybe a couple streets that were Danish-inspired, kind of like Little Italy or the Chinese Historical District downtown.. When we arrived I was blown-away once I learned that block after block after block was Danish-designed. I am not positive, but after driving around I feel like the whole town has heavy Danish-influence. You literally feel as if you’ve traveled to Denmark, which also feels like Christmas all year long!
We had a small meal at the Succulent Cafe: a cheese/fruit platter and ginger beer. Yum!
It was actually a lot of fun wandering around the streets at night.
We stayed over night and then checked out some of the shops in the morning:
Danish pancakes, Aebleskiver:
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