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Judith Oman-Grotegut in Bethel church yard cemetery
Judith Oman-Grotegut in church yard cemetery Photo: Belinda Oman

Swedish Immigrant Church

West Central Texas is home to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, yet sharing a staunch devotion to their land and to their faith in God. The community of Ericksdahl, settled by Scandinavian immigrants in the 1850s, and its Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church exemplify this reverence for land and faith. Ericksdahl's founding father, S.M. Swenson, began to purchase plots of land in the area in 1854. He secured 100,000 acres, and gave his sons the task of making the land investment lucrative until the plots could be sold to incoming settlers. The Ericsdale Ranch had been about 20,000 acres before the Swensons began selling it off to immigrants for $10 to $16 an acre. In recognition of the spiritual needs of the growing community, 80 acres were set aside from the original 20,000 for the purpose of building a church. The 80-acre site remains church property to this day.

Established on the banks of California Creek in Jones County in 1906, Bethel Lutheran quickly became the spiritual and social center of the Ericksdahl community. When services began, most of the immigrants were Swedish, so Swedish language and customs were used. Today, a gothic-style church, whose walls are built from native stone dug from pasture land, a two-story parsonage, and a cemetery occupy the property. The Swedish influence has continued until today, with a bi-annual Smorgasbord feast serving traditional Swedish foods and hosting about 600 guests. To mark its importance in Texas history, in 1971 Bethel was designated by the State of Texas to receive a historical marker. Project documentation includes a report, a copy of an early church promissory note, the original charter of the church, Swedish Smorgasbord recipes, newspaper articles, and photographs with descriptions.

Originally submitted by: Charles W. Stenholm, Representative (17th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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