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My Mother's Ancestors >
The Svang Homestead
Near Webster, South
These are maps
and photos of the land originally homesteaded by my Norwegian ancestors,
Ole and Birgit Svang, in Lynn Township, near Webster, South Dakota.
I've also included a chronology of the land and a map of what the area
looked like in the 1940s. I took these photos
during my one and only visit to the Webster area, in August of 2001 (see
News: August 30, 2001).
By the way, since their name was Norwegian, Ole and Birgit pronounced
their last name "Svong." However, each of their children
Americanized the spelling of their last name to "Swang" and pronounced it "Swong."
According to the
land records in the Day County Courthouse, Ole Svang's homestead consisted
of 200 acres of land. Its legal description is as follows:
The west half of the northeast quarter of
section 22 and the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of section
15 and the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 15, all in
Township 123 North of Range 57 west of the fifth Principal Meridian (the
emigrated from Norway to the area around Montevideo, Minnesota in 1866. In 1882,
Ole, Birgit, and their unmarried children moved via covered wagon to
Day County, South Dakota and began homesteading near Lynn Lake. I
don't know exactly why they moved from Minnesota to South Dakota, but it
may have been for the same reason that so many other pioneers moved west:
to obtain their own land.
Three years after I visited Webster, in June 2004, I received an e-mail
from a woman who had found my website. She was also descended from
Ole and Birgit Svang and sent me their photos, which she had recently
found. I'm guessing these drawings were made around the time they
came to America in 1866. Here's Ole Svang.
Ole's wife, Birgit, my great-great-grand-mother. Now I know where I got my
In 1883, Ole and
Birgit's 27-year old daughter, Kari Svang, obtained a 160-acre
homestead directly south of Ole and Birgit's homestead, which she farmed
until 1890, when she forfeited it for not being able (or willing) to pay a
$50 debt. Unable to repay a debt for farm machinery, Ole lost his
homestead in 1897 and his wife, Birgit Svang, died exactly two days later.
Ole continued to live on the homestead until 1905, when it was sold to a
man name James Dore. That same year, at age 83, Ole moved to the
nearby town of Pierpont. After a life of hard work, Ole died in
Pierpont two years later and was buried next to his wife at the Bergen
Church cemetery, about three miles west of the original Svang homestead.
Some time later,
I believe in the 1940s, James Dore sold the land to a local family
named Sparby, who lived about a mile west of the Svang homestead. In
1960, the Sparbys sold the land to the South Dakota Fish and Game
department, and today the land remains in public ownership.
Here's one of Ole and Birgit's sons, Nels Svang, my
great-grandfather. Nels is the old man in front. Nels lived on the
Ole Svang homestead beginning in 1882, when he
was 16. His wife, Anna Abrahamson, seated beside him, grew up about 2 miles east of the
Svang homestead, and they married in the Bergen Church in 1896. In
1902, Nels and Anna moved to North Dakota. This photo was
taken around 1925, ironically during a visit to Webster, South
(Click on photo to enlarge).
My Visit to Ole Svang's Homestead
During my 2001 drive
around America, I spent about two weeks in the Webster, South Dakota area
researching my ancestors, Ole and Birgit Svang. With the help of the nice
women in the Day County Recorder's office, I found a plat map from the 1890s
showing the location of the Svang homestead and I drove out there one afternoon.
Since there was no one around, I decided to camp there that evening and, the
next morning, walked around the homestead and shot a lot of pictures.
There were absolutely no structures of any kind remaining on the Svang
homestead, which didn't surprise me, since my mother once told me that her
ancestors here had lived in a sod house, a house which, undoubtedly, had melted
back into the earth. As far as I knew, then, during the entire time that
Ole and Birgit Svang had lived here, they had lived in a sod house.
However, in May of
2004, I received an e-mail from a 75-year old gentleman named Norm Sparby who had grown up on a
nearby farm during the 1930s, long after Ole and Birgit Svang had passed away.
He told me that, as a kid, he used to play in the abandoned two-story "Swong
house," as he described it. I was pretty excited to hear this, because it was the
only account I've ever heard of Ole and Birgit Svang living in a wooden house.
Through correspondences, he was able to describe for me the exact location of
the Svang house, and with this information, I should hopefully be able to locate
the foundation of the Svang house the next time I visit the homestead.
Interestingly, Norm also
mentioned the Brokaw family of nearby Bristol. As I've noted elsewhere in
my website, the NBC News announcer, Tom Brokaw, was born in Webster in 1940 and
grew up a few miles south of the Svang homestead, in the town of Bristol.
Norm told me that Tom Brokaw's father used to grade the "east-west"
road that I've noted below, and that it was the first time that he'd ever seen a
Caterpillar bulldozer. In fact, Mr. Brokaw (known as "Snooks" to the
locals) used to yell at him to get out of the way!
I've drawn maps
of the Svang homestead, shown below. I drew these maps from memory,
a few years after my 2001 visit to the Svang homestead, so they're
probably not absolutely precise. I've also included some photos of my
visit to the Svang homestead in August of 2001, and the map that Norm e-mailed to me in 2004, showing the 1940 location of the Svang house. As with all other
photos in my website, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.
Above: Map of Ole Svang's
homestead. After acquiring his 160-acre homestead, Ole later
obtained an additional 40 acres. The homestead is north of the small
town of Bristol, the home town of NBC News announcer, Tom Brokaw, who was
born in nearby Webster in 1940.
Above: A zoomed-in map of the
Svang homesteads. Ole's 27-year old daughter, Kari, homesteaded the
land directly south of Ole and Birgit's homestead. Kari forfeited
her homestead in 1890 and Ole lost his land in 1897. Two days after
Ole lost his land, his wife, Birgit died at age 65. Ole lived until
Above left: In search of Ole's
homestead, this is driving north on the "Good Dirt Road," noted above.
Above center: An abandoned
house on the west side of the Good Dirt Road, about a mile south of the
turnoff for the Svang homestead.
Above right: That's my truck,
just after I arrived at Ole Svang's homestead late in the afternoon
(looking north). That's the "east-west road" and the "small lake"
referred to in the map above.
Above left: Looking west into
Ole's homestead. I marked up this photo with annotations.
Above center: Looking south
from my campsite. From near to far, this is 1). Ole Svang's
homestead, 2). Kari Svang's homestead, and 3). Lynn Lake.
Above right: Panning to the
southwest. From near to far, this is 1). Ole Svang's homestead, 2).
Kari Svang's homestead, and 3). Lynn Lake.
Above left: Looking north that
evening across the "small lake."
Above center: My campsite the
next morning, looking west. That's Ole's homestead (center) and the
"poor dirt road (right), which leads into Lynn Lake.
Above right: Looking west
across Ole's homestead, that's the small lake and poor dirt road on the
left. Lynn Lake is barely visible in the distance (center).
Above left: From the previous
photo, this is panning to the right and looking northwest across the small
Above center: That's me on my
great-great-grandfather Ole's homestead at my campsite (looking west).
The poor dirt road is on the right, which leads to Lynn Lake.
Above right: Panning over to
the right, this is looking north across the small lake. The white
building is, I believe, a church.
Above left: Another shot of
the poor dirt road, taken a few feet from the last photo. This is
looking west towards Lynn Lake with the small lake on the right.
Above center: Walking west on
the poor dirt road. Ole's homestead is on the left and Lynn Lake is
in the distance.
Above right: Continuing to
walk west on the poor dirt road. The road is eventually submerged by
Lynn Lake. Supposedly, there used to be an old post office about
where that large, dead tree is in the center of this photo.
Above left: The Bergen Church
sits three miles west of the Swang homestead, near Pierpont.
center: The Bergen Church was unlocked so I went in. Ole's son (my great-grandfather) Nels Svang married my great-grandmother, Anna
Abrahamson here on October 2, 1896. Based on what my mother said, Nels
and Anna were both wonderful people.
right: In 1897, Ole's wife Birgit died at age 65 and was buried here in the
church cemetery. Ole lost his farm in 1905, died two years later at age 85,
and was buried next to Birgit. Their gravestone says, "At
May of 2004, Norm Sparby, who grew up on a nearby farm, contacted me via
e-mail, telling me that he used to play in the long-abandoned Svang
house when he was a kid, back in the 1930s and 1940s. The
Svang house has since been demolished and I saw no trace of it
during my 2001 visit. However, Norm was kind enough
to draw a map of the area, showing the location of the Swang house
as it existed in the 1940s.
Chronology of the Svang Homestead
(Day County, South Dakota)
Ole Halvorson Svang is born near Gol,
Birgit Nilsdatter Brekke is born.
Ole Svang (age 44) and his wife,
Birgit (age 34) leave Bergen, Norway and sail to America with their
8 children. They land in Quebec and settle near Montevideo,
Ole, Birgit and their unmarried
children (probably Kari, Nels, Rose, and Anna) move to Lynn Lake,
South Dakota. Ole and Birgit obtain a 160-acre homestead in
Section 22 near Lynn Lake. According to my mother, they built
a sod house here.
Ole and Birgit's 27-year old daughter,
Kari (also spelled Carrie) obtains a 160-acre homestead next to her
parent's homestead. According to my records, the Svang
household at this time consisted of Ole (61), his wife Birgit (51),
and their unmarried children Kari (27), Nels (17), and Anna and Rose
Kari (Carrie) Swang marries Ole
Kari is unable or unwilling to pay a
$50 debt on her homestead, and the land is forfeited.
Ole (age 71) sells his 200 acres of
land to his wife, Birgit (61), for $175.
Oct. 2, 1896
Ole's son, Nels (my
great-grandfather), marries Anna Abrahamson in the Bergen Church.
Oct. 29, 1897
The court finds that Ole and Birgit
Svang are delinquent in paying off a debt to the Minnesota Thresher
Manufacturing Company, and orders their land forfeited. For
reasons I don't understand, though, the Svangs continue to live on
Oct. 31, 1897
Two days after the forfeiture, Birgit
Svang dies and is buried in the Bergen Church cemetery. I
don't know how Birgit died, since the Day County coroner's records
only go back to 1900.
Nov. 18, 1898
My grandmother, Helga Swang, is born
to Nels and Anna Swang. About a year later, they all move to
Fessenden, North Dakota.
Ole Svang, age 83, is evicted from his
homestead on Lynn Lake. Ole's land is sold during an auction
on the steps of the Day County Courthouse to the highest bidder,
James Dore. Ole Svang moves to nearby Pierpont.
Ole Svang dies and is buried in the
Bergen Church cemetery next to his wife, Birgit.
The Sparby family buys the land from
the Dore family.
The Sparby family sells the land to
the South Dakota Department of Fish, Game & Parks for $10,327.
It is currently in a natural state and is used for wildlife
production and hunting.