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Home > Family History > My Mother's Ancestors > The Svang Homestead


The Svang Homestead Near Webster, South Dakota  



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 Lynn Township).


The Svang's 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. 



Left:  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.


Left:  Ole's wife, Birgit, my great-great-grand-mother.  Now I know where I got my good looks.


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.



Left:  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 Dakota.   .



My Visit to Ole Svang's Homestead  (August 2001)

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 1907.




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 lake.

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. 

Above 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.  

Above 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 rest."



Left:  In 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, Norway.


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, Minnesota.


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 (unknown ages).


Kari (Carrie) Swang marries Ole Monson.


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 the land.

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.

1940s (?) The Sparby family buys the land from the Dore family.
1960 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.