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Jenny Lind `steepled' in history

ANDOVER -- The Jenny Lind Chapel in Andover, a nationally recognized monument, also is a memorial to early Swedish settlers who came to this country to found a branch of the Swedish Lutheran Church.

Hundreds of those settlers died of cholera in the early 1850s and are buried in mass graves in the chapel cemetery and a ``block south and the block north of this location,'' according to Andover historian Ron Peterson.

Construction on the chapel began in 1851, about 18 months after a group of Swedish Lutheran immigrants established a congregation under the leadership of the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjorn. He was given royal Swedish permission to travel to the United States to extend the state church of Sweden to these shores, Mr. Peterson said.

However, as other Swedish settlers followed, hard times hit the community, Mr. Peterson said. ``This church was built in such stark and suffering times.

``Lumber which was to have been used for the church was lost when cholera struck. ... The basement of the church became a hospital for the people with cholera,'' he said.

``There is no steeple because the wood was needed for coffins.''

Mr. Peterson said the 45-by-30-foot church was finished in 1854.

The chapel was named after world-renowned Swedish singer Jenny Lind, who donated $1,500 toward its construction while she was on a concert tour in the eastern United States. However, Ms. Lind never saw the church or visited Andover, Mr. Peterson said.

``The church was considered a masterpiece when it was new and could accommodate, at the most, 300 people. At one time, a rectangular hole was cut in the sanctuary floor so that people in the basement could hear the service,'' he said.

The congregation grew so large that Augustana Lutheran Church, across the street a block away, was built in 1867. Church members traveled from all around the area, from the Quad-Cities to Galesburg, to worship in the new church, Mr. Peterson said.

The little chapel continued to be used for various church functions until 1947 or 1948. Over the years it fell into disrepair. However, in 1973, the late Conrad Bergendoff, president emeritus of Augustana College, spearheaded a drive to restore and maintain the chapel.

The work paid off with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The church, on a seven-acre site, is owned and managed by the Northern Illinois Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

During restoration, the chapel's basement was converted into a museum through the work of Hortense and Everett Lindorff, formerly of Rock Island, now of Minnesota, Mr. Peterson said.

``So many people visit the sanctuary, but they have no idea the museum is in the basement. It's probably one of the best-kept secrets about the Jenny Lind Chapel,'' he said.

The museum has many artifacts and much history of the early settlers, including immigrants' letters written in Swedish, which Dr. Bergendoff translated to English.

Dr. Bergendoff's contributions to the restoration and museum live on today in an audiotaped narration of the history of the settlers and chapel, which museum visitors can listen to.

Part of the brick foundation on the west wall is exposed, as is one of the huge timber support beams in the basement ceiling. The bricks were made by the settlers from clay from land near the church.

Like Mr. Peterson, Andover resident Doris Brodd, who oversees the museum, hopes more people will discover the sanctity of the chapel and take time to learn about those who gave so much to build it.

The chapel, still used for special events, is open daily from May 1 to Sept. 30, and by special request during the fall and winter.

-- By Lydia Sage (January 22, 1998)

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