CELEBRATING 110 Years of History and Culture

Elverhøj is honoring Solvang's founding in 1911 and its 110th anniversary using the theme “Skål Solvang – Celebrating 110 Years of History & Culture.” This is the April installment in a year-long series of emails highlighting community milestones.

Atterdag College - "A New Day"

One of the reasons for Solvang's founding was to create a Danish folk school. As we shared in last month’s email, the first folk school was built and classes began in November 1911. (The building still stands today on Alisal Road). By 1914, the town was expanding after facing significant obstacles and averting financial failure. The focus then turned back to growing to the town’s folk school.

In April 1914, Benedict Nordentoft, one of the three founders, became sole owner of the school and promptly made plans to build a larger campus. Peter and Johanne Albertsen, early Solvang settlers, donated six acres of land on a hilltop overlooking town. Nordentoft obtained a loan, solicited friends around the U.S. for donations and in fall 1914 construction began.

When the last rafter for the new college was in place, Solvang celebrated with a rejsegilde – a rafter raising celebration. Following Danish tradition, residents hung wreaths, raised the Danish and American flags, and shared food and drink. 

Nearly all of the town's settlers contributed labor or money and the new school soon rose and was given a new name: Atterdag College. It's a Danish expression of hope that means "tomorrow there is a new day." The three-story building was an impressive sight with its peaked roof and gracious front porch. 

Atterdag College opened in December of 1914 and the new, gleaming white building became  the visual, educational and cultural center of Solvang. It was a place for learning and where young adults made lasting relationships. 

The school's park in Fredensborg Canyon became an extension of the campus. Here students listened to lectures, held picnics and performances, and engaged in games and other pastimes. Remnants of the footpaths and hillside stairs remain visible today, although the location of the Talende Eg (Talking Oak, pictured) where lecturers stood on a platform built into the tree, remains a subject of local debate.

Danish folk dancing, which experienced a revival in the early 1900s, was incredibly popular at Atterdag. Nearly every evening, folk dancing would end the day's studies with lighthearted fun. Many students also took part in public folk dance shows around Southern California. 

By the 1930s, enrollment in the college was in decline, a sign of the times as folk schools fell out of favor and students chose American universities. Happily, after a year of inactivity, students once again congregated on campus – but now it was youth ages 7 to 16. They came for a popular summer camp run by Viggo and Cora Tarnow from 1938-1951.

Fall through spring, Atterdag served as a much-needed boarding house and hotel for visitors, filling a critical void. The college and adjacent gymnasium were regularly used for community events – weddings, parties, conferences, church activities and local meetings – until the 1960s. 

Today the gym is perhaps best remembered by the many students who attended Mr. Tarnow's weekly gymnastics classes, stretching on the bars and vaulting over the “horses,” until it closed in 1970.

In 1950, six acres of the campus were donated for creation of a new retirement facility which opened in 1953, shown in the foreground of the photo. The retirement home, known today as Atterdag Village of Solvang, grew, but for a variety of reasons the college's main building was ultimately left vacant. Disuse led to disrepair and by 1970 the difficult decision was made to demolish the college structure and make room for growth of the retirement home.

Today a plaque commemorating the site of Atterdag College is all that remains. But many of the town's original buildings still stand in the downtown. The structures that housed the first folk school, the meat market, the feed store, the mercantile and other early Solvang businesses live on, re-dressed in Danish Provincial style.


Discover what lies behind the downtown facades as we explore 1920s Solvang

Want to learn more about the history of Solvang?

Hardcover book - 220 full-color pages


Available Online or in the Museum Store

Buy Book Now

Unlike the Atterdag College, many of the original buildings in town remain today. The structures that housed the meat market, the feed store, the mercantile and other early Solvang businesses live on, re-dressed in Danish Provincial style.


1624 Elverhoy Way
Solvang, CA 93463


Content, graphics and photographs copyright of Elverhøj Museum of History and Art.

You received this email because you are a member of the museum or have signed up to receive newsletters.