ELVERHØJ MUSEUM OF HISTORY & ART

CELEBRATING 110 Years of History and Culture

Elverhøj will celebrate Solvang's founding in 1911 and its 110th anniversary using the theme “Skål Solvang – Celebrating 110 Years of History & Culture” for a series of emails highlighting community milestones and, when permitted, in-person special exhibitions and events.

January 12, 1911

Land Purchased For New Danish colony

Visitors to Solvang today are welcomed by a picturesque downtown of half-timber Old World, Danish-style buildings and windmills. The story behind the downtown facades is a fascinating and unique story that dates back 110 years.

Solvang began as the dream of three Danish immigrants living in the Midwest. They were a part of the great 19th-Century European exodus to the United States. The founders wanted to establish an agricultural town on the west coast based on three deeply held principles: community, education and church. Pictured are land agent Mads Freese and founders P.P. Hornsyld, Benedict Nordentoft and J.M. Gregersen. 

Travel to the isolated Santa Ynez Valley in the early 1900s was difficult and circuitous. The Pacific Coast Railway, shown approaching its final stop in Los Olivos, brought northern travelers from Harford's Wharf near San Luis Obispo. Horse drawn carriages or wagons took them the rest of the way.

After an extensive land search in northern California, the founders arrived in Los Olivos riding the narrow-gauge railroad. The land they saw had once been part of the sprawling Mexican-era Rancho San Carlos de Jonata land grant. Later it had been purchased by R.T. Buell, who ranched it until a drought hit and he was forced in 1890 to sell 10,000 prime acres to the Santa Barbara Land and Development Company.

Even though the Santa Ynez Valley was then a remote area, the founders saw possibilities that made it a viable location for a new town and Danish folk school. The soil looked promising for agricultural production, the sizable Santa Ynez River flowed nearby, and best of all, the price – $338,000 – was within their reach.

They incorporated their informal land-search committee as the Danish American Colony (DAC). On January 12, 1911 they signed an agreement offering a down payment of $5,000 and a promise to pay installments of $100,000 per year for the first three years.

Within a month, settlers began to arrive and a name was selected for the new town: Solvang, literally “sunny field” in Danish.

To begin the daunting task of selling land to would-be settlers and investors, the DAC immediately advertised in all the major Danish-American newspapers. The founders sent letters and brochures to their wide network of friends and supporters, encouraging them to buy stock or land in the new colony (at prices that ranged from $25 to $130 an acre), and inviting Danish youth to attend the first co-ed folk school in the nation. The mild California winter climate was an added incentive.

Danish and American flags fly briskly in front of the folk school (left), constructed in 1911 on Gaviota Road (present day Alisal). Adjacent is the Solvang Hotel, while behind the school stands a white tent that accommodated overflow settlers waiting for their homes to be built.

The DAC founders wasted no time. After four months, the colony had built a hotel to feed and house new arrivals while their homes and barns were being constructed. The Solvang Hotel and its busy kitchen would become the center of activity during that first year. Then, on November 15, 1911, the founders opened the Danish-American folk school (the last such school built in the United States).

Early residents gather in front of the Solvang Hotel. The building was funded, in part, through stock certificates.

By the end of 1911, 80 adults were residing in Solvang, and because of robust land sales, the DAC was successful in meeting its first $100,000 payment. The first residence – the H.P. Jensen home – had been built, the folk school was a resounding success, and the nucleus of a strong business community was forming. The Lutheran church held its first services. And Solvang’s first baby had been born to the wife of the town surveyor in late summer.

On the surface, Solvang was living up to expectations.­  But this idyllic beginning soon began to show signs of stress.  

Learn more when we continue in February!

With appreciation to Ann Dittmer for historical research. 

MUSEUM STORE & GROUNDS OPEN

Saturday & Sunday – 11 am to 4 pm

Shop-by-Appointment: For Members and those who prefer a more private experience. (805) 686-1211 or email info@elverhoj.org.

Guests must wear face covering and practice social distancing. Guest capacity is limited. 

Want to learn more about the history of Solvang?

220 page, hardcover, full color book. Shipping available: $7.95 in US. To place an order phone 805-686-1211 or email info@elverhoj.org 

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ELVERHØJ MUSEUM OF HISTORY & ART

1624 Elverhoy Way
Solvang, CA 93463
805-686-1211
www.elverhoj.org

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