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 third in a year-long series of emails highlighting community milestones.

Early Solvang's Focus on Education

In 1911, Solvang’s founders established an agricultural town based on the deeply held principles of community and education. Building a town from nothing was a massive undertaking that was stressful at best. But the new arrivals endured and remained committed to the founders and their vision that Solvang was to be the West Coast center for education focused on Danish culture and arts through the formation of a Danish-American folk school.  

The first folk school in Solvang opened November 15, 1911 in a new building next to the Solvang Hotel on Gaviota Road (now Alisal Road). Today, the Bit O’ Denmark Restaurant occupies the structure, redressed in Danish Provincial style.

Folk schools were inspired – in part – by Danish theologian and educator N.F.S. Grundtvig. Classes and activities were structured to encourage intellectual pursuits, innovation and imagination in the young adult students. The institutions were non-degreed and emphasized the collective heritage of Danes.

The new school was named Ungdomsskolen i Solvang (Youth School in Solvang), although the name was rarely used. It became the most successful start of any Danish-American youth school in the United States when 41 students arrived in a town with just five buildings and where tents outnumbered finished homes. 

Classes were held from November to April, 9 am to 6 pm, six days a week. While class days were long and social rules strict, fun times balanced serious studies. Pictured is an energetic bunch of men students outside a dormitory.

There was a strong shared bond among the students. Every seat will filled daily for classes in Danish and English. Evening activities such as folk dancing, guest speakers, lanterns shows of far-away places, and musical performances were attended by students as well as members of the surrounding communities.  

Education that embraced mind and body was a unique part of the folk school philosophy. Gymnastics was taught outdoors every morning – rain or shine. Pictured are women gymnasts in uniform, complete with lace collar, and the men’s gymnastics class. Note the temporary tent housing in the field behind the men.

A new two-room Ynez School was erected in 1915 on Lompoc Road (Mission Drive) for a growing population of grammar school students.

Younger students were also important to the growing town. Unlike the folk school with its open curriculum intended for young adults, children had to enroll in the more structured American public education system. Before the Danish colony was founded, the one-room Ynez School, built in 1906 along Lompoc Road (Mission Drive), served eight local children from throughout the greater Santa Ynez Valley.  As more and more children arrived in Solvang, a new two-room schoolhouse was built in 1915.

Although the growing town had to face many obstacles, real progress was visible in the success of the folk school. It quickly became the center of community activity and was soon to make an enormous leap forward – with a move to a new, impressive home on a hill overlooking Solvang and a new name: Atterdag College.

The Solvang story continues in March!

With appreciation to Ann Dittmer for historical research

Want to learn more about the history of Solvang?

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