This Abandoned Church in Elmdale is a Mystery to Local Historians

I’ve been driving through the small town of Elmdale, Minnesota for years now on my way to the lake. With a population of just over 100 people, the whole town exists on only one street, State HWY 238.

On that road sits the Elmdale Watering Hole (actual name for the bar), the creamery/meat locker, a catholic church, and an abandoned Lutheran church.

That abandoned church has been drawing me in like a moth to a flame.

I finally had spare time to stop on a trip to the lake to hopefully learn more about this cool old building. I took a walk around the grounds snapping some pictures on a perfect bluebird day.

I learned the church was constructed in 1919, and that’s about it. I thought it odd that a church that was just over 100 year old had already been abandoned. I took a quick walk through the adjoining cemetery and realized that had to have been there even longer. There were some plots that had been so long forgotten you wouldn’t have known they were there unless you were looking for them.

What I thought was really strange in the cemetery was the stone wreaths that sat as head stones for a handful of grave sites. It was like someone had taken cement and small pebbles and cast it in a circular mold. I had never seen anything like it before, and reached out to the Morrison County Historical Society for more information.

Grace Duxbury, the Museum Assistant, informed me that the church was a Danish Lutheran Church.

Typically in funeral iconography a wreath symbolizes triumph over death, but these examples are so unlike the typical funeral wreath you see. I tried looking into Danish funeral customs but couldn’t find anything there either. I’ve personally heard of stone wreaths standing in for live ones so that they last, but I couldn’t say for sure if that was the reasoning here.

Grace Duxbury

Not much is known about this church in the middle of a small town surrounded by fields and farms. I might just have to swing into the Watering Hole on my next trip through to see if a local has some insight.

UPDATE 9/15/2020:

I shared this story across my radio station’s website and as I sifted through comments I had this one pop up:

OK Let’s get this straight. My Great Grandfather Knute Hans Gunderson. Came from Denmark to Minnesota in 1867 spent some time in St. Cloud. Came to Elmdale in about 1869-70. He homesteaded 80 acres on the south side of now 238. Starts in the middle of┬áthe old School building and goes west to to the Creamery building. He Had a General store and started the creamery. Sold creamery in 1910 to the area farmers starting the Co-op. The Church that is referenced in is post. Was started May 1, 1871. The Danish Lutheran Church. The first Church building was built soon after that date. Burned down in 1918 the story is a grass fire got away. The present building was built in 1919. The building cost $8000.00 to build and was dedicated has debt-free house of worship. I have a list of the donations from families for the Church. Services were held at this Church until 1958. When it was closed it was ALC Church. The Cemetery Assn. was started in 1965 was organized for the purpose of caring for cemetery and Church property. I am currently the President. There was another Lutheran Church in Elmdale to the west. Across from the Elmdale community center. That Church was the Evangelical Free Church. The building was moved and became Ted & Ruby Stein house in about 1950.

Charlie KH Gunderson

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