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Elk Horn History

Elk Horn – The Beginning

Thousands of years ago, woolly mammoths wandered across the land that we now call Clay Township where Elk Horn is located. Jawbones and eight-inch long teeth have been found in the Indian Creek for us to know this was true. This period ended more than ten thousand years ago. Much later, Indians and buffalo roamed the grassy prairies. Even most of the buffalo were gone when settlers first came to our part of Iowa. Many elk had been here, leaving their antlers that suggested the name for the new town.

Most of the township lines were surveyed in 1848. So Clay Township became the township in southeastern Shelby County. Encouraged by the Homestead Act and earlier immigrants who had come to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and other Eastern states, the first Danish settlers came to the area in the 1860’s. Christian Jensen (or Johnson) settled two and one-half miles south of the present site of Elk Horn. It was in this area, the Elk Horn Creek Park area, that the first post office for Elk Horn was located in 1867. It was the sixth post office in Shelby County. There was an Adventist Church near there.

The men who came to this area brought their families; if there was not family, one was soon created. They came here to live, make their home, and came with the precious thought of owning land.

In 1875 enough Danes had come to the area so the Elk Horn Lutheran Congregation was organized. They convinced a young minister to come to Elk Horn. By the end of the next year, the congregation had: 1) Adopted a constitution, 2) Purchased 40 acres of land, 3) Built a parsonage, and 4) Dedicated a cemetery.

In 1877 the first school was built in Elk Horn. In 1878, there was talk of building a Folk School. The congregation deeded three acres of their forty acres to build the first Folk School in the United States. The function of the school was to teach English to the immigrant, as well as religion, history, math, literature and other life-enriching studies.

The next year a dormitory was built for the students of the Folk School. It was called “Gladehjemmet” which means “Happy Home.” Students ate their meals at the parsonage. They paid fourteen dollars a month for board and room.

Also in 1879, the Dannevirke, a Danish newspaper was published in Elk Horn. It was the first Danish newspaper published west of the Mississippi river.

In 1880 the post office was moved to the present location of Elk Horn. It was located about where our post office is today.

In 1882 the first Elk Horn Lutheran Church was built on some of the 40 acres, which they had purchased. It was located in the same place the church built in 1949-1950 was built. The remainder of the land was provided to the pastor for a garden and pasture for animals.

In 1884 Polk’s Gazetter, Elk Horn is described as “a village on Little Indian Creek, settled in 1876. It has a Danish College with a number of students. It has a wagon maker and farm implements.”

In 1887 the Folk School burned and a new and more attractive one was built. As many as 100 students were enrolled annually.

In 1890 a need for a children’s home was met. The Elim Home was started. Forty acres of land was purchased in the west part of town, to help finance and create wok for children at the home. For seventy years this Elim Home was home for many children. State regulations made it necessary to close. At times there were as many as thirty children living there.

About ninety years after the Elim land was purchased, twenty acres of the land was given by the congregation for the location of The Danish Immigrant Museum, a place to honor these early immigrants.

In 1896 the Folk School was used as the preparatory department and Trinity Seminary. Later it was moved to Dana College at Blair, Nebraska.

In 1910 the second Folk School burned. A beautiful and impressive building was erected. In 1932, this building was used for a home for the elderly; this was the beginning of the Salem Homes.

Elk Horn residents had long yearned for a railroad to come through their town. In 1906, a group of strong-willed men made this possible. One year later, on Christmas Day, the Atlantic Northern pulled in to Elk Horn with a load of coal.

In 1917, $44,000 was provided to build and equip a new school. It was located where our school is today.

In 1914 eight hundred people called Elk Horn “Home.” That is about our population today.

By Norma Lange Nelson
Box 185
Elk Horn, IA 51531

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The Danish Windmill

P.O. Box 245, 4038 Main
Elk Horn, Iowa 51531
(712) 764-7472