Explore Danish History

Explore Danish History

Established in 1901
“The Heart of Dane Country”

“Velkommen” to the Danish Villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton!  We invite you to visit for an experience of real Danish hygge as you learn more about our proud heritage.

Elk Horn is the largest rural Danish settlement in the United States. It’s located in the heart of southwest Iowa’s picturesque countryside at the intersection of County Road F58 and Hwy 173 in Shelby County.  It is only six miles north of Exit 54 on U.S. Interstate 80 about half way between Des Moines, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska.


Danish immigrants began arriving in Iowa during the 1870s and many settled in the southwestern portion of the state in Audubon and Shelby County because that region still had farmland available.

In 1868, when Christian and Mary Jensen emigrated from Hindsholm, Denmark to what would become Elk Horn, they chose to settle in the countryside that most reminded them of their homeland. The town took its name from nearby Elk Horn Creek where settlers found the bones of an elk near the stream.

In 1878 Danish immigrant Kristian Ostergaard founded the Elk Horn Højskole, a folk school for the education of Danish immigrants and settlers. It was the first of its kind in America and served as a magnet for Danish immigrants, drawing them to Elk Horn in great numbers. It’s estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Danish men and women studied at the school.

This was followed by a Lutheran church and later a Baptist church. Another mutual project was the organization of the Danish Mutual Fire Insurance Association which has grown to one of Iowa’s largest mutual associations.

In 1882, Hans Jensen Jorgensen bought farmland in what would become the Village of Kimballton. Although the town was named for an important railroad official, Edward Kimball, Jorgensen is recognized as the town’s founder.

A post office was established in Elk Horn about 1882 in the midst of heavy Danish settlement. The town of Elk Horn wasn’t platted until 1901 and incorporated in 1910.

In 1894, the Elk Horn Højskole was sold to the newly formed Danish Lutheran Church in North America for use as a seminary and college. In 1896, the seminary was relocated and consolidated with Trinity Seminary at Dana College in Blair, Nebraska.

The Elk Horn Danes cherish their cultural heritage and brought it with them –building small homes of Danish architecture, following Danish customs and speaking their native tongue. It was once said that a person could live in Elk Horn for months and never need to speak a language other than Danish.


Cultural heritage festivals are celebrated annually with TivoliFest (Memorial Day weekend) and JuleFest (Thanksgiving weekend).  TivoliFest features Danish foods and specialties such as smørbrød, æbelskiver and medisterpølse. Tours of the Danish Windmill, Bedstemor’s Hus, the Museum of Danish America and visits to unique gift shops add to the experience. Activities include a parade, Danish folk dancers, live entertainment, fireworks and much more.


At JuleFest visitors enjoy warm hospitality as the villages celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season. Taste traditional holiday treats, and browse the shops for giftware, crafts and antiques. The Danish Windmill, Museum of Danish America and Bedstemor’s Hus are decorated for the holidays and open for tours. Julefest is held annually over Thanksgiving weekend.

The community has maintained a strong connection to its ancestral homeland. Like Denmark, the Danish Villages are committed to using renewable and clean technologies to advance the local economy.

Harvey Sornsen’s crazy idea to bring a Danish Windmill to Elk Horn as a tourist attraction has been a great success. Since 1976, the Danish Windmill has received Iowa Tourism Attraction of the Year three times–in 1990, 2008 and 2014. The Museum of Danish America (formerly known as the Danish Immigrant Museum) received the same honor in 1994.


900 AD VikingHjem Replica

VikingHjem, a 900 A.D. Viking Smithy’s Home, 
in Elk Horn, the newest attraction on the Mill grounds.  The VikingHjem will be alive with activity and will be an interactive experience for all its visitors.  From the blacksmith shop and woodworking area of our Hjem, we can have demonstrations and lectures, as well as its attached living space, show the interior area as it would have appeared in the Viking Age.

Museum of Danish America

The Museum of Danish America
An International Cultural Center
Self-guiding exhibits tell Museum visitors the story of the journey and the experience of the Danish immigrant, from his decision to leave to his establishing new homes, schools and churches in America.  You will also see the first piano of the famous Danish Immigrant, Victor Borge, the tiny church, The Danish Immigrant Wall of Honor, and the 
Family History and Genealogy Center.

Bedstemor’s Hus 
The Charming Historic home known as Bedstemor’s Hus (Bedstemor is Danish for grandmother) is owned and operated by the Museum of Danish America.  It is completely furnished to the period between 1910 and 1920 when young Danish American families lived there.  Open for tours May through September.

Danish Countryside Vines & Wines

Danish Countryside Vines and Wines Located among the rolling hills of western Iowa near the Danish communities of Elk Horn and Kimballton. We invite you to come to visit us at our farm. The winery is a completely renovated European style barn where we master creating our fine wines. We offer tours of the winery and vineyard while sharing with you the process of making wine and explaining viticulture practices. Concluding the tour we invite you to taste a selection of our wines. We have a balcony that overlooks the vineyard or a spacious patio where you can relax and enjoy a glass or a bottle of your favorite wine. Browse our gift shop that is filled with unique gift items. We have a party room available for meetings and parties celebrating a wedding, anniversary, birthday, reunion, holiday events or any other occasion.

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