April 7: Vikur Lutheran Church at Mountain
Today, we recognize one of North Dakota’s listings in the National Register of Historic Places.
In June 1888, the annual synod of the Icelandic Lutheran church of America was held in the town of Mountain in Pembina County. The Pioneer Express noted that a large attendance could be expected for a session lasting several days. The gathering would include twenty-five delegates from Canada.
The group assuredly would have used the Vikur Lutheran Church during their sessions. The church had been constructed just a few years prior, begun in 1884 and finished in 1887. It was the first Icelandic Lutheran Church established in the United States.
the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Synod of America was established in 1885, though church services had been held throughout Icelandic settlements much earlier, often using people’s homes or other locations. Soon, a number of Icelandic churches would be built, but the church in Mountain was the first.
A majority of the early Icelanders to settle in North America went to Canada, but some communities formed in the United States. Icelandic Pastor Pall Thorlaksson became instrumental in this. He encouraged a struggling community in Canada to move to northern Dakota Territory, selecting a spot in Pembina County. Pembina and Cavalier Counties became the focus of Icelandic settlements in North Dakota, though there was also a community in McHenry County, around Upham.
Vikur Lutheran Church was constructed with timber and light wood framing. The first phase was hewn logs over shallow footings with a crawl space. The church was moved 100 feet north of the original site in 1947, and placed over a concrete basement. Other changes were made over time.
Pastor Thorlaksson passed away in 1882, prior to the construction of the building, but he had ties to the building, having provided the land. More importantly, he helped establish the community there, and today his grave is one of the historic markers remembered in Mountain. In 2013 the church and cemetery were chosen for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
- The Pioneer Express, June 15, 1888, p2
- The Pioneer Express, July 6, 1888, p3
- North Dakota Place Names, Douglas Wick
- National Register of Historic Places Registration Form
- Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History, William Sherman ed.