ANDOVER—During Andover’s 175th anniversary celebration, Augustana Lutheran Church will celebrate its 160th birthday. The church will host a community worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 6, on the east side of Andover Lake Park. Mark Schwiebert, the former mayor of Rock Island, will be the speaker.


During Andover’s 175th anniversary celebration, Augustana Lutheran Church will celebrate its 160th birthday.

The church will host a community worship service at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 6, on the east side of Andover Lake Park.

Mark Schwiebert, the former mayor of Rock Island, will be the speaker.

The Andover congregation is the mother church of the former Augustana Lutheran Church in America.

2010 also is the 150th anniversary of Augustana College, Rock Island.
An early resident of Andover, the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn, was one of the founders of the church, the synod and the college.

Esbjörn was the first pastor from the state church in Sweden to come to the United States. He had royal permission to start congregations affiliated with the Lutheran  church back home.

In 1850, Esbjörn and 10 Swedish Lutheran immigrants established a congregation in Andover.

Eighteen months later, in 1851, they began work on a chapel. Money was hard to come by, and Esbjörn traveled to Boston to meet singer Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale who was on a concert tour in the eastern United States. She donated $1,500 toward the chapel’s construction. Lind never visited Andover or the chapel.

With her contribution, Esbjörn had $2,200 to use for construction. But his problems were just beginning.

Heavy rains ruined a batch of homemade bricks before they were fired.

A sawmill washed away in a flood before producing the lumber for the chapel. The church found a new source of wood, but workers had to bring the lumber through a swamp.

The hardest blow of all was a cholera epidemic. The chapel’s basement became a hospital. Hundreds died, including Esbjörn’s wife and daughter, and they were buried in mass graves near the chapel.

The 45-by-30-foot church was finished late in 1854. It had no steeple because the wood had been used for the coffins of cholera victims.

“Very few churches were built in the midst of such sorrow, pain and tears,” said Ron Peterson of Andover Tourism Council.

Thousands of Swedish immigrants came to the village because of the chapel, which served as a temporary home for many of them.

Within 10 years, the congregation had outgrown the chapel. In 1864, the parish raised $38,927 for the new church.

Charles Ulrickson of Peoria designed the building, which is 125 feet long and 60 feet wide.

All the men in the congregation were expected to help make bricks, and this time they succeeded. They made 500,000 for the exterior of the church.

As if erecting the new church was not challenging enough, the congregation’s second pastor, Jonas Swensson, decided to start Andover Children’s Home in 1867.

More than 1,000 children would live in the home during the next 100 years or so. Many area residents grew up in the home, or had parents or grandparents who did.

By November 1868, the congregation was able to use the new church.
An altar rail, pulpit and pews were completed in time for the congregation to host 2,000 Lutherans attending the Augustana Synod’s convention in June 1870.

In the style of German and Scandinavian churches of the time, the pulpit is built over the altar, and both are painted white.

The church still contains the original pews.

An organ with 800 pipes, 17 stops and two manuals was installed in 1874. Another 127 pipes were added in 1955.

In 1881, a bell weighing 2,471 lbs. was hoisted into the spire, which tops out at 136 feet above ground.

The roof has eight rafters, each weighing 2 1/2 tons, for a total of 40,000 lbs.

Becoming known as “The Cathedral on the Prairie,” the church served a parish that stretched over many miles. The congregation grew from 200 confirmed members in 1858 to more than 1,000 only 15 years later.

After seeing the new congregation off to a good start, Esbjörn became the first president of Augustana College and Theological Seminary, which was located in Chicago before eventually settling in Rock Island in 1875.

Esbjörn served as college president from 1860 to 1863 and then returned to Sweden.

Meanwhile, back in Andover, the church held meetings and social events in the chapel for 75 years. In 1948, it was named for Jenny Lind and dedicated as a shrine of the Augustana Church in America.

A year later, the congregation built an annex on the east side of the church and named it Luther Hall. Parish offices and classrooms were added east of Luther Hall in 1966.

By the early 1970s, Jenny Lind Chapel had fallen into disrepair. People in the Quad Cities area raised $40,000 to refurbish it.

The chapel was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

In 1962, Augustana Synod merged with other bodies to form the Lutheran Church in America, a forerunner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.