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Greenfield Lutheran Church

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Harmony County Historical Society
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Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Church, ca. 1874.

First Greenfield Lutheran Church, Greenfield Prairie, Harmony, Minnesota, Fillmore County, ca. 1874.

Harmony’s Greenfield Lutheran Church traces its history to 1856, when Norwegian immigrant families began holding religious services in the settler-colonist community of Greenfield Prairie. In 1913, a brick church was built a half mile to the north in Harmony. It became the congregation’s permanent home and one of the city’s most beautiful architectural landmarks.

Construction of the first Lutheran church in Greenfield Prairie began in 1866, shortly after Reverend Tobias Larsen was hired as the congregation’s permanent pastor. Until Larsen’s hire, pastors traveling on horseback served the congregation every four weeks. Religious services lasted up to three hours, and some settler-colonists traveled up to eight miles to attend.

The church was not completed until 1874; poor weather conditions and delayed delivery of building materials were to blame. Workers created the brick exterior from local clay heated in a kiln on a nearby farm. The resulting building was forty-eight feet long, thirty-six feet wide, and eighteen feet high. It boasted a steeple that ascended seventy-five feet into the sky. A parsonage was also built on a forty-acre farm east of the church.

In 1884, the Greenfield Lutheran Congregation hired the Norwegian American artist Herbjorn Gausta to create an altar painting. The resulting work, “Christ’s Resurrection,” was placed at the front of the sanctuary. In 1886, the congregation purchased an organ; in 1887, pastors delivered sermons in both Norwegian and English for the first time.

Greenfield Lutheran congregants built a small chapel in Harmony in 1901 to give themselves a place to gather outside Greenfield Prairie. By then, the town had become a thriving community due to the arrival of the Milwaukee Road railway in the autumn of 1879. Greenfield Prairie’s business owners had moved to Harmony to be closer to the rail line, and a majority of the church’s congregation lived there. The chapel, built on donated land, had a kitchen and a large room used for church meetings, services, social events, and Sunday school. A parsonage was also built in Harmony in 1905.

The congregation decided to build a larger place of worship in Harmony in 1912. The cornerstone was laid on September 29, 1912, and the new church was dedicated on September 21, 1913. The much larger church replaced the church in Greenfield as well as the Harmony chapel, which was sold, moved to a different location in town, and used as a private home.

Church parishioners contributed money for the purchase of large stained-glass windows, a pipe organ, interior decorations, and other items. One church member donated the altar painting, titled “Christ as the Good Shepherd”—another Gausta creation.

The church had a full basement and kitchen. The building was described in the church’s 100th anniversary booklet as “of Gothic architecture and adorned with two well proportioned steeples, the highest capped with a gold cross, reaching one hundred feet above the ground. It is built of pressed brick and the arches being cut of Bedford stone.” Forty-eight years later, a large addition was built that included administrative offices, several Sunday school classrooms, a small chapel, and a library.

In 1919, the church in Greenfield Prairie was demolished and the original Gausta painting was given to the Lutheran church in Fremont, Minnesota. When the Fremont church closed, the painting was donated to the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

In 1921, the Harmony congregation erected a memorial to the founders of Greenfield Lutheran Church. It was placed in the church’s cemetery at Harmony’s south entrance, where the original church had stood. The seven-foot-high granite memorial lists eighty-five founders, and an inscription on a bronze tablet states: “On this site stood the first church of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Greenfield, Fillmore County, Minnesota.”

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Bishop, C. E. History of Fillmore County, Minnesota, with An Outline of Her Resources, Advantages and the Inducements She Offers to Those Seeking Homes in the West. Chatfield, MN: Holley & Brown, 1858 .

Curtiss-Wedge, Franklin. History of Fillmore County. Vols. I and II. Chicago: H. C. Cooper Jr., 1912.

Greenfield Lutheran Church.
www.greenfieldlutheran.com

Greenfield Lutheran Church. Decorah, IA: Posten Press, 1926.
http://greenfieldlutheran.com/greenfield-70th-anniversary/

Johnson, Millicent Yates. Let’s Have Harmony: A Centennial History. Rochester, MN: Harmony Centennial Committee. Davies Printing, 1996.

“Memories on the Occasion of the Dedication of the New Church Building in Harmony, Minnesota – 21 July, 1913.” Harmony, MN: Greenfield Lutheran Church, 1913.
http://greenfieldlutheran.com/dedication-of-the-new-church-building/

“One Hundredth Anniversary 1856–1956: History of Greenfield Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Harmony, MN: Greenfield Lutheran Church, 1956.
http://greenfieldlutheran.com/100-year-anniversary/

Related Images

Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Church, ca. 1874.
Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Church, ca. 1874.
Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Chapel, Harmony, Minnesota
Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Chapel, Harmony, Minnesota
Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Church, circa 1973
Photograph of Greenfield Lutheran Church, circa 1973
Photograph of front of Greenfield Lutheran Church, circa 2018.
Photograph of front of Greenfield Lutheran Church, circa 2018.
Photograph of Back exterior of Greenfield Lutheran Church, Harmony, Minnesota
Photograph of Back exterior of Greenfield Lutheran Church, Harmony, Minnesota
Photograph of side exterior of Greenfield Lutheran Church
Photograph of side exterior of Greenfield Lutheran Church

Turning Point

The railroad decides to build a rail station one mile north of Greenfield Prairie in the village of Harmony. The choice forces the Greenfield Lutheran Congregation to abandon its original church and build a new structure in Harmony.

Chronology

1854

Norwegian settler-colonists move to Greenfield Prairie. They conduct Lutheran religious services in their homes and, later, a red brick schoolhouse.

1856

Greenfield Lutheran Congregation forms.

1859

Harmony Township, which contains Greenfield Prairie, is organized.

1866

Construction begins on the first church. A parsonage is built on a forty-acre farm for the congregation’s first pastor, Reverend Tobias Larsen.

1874

The Greenfield Prairie church is completed after delays due to poor weather conditions and slow building material delivery.

1879

The Milwaukee Road railway builds a station north of Greenfield Prairie in the village of Harmony, prompting businesses to move nearer the rail line.

1884

Greenfield Lutheran Congregation commissions American Norwegian artist Herbjorn Gausta to paint an altar painting titled “Christ’s Resurrection.”

1887

Greenfield Lutheran’s pastors begin to deliver sermons in English as well as Norwegian.

1905

A new parsonage and a small chapel are built in Harmony.

1913

A new church is erected on the location of the Harmony chapel, and services end at the Greenfield Prairie church.

1919

The Greenfield Prairie church is demolished. Its acreage becomes part of the Harmony church cemetery.

1921

A memorial is erected that lists the names of eighty-five founders of Greenfield Prairie and the Greenfield Lutheran Congregation.

1961

An addition to the Harmony church is finished; it includes classrooms, offices, a chapel and a library.

2016

Greenfield Lutheran Congregation celebrates 160 years of worship.