© Author Adventures

Ole Rolvaag

Ole Rolvaag (1876-1931) is best known for the classic novel Giants of the Earth, which is about the Norwegian immigrant experience in creating a new homeland in the northern US. Read more about him here: http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia.

Visiting the Berdahl Rolvaag House

I visited Heritage Park at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on a freezing cold day during the “polar vortex” winter of 2014, hoping to learn more about Rolvaag. The sky was bright blue, the park was covered in new snow, the sun reflecting off the snow was so bright it almost hurt my eyes, and the temperature was about four degrees.

The Berdahl Rolvaag House at the park was where Rolvaag’s wife Jennie grew up.  Rolvaag used to sit in the house with his wife’s family and listen to their stories of the first Norwegian-American pioneers. These stories helped to inspire him to write his books.

If you want to imagine what it would be like to have been a pioneer, I can’t imagine a better historical place to visit than the Berdahl Rolvaag House. It is full of interesting rooms and family treasures which all tell a story. I particularly loved the old quilts and trunks.

The second building which I visited was the Rolvaag Writing Cabin where Ole Rolvaag wrote most of his most famous works. It’s a cabin he and his family built themselves, and it is fun to imagine his whole family living in it during the summers.

Because of the cold climate, Heritage Park only has regular hours during the summer. However, if you are in the area any time during the year, you can call ticket info in advance and request a visit and someone from the Nordland Heritage Foundation will try to provide a private tour. My wonderful guide met me at the Center for Western Studies Museum at Augustana College (which is also well worth seeing), and accompanied me to the park. She even used a hand plough to clear a path before we arrived: Midwestern wintertime hospitality at its best!

This is the first stop on our South Dakota Author Adventures Trail.

Rebecca Blake Beech