Danevang - The Danish Capital of Texas
- The Danish Capital of Texas
Danevang, a small community ten miles south of El
Campo, was founded by Danish settlers in the late nineteenth century.
However, this area of southeast Texas was not the first place
these Danish immigrants settled. Many of the founding families
first lived in northern stats such as Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.
These families hired a land company called the Danish Folkesamfund,
or the Danish Folk Society of America, to find land that was suitable
for farming. They had heard tales of the fertile land that was
available in Texas. The company selected two areas of land on
the Texas coast to survey. The first was the area along Lavaca
Bay. This land looked very appealing to them since much of Denmark
is surrounded by water. However, the land was not suitable for
farming. The second area was along the present-day Wharton and
Matagorda County line. They believed that this area would prove
to be a prosperous farming area.
1894, the first settlers, consisting of eleven families began
to buy land in what was soon to become Danevang. The land was
$9.00 an acre. Even though this was more than most could afford,
many people bought between forty and eighty acres. As the land
was bought, it was surveyed and fenced off into sections, A
section consists of 640 acres.
The Olson family was among the first settlers in
this area. When they left their home in the north, they put all
of their belongings, including, cattle and horses, into the same
The family also had to tolerate the long journey to Danevang
in that car! When the Olsons arrived, like many other families,
they had to fence off their own land in order to protect it
from the longhorn steer that ran loose on the land.
Once the settlers arrived, they constructed small
two-room houses. These houses had walls, a roof, and a floor -
nothing fancy. Using the same farming techniques they had acquired
in the north, the crops they planted failed. They soon adapted
these techniques to suit the southern climate. The Danes didn't
farm cotton; instead they tried farming grains. However, they
ended up farming cotton because the environment of south Texas
was not able to support the type of grain crops they had planted.
Before the land could be farmed, it had to be broken. Then
it had to sit for several months so that it would be soft enough
to plow. Only then could crops be planted. All of the farming
had to be done with a one-furrow plow, which was pulled by two
to four horses. The planting had to be done one plant at a time.
There was only a trail between Danevang and El Campo, no paved
roads. Whenever it rained, communications between the two towns
were cut. It was not until 1924 that paved a road ran through
Danevang. 1895 was a busy year for the growing community of
Danevang. The St. Ansgar congregation was organized with the
services being held in Mads Andersen's home. They were conducted
by Pastor F.L. Grundtvig. The community center was built to
serve as a church and as a meeting house. The first death occured,
therefore a cemetary had to be founded.
In 1908, the cornerstone was laid for the church, which was
completed in early 1909. In the summer of 1909, the settlers
got to see that the weather in Texas was not always wonderful.
On July 21, a hurricane hit, but no major damage was done.
|The Danevang Farmer's Co-Op was organized in 1920
and incorporated the next year. This company coordinated the marketing
of local crops and bought supplies needed by the members at better
prices. This organization led to the purchasing of feed in 1922,
farm equipment in 1923, a cooperative gin in 1932, and a gasoline
station in 1932.
In 1944, the people of Danevang celebrated the fiftieth anniversary
of their town. The following year a hurricane swept over the
area, demolishing the church and moving the community center
twenty feet off its foundation. The Army Chapel from Camp Hulen
in Palacios was used as the new church building.
The people of Danevang have survived through many ordeals that
would have caused ordinary people to turn back towards home,
but the perseverence of the Danes has produced a successful
community. The prosperity of this small town is evident even
as you drive through.
More Danevang History
History Page Two
the late 1800’s, the Danish Folk Society was formed
to assist the immigrants from Denmark in getting settled in
mid-western states. Later the society decided to expand the
influence of the Danish immigrants to other area of the United
States, so they obtained an option on 25,000 acres of land
in the coastal plains of Texas and offered this land for sale
the Danes who had settled primarily in the states of Iowa,
Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan and the Dakotas.
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Beginning in 1894, approximately 100 families bought various
size parcels of land and moved to this area of Texas about 75
miles southwest of Houston and established the community of
Danevang. The Folk Society also contributed some land to the
community for a community center and church. When the immigrants
arrived, they found flat land covered with waist high prairie
grass as far as the eye could see.
They began to break up the land with their primitive farm equipment
so that it could be farmed. At first they tried to raise the
same crops, such as wheat, oats, and barley, which they had
grown in Denmark and in the mid-western states, but soon found
that the Texas climate was not suitable for these crops. Therefore,
they had some very lean years and some of the settlers sold
out and moved back to where they had come from or to other states.
Those hardy souls who stayed in Danevang soon learned that cotton
was a better crop to be raised in that area. After the farmers
all converted to raising cotton, the community began to prosper
and has continued to be successful.
In the early years, the Danish language was spoken throughout
the community and the Danish traditions were maintained, such
as observing the Danish holiday celebrations. Through the following
years, English gradually became the primary language and the
citizens of Danevang became Americanized. In 1993, a group of
people with ties to Danevang, some still living there and some
who had left the farms to make a living elsewhere, were discussing
the history of the community and came to the realization that
the Danish heritage of Danevang was being lost over time. Some
of these people got together and formed the Danish Heritage
Preservation Society for the purpose of restoring and preserving
that heritage which was being lost.
The Society purchased three acres of land from the church for
a museum site. One family donated a house that had been built
in the years before 1900. This house was moved to the museum
site and was restored to its original configuration and was
furnished with articles from the period before 1920. Another
family donated a building that had been a private on-the-farm
museum and all of the private collection of artifacts that it
contained. This building was also moved to the site. In the
year 2000, construction was begun on a modern museum building,
which was designed to resemble a Danish barn. This building
was dedicated on June 1, 2001.
Danevang School Days
|As the community of Danevang
prospered, the need for a school became increasingly apparent. The
first classes were held in the community center. There was only one
teacher. Soon, a curtain was put up to divide it into two rooms, and
another teacher was hired. However, this school was too far for many
many of the children to walk to, so more schools were built to accomodate
this need. Schools were built in the west, east, and in the center
of town. The central school was built across the street from the Petersen's
homeplace. This system lasted several years until the main school
was built close to the site of the Dane's Country Store.
The students studied the typical courses of reading, writing, and
arithmetic. However, some families chose to send their children
to El Campo for their schooling. Ms. Lillian Hansen-Roberts remembers
living in El Campo during the week and going to school. On the weekends,
her father would come to El Campo and pick her up and take her back
Lack of space was a problem. Sometimes two grades were taught in
the same room. Classes were even taught in the school library because
there wasn't enough room for everyone. The schoolhouses had four
large rooms and a large hallway. Outside of the schools is where
the horse stalls were located. These were for the children who rode
their horses to school. Ms. Robert's father hauled in hay to the
school so the children could feed their horses.
Extra-curricular activities included choral singing, basketball,
gymnastics, and baseball. The school colors were red and white,
and the Teams were called the Danevang Vikings
Classes have not been held in Danevang since 1951, when the schools
in Danevang consolidated with those in El Campo.
|Throughout the year the Danes celebrated many special occasions.
In preparation of birthdays, cooking began several weeks before.
Everyone was invited to to a birthday party. However, Golden and
Silver wedding anniversaries were an even bigger occasion. Committees
were formed to raise money to buy a gift for the couple.
was declared the "Danish Capital of Texas"
by the Texas Congress in 1990.
|Danish Independence Day, better known as the Fifth of June,
was celebrated, as was the Fourth of July. These days were honored
with large parties involving the whole community. Parties such
as these were the sole form of entertainment during the early
|The residents of Danevang first acquired cars in the early 1930's.
They took overnight camping trips to East Bay at Palacios. On
these trips they would camp and fish. Whatever was caught was
fried over an open camp fire and eaten.
Music was a big part of Helena Berndt-Lauritsen's home when
she was growing up. Her father played the harmonica and the
piano. He made sure taht each of his children received musical
instruction. When her family attended parties, her father brought
along a stack of song books. Everyone had a piano or some kind
of musical instrument in their home. With the dozen song books
that Mr. Berndt brought, along with a piano, every party was
filled with the sounds of music.
Ms. Roberts remembers when everyone got their first telephones.
Late at night, the operator would connect Ms. Roberts with all
of her friends. They would have fun relaying the hot stories
of that day.
Holidays were a big part of the Danes lives. They provided
welcome breaks from work. Christmas was the most important part
in the settlers' life. During this time the families would gather
for huge feasts full of tasty Danish foods. Aebleskiver was
the traditional food that was eaten at these feasts. This holiday
was always celebrated on Christmas Eve, instead of Christmas
Day. Christmas was celebrated in this manner in Denmark, and
the tradition was brought to America by the immigrating Danes.
The first Christmas the settlers were here, no one had much
money to buy gifts, but this didn't spoil the occasion. They
always celebrated with what they had, and small presents sometimes
brought the most joy. The Community Christmas Tree in the Hall
became the center of festivities during the holidays. This tradition
has lasted through the years, and is still celebrated today.
Danevang Lutheran Church Cemetery
1895 - 2000
Lutheran Church Cemetery
1895 - 2000
Danish Club of Austin