My grandmother, Laura Bernice Lidberg, was a full-blooded Swede who was born in Gordon, Wisconsin to Swan and Martha Lidberg in 1910. She married my grandfather, Norman Bucholdt, in 1930. Grandpa was born in Oslo, Norway in 1901. I guess this ancestory makes me one-quarter Swedish, even with my brown hair and brown eyes.
I have always been interested in this culture and was pleased to discover the American Swedish Institute in south Minneapolis last year. It was founded in 1929 as a place for immigrants to share their traditions, food, artifacts and stories. My husband and I focused our visit on the adjacent Turnblad Mansion, although there are numerous exhibits on display within the American Swedish Institute itself.
History of the Turnblad Mansion
Like James J. Hill, Chester Congdon and Alexander Ramsey, Swan Turnblad built a mansion in the earliest years of the 1900s to display his incredible wealth. All of these men were leaders in their industry and built vast fortunes during the country’s move to industrialization. Swan Turnblad was the owner of the Swedish-American newspaper, Svenska Amerikanska Posten . He made his fortune in publishing and other investments.
In 1903, Turnblad and his wife, Christina, purchase six lots at the intersection of 26th Street and Park Avenue. It took five years for architects to complete the mansion. It was designed in French Chateauesque style, although many of the furnishings for the mansion came directly from Sweden. The mansion also has a carriage house which is where he stored all of his vehicles. Swan Turnblad may have been the first person in Minneapolis to own an electric automobile.
The Turnblad’s officially owned the mansion from 1908 until 1929. They had only one child, Lillian, who was 24 years old by the time the mansion was completed. They also kept an apartment in the city and spent most of their time there after 1915. Like all high-society couples in the early 1900s, Swan and Christina had servants and other paid staff who stayed with them. The 1910 census indicates two of their servants by name, John and Carolina Gustaffson. The Gustaffson’s had immigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1890.
In 1929, Swan Turnblad donated the mansion to the American Swedish Institute after Christina’s death. After donating the museum, Swan and his daughter moved across the street. He passed away in 1933. For almost 85 years, visitors to the American Swedish Institute have toured the mansion and gained a better understanding of turn-of-the century life in Minnesota.