When the first pioneers settled in Gardar Township, religious services were held in private homes, and later in a school house.
On November 24, 1880, a congregation was organized and, like the original settlement, it was named Park.
This was the first Icelandic congregation to be organized in Dakota Territory.
Rev. Pall Thorlakson was called to be its first pastor. Prior to 1885, a second congregation was organized and named Gardar congregation.
The name was retained when the two congregations merged on August 2nd, 1885. The church building was erected in 1888 and is now called the Gardar Pioneer Lutheran Church. The building is now maintained as a memorial to the pioneers of the community. It is used occasionally for funerals, weddings, and one or two regular services during the summer.
In 1889, the Icelandic immigrants in the Eyford region of Thingvalla Township, Pembina County, North Dakota, organized the Thingvalla Lutheran Church as a religious society.
Thingvalla Township was named after the Icelandic homeland of Þingvellir.
The original church structure was a 26 x 40 foot building with a 52-foot bell tower. The construction cost was about $2500. The Thingvalla cemetery and church is built on land that was donated by one of the earliest Icelandic pioneer homesteaders, Jón Ásmundsson, from Kolfreyjustaður, Suður Múlasýsla, Iceland.
The church was dedicated on August 9, 1893. The first services were conducted by Rev. Fridrik J. Bergmann for $6.00 per sermon and he was paid for the year on December first of each year.
The Eyford community draws its name from Jakob Sigurðsson Eyford, (1827-1921). He emigrated from Eyjafjarðarsýsla, Iceland with his wife, Guðlaug Benediktsdóttir (1835-1909) and six children. He came to North Dakota in 1881. He donated land for the post office, store, and the community center. They were located where an old oxcart trail crossed one branch of the Park River. None of these buildings remain.
A large monument dedicated to K.N. Júlíus was originally built in 1936, and was reconstructed in 1999. Kristján Níels Jónsson Júlíus (1859-1936), a satirical poet, was born in Akureyri, Iceland. K.N. or Káinn as he was known at the time, laboured for most of his adult life in our rural community. Many of the graves in the Thingvalla Cemetery had been dug by him and he was the last grave digger in the Thingvalla community. He was a unique poet and humorist. Some of his poems became published in two books.
In June 2003, the Thingvalla Lutheran Church was destroyed because of an accidental fire, which started during construction work being done to preserve the building. The Thingvalla Lutheran Church was nearly 110 years old at the time of the fire.
On August 3, 2007, the Christus statue was dedicated at a ceremony attended by the Prime Minister of Iceland. The foundation of the church is planted with prairie grasses and flowers to represent the unbroken prairie grasslands that the settlers found when they arrived in North Dakota. Interpretive panels tell the story of the church, community, and cemetery.
The next site is the homestead of Stephan G. Stephansson when he lived in what was then called Dakota Territory.
Stephan G. Stephansson was born in 1853 at “Kirkjuhóll”, a small farm in Skagafjörður in northern Iceland. In 1873, his family immigrated to America, along with a large number of other Icelanders. They first settled in Wisconsin where they spent sevenyears. In 1880, the entire Icelandic colony moved to Dakota Territory. The home farmstead contained almost 160 acres of land. The rock that is used as the monument to mark the site was taken from the east end of the pasture on his property. The farm buildings were located just a few feet beyond the monument. Stephan’s father, Gudmundur, and Stephan’s son, Jon, are buried in the Gardar Cemetery.
In the winter of 1880-1881, the first paper published in the Icelandic Communities in Dakota Territory was at Gardar. The name of the paper was Fjalla – Eyvinder and it was written in long hand by Stephan G. Stephansson. In 1889, after nine years in Gardar, at the age of 36, Stephan; his wife, Helga; three children; and his widowed mother, moved to Alberta, Canada, where he remained until his death at the age of 73 in 1927.
At the Olafson homestead site and oxcart trail there is a good footbridge for accessibility, a plaque designating the site as being on the National Register of Historic Places and two other plaques.
This was the most used of three trails between Winnipeg and St. Paul that were used by the fur traders to haul their furs to market during the years approximately from 1800 to 1870. This trail was the long trail, following a western course along the edge of the Red River Valley, almost 40 miles from the Red River itself. But it was on “high ground” along the escarpment (edge of the hills), and avoided the swamp and mosquitoes of the flat valley to the east.
This land was homesteaded in 1880 by Kristinn Olafson and his wife Katrin Olafsdottir, and is still owned by the fourth generation of their descendants.
Thorsteinn Thorsteinsson homesteaded at this site in 1880. Sigridur and Thorsteinn are great-grandparents of Shirley Olgeirson, owner of the Big Yellow House, and her brother, Robert. The blue house on this site was built circa 1906 by Geirmundur B. Olgeirson, Shirley’s and Robert’s paternal grandfather. (Paternal grandfather Olgeirson built the house for maternal great-grandfather Thorsteinsson).
Thorsteinn (1853-1926) was from Ytragili and Oxnadal, Eyjafjarðarsýsla. Sigridur (1851-1924) from Koldukina, Þingeyjarsýsla. They married in Canada in 1876 and homesteaded here in 1880.
Taken from notes in the ICA narrative 2010