Little Norway ~ A Unique Norwegian Treasure including Nisse in Wisconsin

Nisse at Little Norway in Wisconsin

One of the many Nisse (elves) that watch over this spot
One of the many Nisse (elves) that watch over this spot | Source


An original Norwegian Pioneer Homestead


Twenty miles west of Madison, Wisconsin in the southwestern part of the State is a charming little wooded valley that houses an outdoor museum filled with original structures (log cabins) built back in 1856. It is called Little Norway and it is definitely a unique Wisconsin treasure.

The person who decided to purchase forty acres of land and settle there those many years ago was Osten Olsen Haugen from Telemarken, Norway.

Many other Norwegians also came and liked this region of Wisconsin because it reminded them of their homeland in Norway.


The terrain in this part of Wisconsin has hills and valleys and happens to be near the highest elevation in the State...over 1,000 feet.


Photos in Little Norway / Wisconsin

The Stabbur (storage house) used to protect food
The Stabbur (storage house) used to protect food | Source
Note many little elves (nisse) on the tree log
Note many little elves (nisse) on the tree log | Source
A 3 legged rocker that was carved
A 3 legged rocker that was carved | Source
Some of the utensils in the kitchen
Some of the utensils in the kitchen | Source
Elaborately carved clock
Elaborately carved clock | Source
My niece standing by an impressive collection of antiques.
My niece standing by an impressive collection of antiques. | Source

Blue Mounds, Wisconsin


Blue Mounds is the nearest town and there is a jewel of a cave called Cave of the Mounds which has been designated a national landmark nearby.

Mr. Haugen was unaware of this beautiful cave when he decided to settle and rear his family in this area as the cave was discovered long afterwards.


The first abode was carved into the hillside and the cave sheltered them from the weather...especially the cold winter. Anyone visiting this outdoor museum can see the location of where this family first lived.


As time went by, trees from the area were chopped down and made into log cabins. Not only was wood used for lodging, but it was also fashioned into furniture and eating utensils.


Wisconsin was a long way from Norway and although a few treasures might have accompanied them on their journey into a new life, much of what they had was created by hand.


A fresh water spring was on the property and they protected this source of clear water and natural refrigeration with a covering to keep it unadulterated.


Farming and raising some cows, sheep, chickens and pigs is what sustained them for over sixty years. The acreage was expanded to about double the original size over this period of time.

Food was stored on a raised foundation of logs in a little cabin to keep rodents away and also protect it from the weather.


Slowly over time more buildings were erected to house not only the farm animals, but the growing family. Mrs. Haugen's brother lived there and eventually had his own space.


Speaking of space.....

Note the doorways as you look at these photos. Anyone of normal stature would have to stoop to enter these cabins if one wishes to avoid hitting one's head.


While people may have been shorter over a century ago, the space restrictions continue in how they lived inside their dwelling. The rooms were not large and the beds were very short. Pillows were piled high and the people back then (at least in this homestead) slept in a semi-sitting up posture.

One of the interesting twin beds, the frame of which was constructed out of logs, was fit into a corner of the room. The two conjoined beds fanned out adjacent to the two walls with one large square pillow in the corner. Four children we were told would have shared those two beds. In the center of where the beds met was a wooden seat to the front.

During the day, this seat and the beds would have offered seating for the family. This was an ingenious use of space!


As one takes a tour of these buildings hosted by guides dressed in authentic Norwegian clothing, the various Norwegian antiques which are appropriate to that era are on display.


The guides are able to explain the uses of some unusual looking wooden tools which were used for cooking as an example.

A bowl with two handles was used for drinking beer, we were told. Notches on the inside of the bowl were used for measurement.


Embroidery and carvings and rosemaling are all examples of the arts and crafts the people back then utilized to enhance and decorate their furnishings.


Most of the trim on the buildings are painted blue which we were told is a typical favorite color in Norway.

The natural landscaping with the existing hills surrounding the valley, trees, and water elements make this a resplendent sight to behold.



The addition of blooming flowers with nisse and the pioneer buildings make this a most delightful place to visit while one learns of this one family's pioneer settlement in this location.

Nisse at Little Norway

Nisse at Little Norway
Nisse at Little Norway | Source

Little Norway video

Norwegian church in Little Norway, Wisconsin

This is the Norway Building patterned after a 12th century Christian Norwegian church...
This is the Norway Building patterned after a 12th century Christian Norwegian church... | Source

Nisse


Scattered throughout the pretty grounds of Little Norway are cute little nisse, or elves. Norwegian children have been told stories for centuries about these elusive little figures who can be very helpful or mischievous depending upon how they are treated.


They are most helpful to families who count on them to keep watch over their farms and animals when they are away.


All they request at Christmas-time is a bit of warmed porridge in a bowl dotted with real butter. A daughter from the household was generally the one to take this "gift" and leave it in the barn for the resident nisse to enjoy during the night.


Woe unto the household that neglected this bit of care-taking!

As one wanders the grounds of Little Norway, these cute little figures peer out at one from unexpected places keeping an eye on things!

Close-up of church roof at Little Norway

Close-up of church roof at Little Norway
Close-up of church roof at Little Norway | Source

Future of Little Norway is in doubt

Little Norway may live on

More photos from Little Norway in Wisconsin

Sod covered roof
Sod covered roof | Source
Some of the crocks that would have been utilized back then - See the nisse among the flowers?
Some of the crocks that would have been utilized back then - See the nisse among the flowers? | Source
Note the height of the door frame!
Note the height of the door frame! | Source
Wandering the grounds
Wandering the grounds | Source
Costumes from various regions of Norway on display
Costumes from various regions of Norway on display | Source
Beer drinking bowl
Beer drinking bowl | Source
These old Grandpa & Grandma cloth dolls date back to the 1800's
These old Grandpa & Grandma cloth dolls date back to the 1800's | Source

This homestead changes hands...


Three of four daughters who were reared in this pretty tucked-away valley married and started lives of their own.


Mrs. Haugen and her bachelor brother and one daughter continued to farm the land after Mr. Haugen had died but soon after 1920 they left. While the land was leased to other farmers, the buildings became unoccupied.


In 1926, Mr. Isak J. Dahle purchased the property intending to make it into a summer home for his family. He came from Norwegian heritage and started putting his own vast collection of Norwegian pioneer antiques into these buildings which he had restored.


Naming the beautiful location Nissedahle, or Valley of the Elves, it has since become commonly known as Little Norway.


Mr. Dahle had the sod-covered cottage built as well as the Spring-house. He also improved the drainage in the area, and today a picturesque stream meanders throughout the valley.


The prime attraction of this collection of structures is an early Christian Norwegian church that was built for display in the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. Called the Norway Building, it was constructed in Trondheim, Norway and after the exposition it was moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.


Why did it end up in Little Norway?


It had been purchased by the wealthy Wrigley family of Chicago and in 1935, Phillip Wrigley gave it to his friend, Isak Dahle. One last time it was carefully moved and now sits amidst the other unique buildings in this charming setting.


The church is carved throughout and must be seen to be appreciated. It has high roof-lines with dragon heads peering outward from the gables standing guard against evil spirits.


Inside the church are carved faces of past (pagan) Norwegian kings and queens who look down upon visitors from their high positions on the overhead beams.


Some rare antiques are displayed in this church building as compared to the simple homespun and carved utensils found in the cabins. For instance, one can see an Edvard Grieg original manuscript dating back to 1873. In addition there are fine antique silver, copper and brass items plus glassware, jewelry, china, cabinets, furniture and much more.


Little Norway was opened to the public for viewing in 1937. Millions of visitors have seen this peaceful valley with its unique and historic buildings and furnishings since that time. It is definitely a sight worth seeing and should not be missed if one is ever in that region of the State.


This author has visited Little Norway three times and notices different things each time of her visit. There is so much to absorb in the approximate one hour tour.


Tip: If you wish to spend a little more time in this bucolic setting before or after the tour, take a picnic lunch. Tables are provided and one can soak up the atmosphere a while longer before leaving this quaint and charming valley known as Little Norway.


Little Norway is definitely a unique Norwegian Wisconsin treasure!

A markerLittle Norway -
County Highway Jg, Blue Mounds, WI 53517, USA
[get directions]

Have you visited Little Norway in Wisconsin?

  • Yes
  • No
  • No, but hope to see it someday
  • Haven't seen Little Norway, but I have been to Norway!
See results without voting

Images from Little Norway in the Fall of the Year

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Little Norway entranceMy grandmother and husband at Little NorwayLittle Norway with church in background and me standing on a little bridge spanning a creek.I am standing near a tree adorned with nisse (elves).Little Norway groundsDetailing on church roof at Little NorwayGood photo of the Norwegian styled church at Little NorwayTour guide walking backwards and explaining the buildings that we were viewing on our tour of Little Norway.Little Norway buildingsFirst place in which they lived (cave in the ground) until the houses were built at Little Norway.Little Norway groundsLittle NorwayLittle NorwayLittle NorwayGuide explaining things to my grandmother at Little Norway.My hubby at Little Norway Little Norway...note the sod roof.Detail on building at Little NorwayGorgeous grounds at Little Norway
Little Norway entrance
Little Norway entrance | Source
My grandmother and husband at Little Norway
My grandmother and husband at Little Norway | Source
Little Norway with church in background and me standing on a little bridge spanning a creek.
Little Norway with church in background and me standing on a little bridge spanning a creek. | Source
I am standing near a tree adorned with nisse (elves).
I am standing near a tree adorned with nisse (elves). | Source
Little Norway grounds
Little Norway grounds | Source
Detailing on church roof at Little Norway
Detailing on church roof at Little Norway | Source
Good photo of the Norwegian styled church at Little Norway
Good photo of the Norwegian styled church at Little Norway | Source
Tour guide walking backwards and explaining the buildings that we were viewing on our tour of Little Norway.
Tour guide walking backwards and explaining the buildings that we were viewing on our tour of Little Norway. | Source
Little Norway buildings
Little Norway buildings | Source
First place in which they lived (cave in the ground) until the houses were built at Little Norway.
First place in which they lived (cave in the ground) until the houses were built at Little Norway. | Source
Little Norway grounds
Little Norway grounds | Source
Little Norway
Little Norway | Source
Little Norway
Little Norway | Source
Little Norway
Little Norway | Source
Guide explaining things to my grandmother at Little Norway.
Guide explaining things to my grandmother at Little Norway. | Source
My hubby at Little Norway
My hubby at Little Norway | Source
Little Norway...note the sod roof.
Little Norway...note the sod roof. | Source
Detail on building at Little Norway
Detail on building at Little Norway | Source
Gorgeous grounds at Little Norway
Gorgeous grounds at Little Norway | Source

If I ever return to once again see Little Norway, I hope to take a little extra time to enjoy the nearby Cave of the Mounds. They are situated not too far from one another.


The photos below show one visit to Little Norway in the Fall of the year with my grandmother and husband many years ago (in 1973 to be exact). One can tell from the style of clothing worn. Ha! We recently had these old slides converted to a DVD and there are some great additional images of Little Norway shown here. Enjoy!


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© 2009 Peggy Woods

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Comments are welcomed! 39 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi alocsin,

Solvang sounds interesting as well. Have you written a hub about it? If not, you should! Hope you get to visit Little Norway in Wisconsin someday. The landscape is just beautiful as well as learning about an early Norwegian homestead. Thanks for your comment and votes.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

This reminds me of Solvang, which is a Danish village here in the California mountains. It was a chance not only to see crafts from that country but to taste their great food. I hope I get to see Little Norway someday, because it's more likely I'll visit Madison rather than Norway. Voting this Up and Useful.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi again amberld,

I just read it and will add it as a link to this hub also. Thank you! Interesting reading about New Glarus which is not all that far from Little Norway, both of which are situated in a beautiful part of Wisconsin. People may wish to see both areas.


amberld profile image

amberld 4 years ago from New Glarus, WI

I wanted to let you know, I took your advice and wrote a quick hub this morning about New Glarus. I linked your hub to it also, since they are so close. Thanks for the inspiration!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas Author

Hi amberld,

Little Norway was also one of my grandmother's favorite spots to visit as she was 1/2 Norwegian. It is such a beautiful spot! She also took us to House on the Rock. Missed seeing Cave of the Mounds and New Glarus. We now live in Houston so I don't know when we will be traveling back to Wisconsin. Have you written about those locations? If not, perhaps you should. Thanks for your comment.


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