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Little Norway ~ A Unique Norwegian Treasure with Nisse in Wisconsin

Updated on July 30, 2017
Peggy W profile image

I spent my early childhood in Wisconsin & later 4 years with my husband when his job took him there. It is a beautiful & very scenic state!

Little Norway buildings in Wisconsin
Little Norway buildings in Wisconsin | 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 which is over 1,000 feet.

Little Norway grounds in the fall season of year.
Little Norway grounds in the fall season of year. | 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.

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

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.

Wandering the grounds at Little Norway
Wandering the grounds at Little Norway | Source

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.

These old Grandpa & Grandma cloth dolls date back to the 1800s. On display at Little Norway
These old Grandpa & Grandma cloth dolls date back to the 1800s. On display at Little Norway | Source

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.

The Stabbur (storage house) used to protect food at Little Norway
The Stabbur (storage house) used to protect food at Little Norway | Source

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.

Note the height of the doorway!
Note the height of the doorway! | Source

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.

Guides in period costuming at Little Norway
Guides in period costuming at Little Norway | Source

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.

Beer drinking bowl at Little Norway
Beer drinking bowl at Little Norway | Source

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

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Clothing displayed at Little NorwayA carved three legged rocker at Little NorwayNote the hand carved kitchen tools at Little Norway.
Clothing displayed at Little Norway
Clothing displayed at Little Norway | Source
A carved three legged rocker at Little Norway
A carved three legged rocker at Little Norway | Source
Note the hand carved kitchen tools at Little Norway.
Note the hand carved kitchen tools at Little Norway. | Source

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

Note the color of trim on buildings at Little Norway.
Note the color of trim on buildings at Little Norway. | Source

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.

Beautiful landscape at Little Norway
Beautiful landscape at Little Norway | 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.

Nisse at Little Norway
Nisse at Little Norway | Source

All they request at Christmastime 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!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Note many little elves (nisse) on the tree log at Little Norway.Nisse at Little Norway
Note many little elves (nisse) on the tree log at Little Norway.
Note many little elves (nisse) on the tree log at Little Norway. | Source
Nisse at Little Norway
Nisse at Little Norway | 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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Sod covered cottage at Little NorwaySod covered cottage at Little Norway in Fall
Sod covered cottage at Little Norway
Sod covered cottage at Little Norway | Source
Sod covered cottage at Little Norway in Fall
Sod covered cottage at Little Norway in Fall | Source

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.

Photo of the Norwegian styled church at Little Norway
Photo of the Norwegian styled church at Little Norway | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Note the dragon heads on this building at Little Norway.Closeup of church roof at Little Norway
Note the dragon heads on this building at Little Norway.
Note the dragon heads on this building at Little Norway. | Source
Closeup of church roof at Little Norway
Closeup of church roof at Little Norway | Source

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.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Elaborately carved clock at Little NorwayMy niece standing by an impressive collection of antiques at Little Norway.
Elaborately carved clock at Little Norway
Elaborately carved clock at Little Norway | Source
My niece standing by an impressive collection of antiques at Little Norway.
My niece standing by an impressive collection of antiques at Little Norway. | Source

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!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Little Norway entranceLittle Norway with church in background and me standing on a little bridge spanning a creek.Little NorwayLittle NorwayDetail on building at Little Norway
Little Norway entrance
Little Norway entrance | 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
Little Norway
Little Norway | Source
Little Norway
Little Norway | Source
Detail on building at Little Norway
Detail on building at Little Norway | Source

Have you visited Little Norway in Wisconsin?

See results

Little Norway video

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

Future of Little Norway is in doubt

Little Norway may live on

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed!

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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 5 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
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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

      Amber Dahnke 5 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
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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.

    • amberld profile image

      Amber Dahnke 5 years ago from New Glarus, WI

      Nice Hub. My husband and I live just down the road from Little Norway in New Glarus, WI (America's Little Switzerland). We love Little Norway! Thank you writing about a lesser known treasure. We also just took our kids to Cave of the Mounds last year and they love it. House on the Rock is another fun place to visit not too far from Little Norway. Come check out New Glarus sometime soon, too! I loved seeing pictures inside the buildings of Little Norway, it's been about 10 years since we went there, not sure if the kids might get bored. It was one of my grandmother's favorite places to visit, she was Norwegian. Again, thanks!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ben,

      Hope you get to visit Little Norway someday in person. Photos can capture just so much. It is truly a beautiful setting! Thanks for your comment and compliment.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      I love the springs in this area. Still haven't been to Little Norway though I've heard about it for years, great images and great writing.

      Ben

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Billy,

      Little Norway is truly an interesting spot to visit. Just found a great video that I added to this hub...also one about Cave of the Mounds that is nearby and was discovered long after the Haugens had left this old homestead.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Looks so cute with those little doors and Norwegiens are tall people too. Interesting history there with Norway and Wisconsin - I guess the cold kept them at home. I always enjoy reading about the Scandis and Baltic people.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi MagicStarER,

      It would seem we have much in common! Have you visited Little Norway? Having lived in Wisconsin, if you have not been there, you should make the effort to go. I think that you would really like it, especially being half Norwegian. Thanks for the comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Misstikal1,

      Thanks for the comment on my Little Norway post from Wisconsin.

    • MagicStarER profile image

      MagicStarER 7 years ago from Western Kentucky

      I, too, am half Norwegian. I am also from Wisconsin. Thank you for writing about Little Norway!

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Greetings nilsarnejohnsen,

      My paternal grandmother was also mostly of Norwegian descent so I have about 1/4 Norwegian blood in me. She loved showing me Little Norway in Wisconsin although she was born in this country. I agree with you that sites like this help keep history alive. Like you...I would have no idea where kinfolk in Norway would still be living or what their names would be. Too bad! Thanks for your visit and comment.

    • nilsarnejohnsen profile image

      nilsarnejohnsen 7 years ago from Sandnes, Noway

      This was interesting reading for a Norwegian. I know a lot of people left Norway for a better life in USA. I know I have som relatives there. But we don´t know their names or where they live. At my mother side (named Birkeland) her father left when the war came in 1945. This "Little Norway" keep the history of Haugen from Telemark. Keep on the good work.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Tim,

      My mistake and happy that you corrected it. I took the photo years ago and was working from memory. Little Norway is such a great and unique spot to visit in Wisconsin. Hopefully more people will swing by and see it for themselves if they are ever in that area.

      Thanks! Do you live near there?

    • profile image

      Tim Neuenschwander 8 years ago

      Just a heads up, if anyone running this Hub cares: That picutre with the girl standing near a cabinet with the caption:"Inside of the church which holds an impressive collection of antiques." That IS NOT the inside of the church. I believe that is inside the main family home. It is definitely NOT in the church.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Jerilee,

      I would agree with you and it is fun discovering the hidden treasures in each one. Wisconsin has Little Norway and other treasures as well. Should write about a few others... Thanks for your comment.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      I'd love to see this if I ever get back that way. Lots of states like Wisconsin have hidden treasures that few outside ever hear about.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Ethel,

      Little Norway is indeed a unique Wisconsin treasure! Happy that you got to see the beauty even if long distance. You live nearer to Norway than Little Norway in Wisconsin. My aunt and uncle got to visit Norway once and loved it. I'd like to see it someday if possible. Thanks for your visit and comment.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      What a lovely place to visit Peggy

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Greetings FreedomChic1776,

      Nice to see a new face! Glad you liked this and thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      FreedomChic1776 8 years ago

      Great hub! I especially enjoyed the first picture with the gnomes and the saying.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello RedElf,

      You'll find some red capped elves there! LOL Wondering which are the other top 10 places you wish to visit? Thanks for commenting.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Glad that you liked this, Kiran. Thanks for commenting!

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 8 years ago from Canada

      I had heard of Little Norway through friends, but had no idea it holds such unique and interesting treasures. Thanks so much for sharing them. It is now in my top ten places to go visit list - thanks, Peggy!

    • kiran8 profile image

      kiran8 8 years ago from Mangalore, India

      One more place that I would like to visit. Thanks a lot for all the ineresting details peggy :)

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Melody,

      You are my faithful traveling companion! LOL Thanks as always for your comment.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 8 years ago from Philippines

      A good hub as always, thanks for taking me to Little Norway.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Kari,

      I've got about 1/4 Norwegian blood in me also. Hope you get to visit Little Norway someday. Think you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 8 years ago from Ohio

      Peggy, I really need to make it out to see this one day. My grandmother was from Norway, so I know a little about it. Your pictures are wonderful and your hub makes me want to see this place! Thanks so much for sharing!!! :D

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hello Jodi,

      Yes, I have seen the very same sod roofed place in Door County with the goats nibbling the grass. And yes, I also like Swedish pancakes and meatballs. Door County, Wisconsin is a beautiful place. My parents actually honeymooned there many years ago! Thanks for dropping by and leaving your great comment.

    • Jodi Hoeksel profile image

      Jodi Hoeksel 8 years ago

      This is lovely! I would love to visit as well. Have you ever been to Door County Wisconsin? They have a lot of Scandinavian Culture as well. My family would go every autumn when I was young! There is a great restaurant there called "AL Johnsons" which has a sod roof with goats on top! They have the most amazing Scandi meals... What heaven to have Swedish pancakes and Swedish meatballs for breakfast! YUM!! lol - I am of Swedish descent we belonged to a Scandinavian Club in Illinois (near Wisconsin) and celebrated all Scandi holidays... parents Folk Dancing around the May pole etc. Great hub, you brought some fond memories to me!! Thanks.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Pete, Yes, the nisse watched over them and were helpful IF they were good. But beware if one displeased these little guardians. LOL Fun to read about the tales...

      Your book arrived the other day and now I can read 500 Years from Home from cover to cover.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 8 years ago

      That is a place to visit in the summer. I am not as hardy as the people from Norway or Wisconsin. It sounds like those little elves practiced extortion.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Lupo,

      Yes, I also learned about the nisse. Ha! Thanks for your posted comment.

    • Peggy W profile image
      Author

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Gypsy Willow,

      It certainly portrays how early Norwegian settlers coped with settling that area. Honestly I do not remember any concession stands. Obviously they have water and restrooms. If you decide to visit there...take your own picnic and tea with you. Thanks for your quick comment.

    • Lupo profile image

      Lupo 8 years ago from Boston Area

      Interesting place and an interesting post.

      Funny about the elves all over the place too.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 8 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      This looks like a magical step back in time to another country. I would love to visit one day, do they sell cups of tea?