Life on the farm still retained the flavor of the old country when
83-year-old June Andersen Beck was growing up in Falmouth.
Some of the adults in the hard-working farm families on Woodville Road still
spoke Danish to one another, she said, and the small community was very
"Neighbor helped neighbor," Beck recalled. "And everything was: 'Come over
for coffee, coffee and cookies.' "
Most families attended nearby Emmaus Lutheran Church, established in 1893 by
immigrants from Denmark. Ties to religion were still so strong that some farm
families wouldn't work on Sundays, even at haying time, she said. However, the
reality of having to make a living on a farm caused that custom to die out, Beck
said. "They had to make hay while the sun shone," she said.
Many people think Maine and picture Yankee farmers who trace their roots back
to colonial times. But the state also has been shaped over the years by a
variety of immigrant groups. Among them are Scandinavian people who came to
Maine from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
Those immigrants not only helped restore the dwindling rural population of
the state in the late 1800s, but also left their mark on the state in a wide
variety of ways.
Scandinavians are credited with starting Maine's skiing industry. Their ranks
included artists such as the noted photographer of Finnish descent, Kosti
Ruohomaa, a friend of Andrew Wyeth's who captured vivid photographic images of
Maine coastal life after World War II. They launched many still-familiar
businesses, including the J.J. Nissen bakery that moved from Portland to
Biddeford a few years ago.
And an authentic replica of a medieval Danish Village once graced Route 1 in
Scarborough, complete with quaint red-tiled houses lining narrow, crooked
streets and a town hall and square with a fountain and a nest for a wooden
Den Danske Landsby, which opened in 1930 and had been torn down by 1970, was
a tourist attraction and a forerunner of modern motels. Eleanor Roosevelt was a
guest there. It was designed by a Danish architect, and some members of Maine's
Danish community would visit to experience a sense of home.
Most of the early Scandinavians in Maine discouraged their children from
speaking their native languages in order to better learn English, said Beck and
others. In fact, they assimilated so quickly and so well their customs and
traditions were not retained in most places in Maine.
However, a perusal of any residential phone book shows that plenty of their
Scandinavian descendants have remained in the state, and many now are
increasingly interested in embracing their heritage.
Maine has several active societies for those who trace their roots to various
Scandinavian countries. For example, there is the Independent Order of
Scandinavians in New Harbor, the Finnish-American Heritage Society of Maine,
based in West Paris, and the Maine Nordmenn in Falmouth, the state's first Sons
of Norway Lodge, officially launched just two years ago.
Also, a store called Simply Scandinavian in Portland's Old Port, which sells
items ranging from Scandinavian food to furniture, has become a touchstone for
Mainers and others who want to connect with their roots.
The Rev. John Douhan of South Dartmouth, Mass., who is of Swedish descent,
said last week that he and his wife regularly stop at the store on visits to
Maine in order to "keep a little bit of the tradition."
Thomas Grant said he and his wife, Mary, started Simply Scandinavian seven
years ago because there were no stores in Greater Portland filling that niche.
"My wife and I said, 'There's a huge void here,' " Grant said.
A SECOND STORE
Business at their Exchange Street location has been so good that they opened
a second store last year just around the corner on Market Street.
The Exchange Street store focuses on food and food-related items. Among the
goods for sale are Danish coffee cakes called kringles, frozen Swedish
meatballs, Norwegian smoked salmon, lingonberry syrup and glogg glasses.
The Market Street store has items ranging from bright-colored ski sweaters to
antique chests, chairs and tables.
Grant grew up in New Sweden and Caribou. His great-grandfather, who was
Swedish, and his great-grandmother, originally from Norway, emigrated from
Sweden to New Sweden in 1890.
They were part of a second wave of settlers who followed the original 51
Swedes who settled New Sweden in 1870. Those settlers were led there by a
Portland man, William Widgery Thomas Jr.
Thomas was appointed a war consul to Sweden during the Civil War and later
became Commissioner of Immigration to Maine. In that role, he brought the
Swedish settlers into what was then Maine wilderness and lived in a log cabin
with them for four years until the colony was settled.
The Aroostook County farming community grew rapidly and prospered and helped
attract more Swedish immigrants to Maine and other New England states.
Joseph Conforti, a University of Southern Maine professor of American and New
England studies, said the population of northern New England began to decline
starting in 1850 as people left for jobs in big cities or to head west.
There was a push for immigrants to take their place, and Scandinavians were
favored, said Conforti, who said he has studied the phenomenon in New Hampshire
and Vermont, though not in Maine. He said the thinking was that "these are
people who are white and Protestant and who would be much more easily
assimilated than Italians or Greeks."
However, Henry Thomas of Freeport, William Widgery Thomas' grandson, said his
grandfather had different reasons for urging Swedes to come to Maine.
William Thomas greatly admired the Swedes and married a Swedish woman and
then her sister after his first wife died. He knew them to have the farming and
woodworking skills that would enable them to survive in the Maine woods, his
Also, Henry Thomas said, "from my grandfather's point of view, they were
coming from a similar climate."
It is not surprising to learn that Maine communities such as New Sweden and
Norway were the homes of Scandinavian immigrants. However, the community of
Danes that settled in the Woodville Road section of Falmouth is not as
THE DANISH SETTLEMENT
The settlement began about 1870, according to Marge DeVine, president of the
Falmouth Historical Society. Her family on her mother's side, named Dyhrberg,
were some of the early settlers.
June Andersen Beck's grandfather, Andreas Andersen, was also one of the first
settlers. She grew up on his dairy farm.
Today, instead of farms, subdivisions line most of Woodville Road. But one
old Danish family farm that remains is Elwin Hansen's. Hansen said his father
came to Maine from New Denmark in Canada and bought the farm in 1924.
"There was quite a Danish settlement here at that time," he said.
However, he said the language died out with his parents' generation because
they were eager for their children to learn English.
Earle Shettleworth Jr., whose mother's father immigrated to Maine in 1893,
first lived on a farm in Falmouth then moved to Portland, where he worked in a
Portland, too, by the early 1890s had a thriving Danish community, according
to Shettleworth, the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, who
has written a history of his family's roots.
He said the Danes lived at the base of Munjoy Hill and in the Bayside
neighborhood near Back Cove. Shettleworth, 56, also recalls his mother saying
that she and her siblings were discouraged from speaking Danish - a pressure to
assimilate which he said was common to immigrant experience in America.
A Maine Sunday Telegram article in 1907 praised the Danes as a "desirable
element of our citizenship" for their strong efforts to fit in.
"One of the most energetic nationalities that come to this country . . . are
the Danes," the article said. "They become Americanized in a very short time and
learn the language very readily and while they still hold in their hearts a fond
memory for the mother country they become naturalized and are thoroughly
Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz