Ten Mile Lake, Swan Lake, Bethel, Our Savior’s. Otter Tail County. Dalton. Minnesota.

Norwegian immigration to the United States accelerated following the American Civil War.  Land made available by the Homestead Act of 1862 made Minnesota attractive to both new comers and to Norwegians already in the country. “Rich soil, beautiful woods, and a thousand lakes” greeted those who arrived in Otter Tail County beginning in 1867.

Pietism was a strong force among those who settled in the vicinity of Dalton. Complementary ethnic and religious identity, strengthened by family relationships, drew people to the several congregations founded in the following decade. Like other rural congregations throughout the upper Midwest, these provided their members a social and spiritual center; and yet over the past century and a half they have also experienced the shifting streams of synodical affiliation.

Before they had a church building, families met in one another’s homes for worship and fellowship.  Although they could not celebrate the Lord’s Supper without the services of a pastor, those  gathered could—and did—emulate the practices of a Pietist meeting. The klokker, a layman, led the service and continued to do so for well into the next century. They read sermons by Martin Luther or Johann Arndt, sang hymns, prayed, and spoke together about their experience of faith. Along with spiritual nourishment, they shared an ordinary meal.

Two dozen people assembled at Ingebret Mortenson Naesset’s home in 1869 to organize Ten Mile Lake Lutheran Church.  The next year they called O. J. Kasa as their pastor.  He homesteaded in Dane Prairie.  Soon after they acquired land for a cemetery.  The population grew, but distances did not, and seven years later the congregation divided into three on the basis of townships.  Residents of Dane Prairie took the name Swan Lake Lutheran; residents of St. Olaf and Eagle Lake tried both of those names before adopting Bethel.  The three groups parted amicably agreeing to worship together on Epiphany and to gather for special occasions.  They were yoked as a three-point parish.

Eventually each congregation constructed a building next to a cemetery.  Members of Ten Mile Lake agreed, in 1879, to donate the proceeds from an extra acre of wheat toward that purpose.  The congregations continued to be a focus of social life and sponsored several sorts of organizations.  Some Bethel women rowed across Lake Jolly Ann to attend the Ladies’ Aid.  In early decades those meetings usually extended through the whole day and entire families took part.  The men of Ten Mile Lake served as officers, but were not expected to do handwork. The women’s fund raising supported mission and underwrote local expenses. In addition to the floor, furnace, baptismal font, and altar, the Ten Mile Lake women bought the church bell.

Pastor Kasa was ordained by Eielson Synod, but affiliated with the Hauge Synod when it formed in 1876 as did all three congregations.  The Hauge Synod emphasized personal religious experience, favored a simple form of worship, and valued lay leadership. Members’ memories of sincere worship and special tent meetings in Dalton’s town park echo those characteristics. Following the formation of the NLCA Our Saviors was organized in the town of Dalton and added to the parish.  Initially the new congregation used the building owned by Zion Missionary Society, an explicitly non-synodical association.

In the 1980s Ten Mile Lake’s building was destroyed by fire and the congregation merged with Our Saviors.  The three remaining congregations now belong to three different church bodies: Ten Mile Lake-Our Saviors to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Swan Lake to the Lutheran Brethren, and Bethel to Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).


S. S. Gjerde and Peder Ljostveit. The Hauge Movement in America. Hauge Inner Mission Federation, 1941.

Ella Juvland, “Centennial History: Bethel Lutheran, 1876-1976.”

Bethel Lutheran 110th Anniversary Booklet.

“Centennial History: Ten Mile Lutheran, 1869-1969”

L. DeAne Lagerquist

Norlie's entry: Ten Mile Lake
Norlie's entry: Swan Lake
Swan Lake
Norlie's Entry: Bethel
Bethel Entry
Otter Tail County Townships, 1881-1915