Our History

Photo of Reverend Lars Paul Esbjorn Augustana Lutheran Church in Andover began in the mid-1800’s when a group of Swedish Lutheran immigrants established a congregation under the leadership of the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjorn.  Rev. Esbjorn was the first pastor from the State Church of Sweden to immigrate to North America; and, after serving in Andover, became the first president of Augustana College and Theological Seminary, then located in Chicago.

The first structure, which is now known as the Jenny Lind Chapel was built in the early 1850’s. Jenny Lind, the famous 19th century Swedish singer, donated $1,500 so that the congregation could start the building she never saw. Construction wasn’t easy. Lumber, which was to have been used for the church was lost when cholera struck and the lumber was used to make coffins.

The basement of the church became a hospital for the people with cholera. A brick yard was established in the colony, but heavy rains that year destroyed the bricks. So many people died of cholera in Andover between 1849 and 1850 that hundreds are buried in mass graves in the Chapel Cemetery and in the block south and the block north of there. The church was built in the most plain and prosaic form. There was no hint of churchly architecture. The building served as a dwelling for many of the immigrants who could find no other place to live when they first arrived. The chapel without a steeple and a bell attracted thousands of Swedish immigrants to Andover. The church grew in membership to such an extent that within less than a decade a new structure was planned nearby, seating 1,000 worshippers.
The chapel then served as a parish hall, meeting place, and school. Subscriptions to build the new structure totaled $38,927 in 1864. This is very interesting to note; for 13 years before the people of the parish had been too poor except to give of their time to build a church. It was decided to build a church of brick that would seat a thousand people. Every man of the congregation was to donate his services to brick making.The church (shown in the upper left corner of this page) is 125 feet long, 60 feet wide, and the cross on the spire is 136 feet high. The exterior is an imposing one, and there are 500,000 bricks in the structure. The roof is a wonder of itself – it is self-supporting and composed of eight rafters weighing 5,000 pounds each, making an aggregate of 20 tons in weight in rafter alone!
The organ was installed in 1874, the bell was placed in the spire in 1881, and the present art glass windows were installed in 1891. A parish hall, known as Luther Hall, was added in 1950; and an education and office addition was added in 1966. The church still contains its original pews, though some have been removed and the others spaced further apart. The church now seats 600.

In 1867, the congregation’s second pastor, Jonas Swenson, started the Andover Children’s Home. The Home played a major role in the life of the parish and community for over 100 years. Many of today’s members are descendants of persons who grew up in the Home. For more information, see Andover Orphanage link.

The congregation is known as the “Mother Church” of the former Augustana Lutheran Church in America. The parish boundaries originally extended for many miles in every direction.   From the mid to late 1800’s, daughter congregations were started in all parts of the vast parish, and others were organized throughout the United States into the 1900’s.

Today, as the only church in the village, Augustana serves as a community church for Andover and the surrounding area. The Jenny Lind Chapel still stands today, in all its simplistic glory, serving as a museum with worship services conducted there on special occasions. For more information, see Jenny Lind Chapel  link.