Around the turn of the twentieth century, Nicollet County had eight rural crossroads hamlets. While all of the other small towns have removed many of the structures that marked their existence, Norseland has held onto their identity by recognizing the importance of their general store.
In 1858—the same year that Minnesota became a state—Irish immigrant John Burke moved to Nicollet County from New York City. The 29-year-old planned to buy a farm and operate a general store that would “carry everything a human or animal needed to survive and thrive.” Once a post office was established in Burke’s general store, a town was born. The community chose the name Norseland to pay homage their dominant population of Swedish and Norwegian settlers. Burke’s store became known as the Norseland General Store.
John Burke retired in approximately 1893 and left the store to his sons, Henry and George. George took more interest in farming than running a general store, but Henry enjoyed the grocery and dry goods business. In 1900, Henry virtually rebuilt the store by expanding the main level, adding a second story, and tacking on a single-story addition to the east side. A buggy sales and repair shop were established in the new, single-story addition. The main part of the store handled the grocery business on the first level and dry goods on the second floor. An elevator was also constructed to move merchandise between floors.
With business at the Norseland General Store booming, Henry decided to take on a partner, Emil Swenson. The general store operated under the name Burke and Swenson for 17 years. In 1922, Henry Burke was ready to retire. Emil bought his share of the store and dropped Burke’s name from the business.
Eventually, the buggy sales and repair shop became a Ford dealership, and a barber shop and apartments replaced the dry goods on the second floor. Emil’s son, Roger, took over the store in 1950 and operated it with his wife, Linda. Swenson’s General Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 as one of the best surviving examples of turn of the century, rural commercial architecture.
After 148 years of continuous operation in Norseland, the Swenson’s decided to close Swenson’s General Store in 2006. The building is still owned by the Swenson Family. If you visit Norseland, be sure to also pay a visit to the renovated District 6 schoolhouse in New Sweden–about 5 miles west of Norseland.
Norseland General Store, National Register of Historic Places Nomination File, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
Counrty store succumbs to modern times. Associated Press. May 9, 2006.
New faces dot scene of past at Norseland. St. Paul Pioneer Press. Date unknown.