Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Little Norway (Cromwell)

Postcard of Cromwell

Many early Scandinavian settlers chose to settle on land located at Hales Pass. Some of the families in 1850 included John Evans, Russell Calvert, William Ellison and John Chandler. Later they were joined by the families of Goodman, Carlot, Bliss, Rasmussen and Peterson. These early homesteaders decided to name their settlement Little Norway. It wasn't long before they were joined by more families, whose names included Samuelson, Carlson, Berntsen, Sundberg, Ellingson, Smaby, Evje, Erickson, Must, Brynestad, Kellogg, Siglem, Fosness, Andestall and Grytten. The majority of these families became ranchers and farmers with crops fruit, berries, produce and dairy products.

In an earlier blog, you had the opportunity to read Dick Brynstad’s recollection of growing up in Little Norway and about his family and neighbors.

The F. W. Samuelson family was a typical family with 14 children. At first, when they arrived it was necessary to clear the land which was heavily timbered. They cleared many stumps with horse-power and with dynamite, but it took years before all the stumps were removed. Mr. Samuelson planted 5 acres of fruit trees, berries and vegetables. At times, they produced as many as 100 crates of strawberries in one day. They named their farm “Sunny Hill Fruit Farm.”

Despite growing the vegetables and fruit, family members still needed to row to Tacoma for staples. Can you imagine going through a 50 pound sack of flour every week to bake bread for the family?

A creek was discovered on the Samuelson property which was later named Muri’s Creek. The creek ran through Samuelson’s land and emptied into the Sound. Several of the families used gas pumps to pump the water through pipes into large wooden storage tanks. Later concrete tanks were built; one tank was used for irrigation and in the summer as a community swimming pool.

In the beginning, Cromwell’s mail was delivered to the Artondale post office and Claud Elms would pick it up and deliver it to the families in Cromwell. Finally in about 1902 the various families petitioned Tacoma for direct delivery. John Cromwell came over from Tacoma to check out the settlement and was so impressed by the community that he secured an official post office for them. Calvert was the name of the first unofficial post office with John Goodman acting as postmaster. Mrs. Calvert asked Mr. Cromwell to change the community’s name and so Little Norway became Cromwell.

The families built a school in 1900 on land donated by Mrs. Calvert. However, she placed a stipulation on her donation that stated the land was never to be sold. The school had an enrollment of about 15 students when it first opened. Miss Blanche Seagent was the first school mistress and she received a salary of $30 per month. By 1912, the student body had grown to 50 students and a second school was built. It had two rooms and a cloak room.

In 1898 the community banded together to form the Immanuel Scandinavian Lutheran Church at Hales Pass.  Before the church was built, services were held in various homes until the school was built, when services were moved to the schoolhouse. Sermons were delivered in Swedish and Norwegian; salaries of the visiting ministers paid by donations collected from the church members.

G. M. Evje became the first Sunday School Superintendent with 15 children in the Norwegian speaking class.  Later Mrs. Smaby started an English speaking Sunday school class. The first baptisms in the church were for Flora Samuelson and Lillian Bloom in May, 1910. The first wedding was not until 1925 when Ernest Luckenotte married Freida Grytten.

Because the community was based on common ethnic backgrounds, there was much enthusiasm and involvement by everyone leading to a socially active community group. There were informal wiener roasts, taffy pulls (when was the last time you pulled taffy and where...? Santa Cruz, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Coney Island or on the coast of Oregon?). Beach bonfires were common in the summer, ice skating in the winter, musicals and other similar activities. Arthur Kellogg’s home had a large living room and Mrs. Kellogg was an excellent pianist. Anton Berntsen family members were well-known for their skill with stringed instruments, John Grytten for his violin and the Samuelsons for their singing both as quartets and double quartets. By early 1900, Advancement Hall was built and it became the social center.    

Cromwell organized its first baseball team in 1913 with ball players Alfred and Arthur Berntsen, Manfred, Oscar and Victor Samuelson, Ole Olson, and Bill and Benny Bloom. Knute Sande and Edward and Carl Carlson also joined the team although they lived in Wollochet.

The first telephone was installed in the Samuelson home in 1908 and one 32-volt electric Delco system was installed in six homes in 1919 -- but most families still relied on kerosene lamps.

Transportation brought an increase to the population of Cromwell but the Depression was extremely hard on the farms. Gradually, the community evolved into a summer retreat for families from Tacoma and elsewhere with many of those new families eventually becoming permanent residents.  

As you can tell, this is but a brief overview of the amazing history of one of our earliest settlements.


© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.


  1. It's very interesting! Now, I know how Little Norway became Cromwell. Thank you!

  2. thanks for sharing.

  3. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.