Source: Lyn Lewis, Director of Communications, Greater Wilmington CVB
Anyone interested in exploring Swedish heritage, is sure to find Wilmington, Delaware a fascinating spot. The city boasts the Kalmar Nyckel, a seaworthy, full-size recreation of the ship that carried the first Swedish settlers and a few Finns to Wilmington in 1638. When the Kalmar Nyckel is in port, it is available for tours and day sails. A visit to the New Sweden Centre, located next to the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard, provides fascinating insights into lifestyle of these early colonists. Less than a block away, discover Old Swedes or Trinity Church and Hendrickson House. Originally built in 1698, the church has the distinction of being the country's oldest religious institution still in use for its original purpose. Hendrickson House is located on the church property. This original Swedish farm house was originally built in Pennsylvania on property that now belongs to Lockheed Martin and was moved to its current site in Wilmington during the 1950's. is filled with original colonial artifacts.
Rebecca Wilson, Executive Director of the Old Swedes Foundation in Wilmington which includes both Old Swedes Church and Hendrickson House, explains that the Swedes settled their own colony, New Sweden, in what is now Delaware, southeastern Pennsylvania, southeastern New Jersey and northeastern Maryland. The first Swedish settlers arrived aboard the Kalmar Nyckel in 1638 and settled along the Christina River near what is modern-day Wilmington. After purchasing land from the Lenni-Lenape Indians, the Swedes set up a thriving community based on fur trading and farming. Today, visitors can step back into this forgotten period of American History with a trip to two of the oldest surviving buildings in the region: Old Swedes Church, built in 1698, and the Hendrickson House, built in 1690.
Visitors from all over the world seek out Old Swedes Church to view and explore the only surviving structure from the first Swedish settlement along the banks of the Christina River. According to Wilson, Swedish visitors come to Old Swedes to see another side of their history and heritage. Many Swedes learn about the New Sweden Colony in school and want to see what remains of the colony and the early settlers. Some come to view the church building; others come to explore the burial grounds and early church records. These visitors are often looking to see if any of their own ancestors came to this country in the 17th century. All want to hear about the lifestyle of those early Swedes and learn about Reverend Dr. Ericus Bjork, the first priest at Holy Trinity, whose sheer will and determination oversaw the building of Old Swedes in an eleven month period from May 1698 - April 1699. Many of the Swedes marvel about the fact that the log cabin was brought to this country by the Finns and Swedes. They are fascinated by Hendrickson House which is filled with genuine Swedish artifacts. Not much remains of those early Swedish settlements in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but a few small log structures, all are privately owned and have many additions.
In 1938, the Swedish government gave the Carl Milas Monument to the United States to commemorate the Swedish colony. Sweden also commissioned a stamp and a coin each bearing the image of Old Swedes Church, Wilmington. The bond between Sweden and the United States remains very strong.
(Photos available upon request.)