One winter, nearly 150 years ago, Norwegian emigrants Hans Spilde and Ole Lione stayed for two weeks inside a newly constructed church maintaining a fire to allow the plaster to dry.
This was the humble beginning of the Arlington Prairie Church, which held Lutheran service in Norwegian until 1915 and in English until 1977.
“I remember waiting and waiting for my parents to finally quit talking to the rest of the relatives so we could go home after Sunday services,” Lodi Valley Historical Society member Mary Thompson wrote in a brief history of the church. “So now this church has become a part of history, history with a different meaning for different people, but if only the walls could talk I would love to hear what they had to say.”
Fifty years ago Lawrence Spilde, son of one of the original contractors of the church, sold his North Dakota farm and the money from the sale has been used to keep the lawn mowed and maintain the church. However, funds were dwindling.
So in May the Lodi Valley Historical Society took over maintaining the little country church, located on Cty. K at Smokey Hollow Road.
“At the Susie the Duck Day parade, so many people where confused about why we (the historical society) had a picture of the church on our float,” member Darlene Brisky said. “Now we’re letting them know.”
Most of the old church is complete with the original handcrafted pulpit, altar, pews and outdoor restroom. But not to worry, in the years since the church was first constructed indoor plumbing and electricity has been added. But a lot of work still needs to be done in order to bring the historic building back to its former glory.
“I think it’s nice for people to see it as it is now, to know that it needs work, it needs help,” Mary Thompson said. “It’s one of the last churches from when the emigrants came from Norway and settled the Lodi area. Why wouldn’t you want to keep it as a tribute?”
The historical society plans to host a holiday event at the Arlington Prairie Church on Dec. 5. Details of the event have not been finalized, but it will be an opportunity for the public to visit the building, see what progress has been made and what still needs to be done.
Some renovations have already begun said society member Monty Thompson, including a new roof and front door. The society is working from the basement up. While cleaning they discovered several hidden treasures such as an old handcarved communion plaque written in Norwegian and 20-gallon crocks used for lutefisk dinners.
“For many years they had lutefisk suppers here. The lutefisk came over from Norway dried in lye so it had to be reconstituted by soaking it to flush the lye out. In the past it was very difficult to get all the lye out so it turned the silverware green from the chemical reaction,” Monty Thompson said.
Historical society president Audrey McCubbin said donations and volunteers are always welcome. “We hope to get it refurbished in here so we can possibly rent it out for small weddings, Baptisms, funerals, ice cream socials and other events,” McCubbin said. “But always keep it a church.”
For more information on the Lodi Valley Historical Society or how to contribute to the Arlington Prairie Church renovation, contact society president Audrey McCubbin at firstname.lastname@example.org.