Norseland, from a motorist’s perspective, barely exists.

You’ll pass a church and a few agricultural businesses, and the speed limit on Highway 22 dips to 40 mph for about 1,500 feet. It’s not an incorporated city, and there are a dozen houses, at most.

But the town named for the Scandinavians who settled here has an uncommon resilience, residents say. They say those roots and pride have helped it retain its identity in a time when small towns are generally in decay.

Norseland celebrated its 150th anniversary this weekend, drawing between 1,500 and 2,000 people, organizers said.

On Saturday, the community came together for a parade, historical tours and a talent show.

On Sunday, Norseland’s two communities of faith celebrated in their own ways.

There are two churches in town: Norseland Lutheran Church, a Norweigan synod church, and Scandian Grove Church, a Swedish ELCA Lutheran church.

The churches were incorporated a week apart; on June 6, 1858 for Norseland Lutheran Church and on June 13, 1858 for Scandian Grove Church.

At that time, everyone in town spoke either Swedish or Norweigan. Worship was conducted in Old World tongues.

The role of general store operater fell to an unaligned Irishman, John Burke, Lanes said.

While that ethnic difference was a crucial part of early residents’ identity, there were exceptions.

One of the 19 charter members of Scandian Grove Church was a Norweigan, Pastor Jerry Lanes said.

In the 1910s and ’20s, the melting pot effect began to take hold and English gradually became the dominant language, said Lokensgard, whose great-grandfather settled here in 1867.

Today, that ethnic identity is still a matter of pride, but has much less practical importance.

In 1976, after a fire burned Scandian Grove Church to the ground, leaders in the Norseland Lutheran Church immediately offered their church for worship space.

The Swedes took them up on the offer, worshipping in the Norweigan church for 18 months.

“The bottom line is they’re not all that different,” said Marlin Peterson, who was nonetheless wearing a Swedish hat and button.

And while the residents have discarded some Old World values, others have remained.

The fall Lutefisk dinner at Scandian Grove Church remains popular, as does the smorgasbord feast at the Norseland Lutheran Church.

So how, then, if ethnic identity is less important, does a town with only a handful of residents draw many hundreds of people to a celebration?

“The people who settled here were strong,” said Fred Struck, co-chair of the community celebration. Their descendents still work the same land, and take a lot of pride in that, he said.

He estimates that about three-fourths of the residents have re-visited their home countries.

The fact that there are no precise boundaries helps boost church attendance. Former residents now living in Mankato and Le Sueur continue to attend church here.

“If you think you’re in Norseland, you’re part of Norseland,” said Darwin Gunderson, co-chair of the planning committee and Norseland Lutheran Church.

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