American Swedish Institute
Swan Turnblad House
|Location||2600 Park Ave.
|Architect||Boehme & Cordella|
|Architectural style||Renaissance, Other|
|NRHP Reference #||71000436 |
|Added to NRHP||August 26, 1971|
The American Swedish Institute (ASI) is a vibrant museum and cultural center in the Phillips West neighborhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States. The organization is dedicated to the preservation and study of the historic role Sweden and Americans of Swedish heritage have played in US culture and history.
The American Swedish Institute is housed in a turn of the 20th century mansion that was built for Swedish immigrants Swan and Christina Turnblad. Swan Turnblad immigrated with his family to the United States in 1868 at the age of eight. His parents made the decision to leave their farm in the famine-ridden area of Småland, Sweden. The family settled in a Swedish community called Vasa in southern Minnesota where they joined relatives who had settled in the area earlier.
Swan Turnblad was not content to continue in the family farming tradition. In 1879, Turnblad left Vasa for Minneapolis where he lived the quintessential rags-to-riches American success story. After he moved to Minneapolis, Turnblad worked at several Swedish language newspapers as a typesetter. His interest in the printing industry eventually led to his success as publisher of the Swedish language newspaper Svenska Amerikanska Posten. Within ten years, he was the sole owner. Under his management, circulation of the weekly paper soared to over 40,000, a substantial increase from the 1,400 it initially claimed. This publication was likely the principal source of Turnblad's wealth.
The success of the paper was a result of Turnblad's aggressive management style, as well as the large numbers of Swedish immigrants who supported it. He created a technically advanced newspaper by using the best printing equipment available. He was the first Swedish publisher in America to set his paper by Linotype machine. In 1903, Svenska Amerikanska Posten became the first Swedish language paper to use a duplex rotary color printing press, enabling the creation of color illustrations.
In Minneapolis Swan met and married Christina Nilsson. She, like Turnblad, had come to America from Sweden with her family. Her family settled in Worthington, Minnesota in 1876 when Christina was 15. Her first job in America paid no wages, but gave her work experience and English language training. Later she worked as a waitress for one year. In 1882, Christina moved to Minneapolis where she met the young newspaper man at a Good Templar meeting. They were married in 1883 and their only child, Lillian Zenobia, was born a year later.
In the early 20th century, the Turnblads started to plan the building of their palatial estate. Their many trips to Europe certainly influenced their decision on the stately chateau style of the mansion and the ornate designs of the interior. The property on Park Avenue was purchased in 1903 and plans were drawn up by the Minneapolis architectural firm of Christopher A. Boehme and Victor Cordella. The structure took nearly five years to build. The Turnblads did not take out a mortgage on this property during construction. Bills were paid as they came due and there are no records of construction costs. When the museum was founded in 1929, the Minneapolis Tribune reported, “the cost is believed to have been close to $1,000,000 although this is a matter the builder does not discuss.”
The transition from private residence to museum happened in 1929 when the family donated the house and the newspaper to establish the American Institute for Swedish Arts, Literature and Science (later changed to the American Swedish Institute). Turnblad stated that he had long planned for the home to be a Swedish-American institute. He was quoted as saying, “many persons may have wondered what a small family like ours, a family which had not great social ambitions, wanted with so big a house. Perhaps they can guess now.” The mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Gump, Gertrude. The Story of Swan Johan Turnblad ( Minneapolis, MN. : American Swedish Institute. 1976)
- Lewis, Anne Gillespie Turnblad's Castle (The American Swedish Institute. 1999)
- Anderson, Philip J. & Blanck, Dag, editors Swedes in the Twin Cities (Minnesota Historical Society Press. 2000)
- American Swedish Institute website
- American Swedish Institute architecture restoration
- Swan Turnblad house at the City of Minneapolis website
- Swan Turnblad at the Minnesota Historical Society
- American Swedish Institute at the Minnesota Historical Society
- American Swedish Institute at the Hennepin County Library