I know this is a blog about Latvian genealogy, but I’ve decided to make this post about our friends and neighbours, the Estonians.

At the end of April and beginning of May, I was in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Lincoln County, Wisconsin, in the United States, to do some research about the early Latvian settlers in Lincoln County. This was a great trip and I met a good number of people who assisted in my research (thank you!), and one of the places they shared with me was this place.

Lincoln County in northern Wisconsin was home to many Latvians (predominantly from the province of Kurland) in the early 1900s, as well as numerous Estonians, Germans and other northern Europeans. You can still see that today when looking at names on mailboxes and in the local newspapers, as well as on gravestones in the cemeteries. I’ll be getting to the cemeteries later, but today with this (not so wordless) Wednesday post I wanted to show this abandoned church.

Estonian Martin Luther Church. Photo taken by me, April 2013. Click to enlarge.

You can read more about this Estonian church here, but in short: Built in 1914, though burials in the cemetery had already begun in 1909. This took place after the Estonian Lutheran congregation broke off from the Latvian one (which I will talk about later), since they had initially shared their facilities. While both the Estonian Lutheran Church and the Latvian Lutheran Church were essentially abandoned after the 1950s, the Latvian one was torn down in 1961, but the Estonian one remains standing (sort of). While the Latvian church was demolished, the cemetery surrounding it is in a well preserved state, but the opposite is here – it took some hunting through the trees behind the church to find the remaining gravestones (the remains, however, were apparently transferred to an Estonian cemetery in Canada). While there is increasing scholarship on the Latvian community of Lincoln County, I’m not sure if similar research is being done on the Estonian community. I should find out!

Wordless Wednesday – Abandoned Estonian Church in Lincoln County, Wisconsin
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5 thoughts on “Wordless Wednesday – Abandoned Estonian Church in Lincoln County, Wisconsin

  • July 18, 2013 at 8:34 am

    This little church in the woods is charming and I’m sad it was abandoned. Thank you for posting about it!

  • January 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Just out of curiosity:
    Is there anyone left that still speaks or at least somewhat understands Latvian in that part of Wisconsin?

  • August 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Here is a story (in Estonian) about the history of that Estonian settlement (named Irma, founded in 1900 by Estonians who had migrated there from Samara, Russia), its congregation and a picture of the church from probably around the 1930s. It was built in 1914. The settlement was still active in the 1960s and Estonians there still did not speak any English, they had only their closed community. However, quite soon the older people died and younger adandoned the place.

    The article also tells that one of Estonian notable authors Ain Kalmus wrote a novel “Hingemaa” (“Land of the soul”) about this settlement.

    Aino Pähn, mentioned in the article as wife of a pastor who visited this settlement in the 1960s and having written memoires about this settlement and congregation, – Aino Pähn was one of my clients (I’m a professional genealogist), an amazing lady who came to my office and when I started to ask her for starting information she told me that she was born in 1915!


  • August 11, 2016 at 12:49 am

    The building and setting (atmospheric quality) feels very spiritual with the entrance path and the ghostly trees. What a wonderful photo. A painting could not improve this quality. The stories told here are well written by sensitive individual(s) who share their stories in a way that makes you want to have been there when these events took place. I am not Estonian or Latvian, but I think I may look into the history of these people now that you have inspired me with this simple photo and your words.
    I grew up in a small town in Calif where we did have a few Latvian students,(last names Vikmanis and Seja) all who proved themselves to be very good students and charismatic as well with their handsome looks and their social demeanor. This was back in the sixties. I wish now that I had asked them about their heritage.
    Thanks again. Terry Laucher, Santa Cruz Ca. formerly from Los Gatos, Ca.

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