Two sources are cited below regarding Fort Ridgely and Dale Church, the church Theodora Cormontan joined in October of 1887 and where she worshiped and served as a church musician until 1899. The first is a short, general overview of the church's history; the second discusses the church's early history in detail.
Lathrop, Alan K. Churches of Minnesota: An Illustrated Guide. Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota, 2003.
Fort Ridgely and Dale Evangelical Lutheran Church
From Fairfax, west 4 miles on Minnesota Highway 19; 1 ¼ miles south on 430th Street
Architect and builder unknown
The history of the congregation of this church is indeed an interesting one. It was organized in 1868 as the first Lutheran congregation in the county. Soon afterward, the congregation’s district divided on the issue of where to build a new church: the northern half became Dale and the southern half became Fort Ridgley.
Before the church could be built, however, the congregations split once more, this time over doctrinal issues. Each lost half its members, and what remained of Fort Ridgely and Dale agreed to build a church together but not to unite (that step was not to occur for sixty years). The church was erected in 1886 and dedicated on May 28, 1893, after the installation of the altar, pulpit, pews, and bell. A parsonage had been built much earlier, in 1878, for the first resident pastor.
The church is said to have a log core, but this has not been confirmed. It is a simple rural church, covered with clapboard and having the usual projecting tower entrance centered at the front of the church. It is still heated by wood stove and is maintained in very good condition. The sacristy was added in 1900.
The Fort Ridgely and Dale congregations finally united in 1946 and today are part of Central Lutheran Church of Fairfax. [The Central Lutheran Church building housed the Hauges Church during the time Theodora attended Ft. Ridgely and Dale. The two churches are a short distance from each other on opposite sides of the road.]
Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn. The History of Renville County, Minnesota, Vol. 2. Chicago: H.C. Cooper, 1916.
Pages 1259-1261; 1262. Edited.
[Note that this entry is written by Reverend Parelius H. Rognlie, the pastor of the Fort Ridgely and Dale Chruch during the time Theodora was a member. The two frequently collaborated in various religious services during the 1890's, not just at Ft. Ridgely/Dale but also at nearby Camp Church and Palmyra Church where Rognlie also served as pastor and Cormontan as church musician.]
Fort Ridgely Congregation. (By Rev. P. H. Rognlie.) The first people of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church came to the southeastern part of Renville County in 1861and 1862. After the outbreak [of 1862] it took some years before the Scandinavians again began to immigrate to this part of the state. However, in 1868 a good many Scandinavians settled in the southeastern part of Renville County. As the Scandinavian people always have been known for their deep, earnest religiousness, they had longed for years for an established church of their own faith.
On the fifth of May, 1868, Rev. Thomas Johnson, of St. Peter, Nicollet County, Minn., conducted his first service at the house of Johannes Andersen, in the Township of Camp.
On the twentieth of May, 1868, Rev. Johnson returned from the west and on that day a meeting was held at the house of Johannes Anderson, Camp Township, for the purpose of organizing an Evangelical Lutheran congregation. Consequently the Fort Ridgely Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation was organized, and on that day its constitution adopted. It is no doubt the first organized Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation in Renville County.
The founders of the congregation were Jorgen Gilbertsen Ellestad, Hans Jorgen Halvorsen, Magnus Johnson, Mathias Bogema, Johannes Anderson and Tov Rudy.
In 1878 this congregation was incorporated under the laws of the state of Minnesota.
The members of this congregation as well as the rest of the pioneers in this part of the state suffered greatly from the grasshopper plague from 1872 to 1876. And there also came other trials for this congregation, which shall not be mentioned here.
In 1874 this congregation joined the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod of North America. On June 2, 1874, this congregation was divided into two congregations, viz. Fort Ridgely and Dale—an action which ever since has been more or less lamented. In 1871 a committee of five was appointed to find a suitable place for a church and cemetery, without any result. In the spring of 1878 the Fort Ridgely and Dale congregations bought the improvements from Rev. Johannes Halvorsen, made on the north one-half of the northeast quarter of section 16, in the town of Camp. This parsonage, land and buildings, are now owned in connection by Fort Ridgely, two-sixths, Dale, two-sixths, Concordia, two-sixths, Palmyra, one-fourth, Clear Lake congregation, Sibley County, one-fourth.
On June 19, 1878, a committee meeting of members from Fort Ridgely, Dale and Palmyra congregations was held to discuss the erection of a parsonage on the northeast one-half of this land. A building committee was appointed, viz., Mathiaz O. Lee, Jacob P. Kopperud and Gabriel A. Nilsen Bjurselmo. It was decided that a frame building, 26x26, 14 feet high, should be erected. The work on this building was commenced October, 1878, and the building was partly finished the same fall, and on Christmas Eve, 1878, Rev. Nils P. Xavier with his family, moved into the new building.
From the earliest time it had been the greatest wish of these congregations to get a house of worship of their own. On the fifteenth of May, 1884, a joint meeting of Fort Ridgely and Dale congregations was held to discuss the possibility of building a church. It was decided with a great majority to go to work as soon as possible. In the meantime the controversies concerning the [issue of] predestination had sprung up in the Synod and spread to most of its congregations. Also these congregations suffered greatly on account of those controversies. On Tuesday, December 15, 1885, a new meeting was held in the parsonage to discuss the question about building the church on the parsonage land, the north one-half of the northeast quarter of section 16, Town of Camp. The next meeting was held in 1886. A building committee was appointed, and the site of the church was decided on to be 40x28, and 16 feet high, with tower and chancel. In the summer of 1886 the church was built by Mr. Harrison. On October 29, 1886, the cornerstone was laid in the name of the Triune God, and the church was dedicated on May 28, 1893, by Rt. Rev. Knut Bjorgo. On the following day an old settlers' reunion was held at the parsonage. The congregations have a graveyard adjoining the church in common.
Among the pioneers of Fort Ridgely congregation may be mentioned, besides the six founders, above named, the following: Mathias O. Lee, John Enger, Sr. and Jr., Lars Enger, Sylfest Olson, Leif Torgrimson, Ole E. Berge, Odd B. Jacob son, Einar Nilsen Hunsaker, Olaf Dale, Hans Grasmoen.
The Dale congregation was organized 1874. What already has been related about Fort Ridgely congregation does also for a great deal concern the Dale congregation, as they always have been served by the same pastors and have owned all church property in community.
Among the pioneers of Dale congregation may be mentioned Peder and Ole Hoimyr, Rasmus O. Ness, Gabriel A. Nilsen Bjurselmo, Ole Johnson, Gustav Anderson, Jacob Volen, Halvor Johnson. Hans Carlson, Ole Pedersen Ronne. Ole Veikle, Mathias O. Hagestad, Tarald Semmingsen, Peder Nestande.
[The following, from the same source, notes the establishment of a "branch" church of the Dale Church. Note that C.G.V. and Hans Cormontan are both listed as founding fathers. Both men served as chairs of the planning committee for the founding of the church. The Cormontan family moved away from Franklin in 1899, less than a year after the church was established. According to a booklet published by St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Franklin, MN, on their 75th anniversary in 1996, the process for forming the Concordia Lutheran Church began in 1893. The Concordia Church merged with Trinity Lutheran in Franklin in 1921 to form the present St. Luke's Lutheran Church.]
Concordia Congregation of Franklin. (By Rev. P. H. Rognlie.) Our brethren in Franklin first belonged to the Dale congregation, but on account of the long distance to the church and the difficulty of making the trip, they asked for the privilege to be considered as an annex to the Dale congregation.
In the spring of 1898 they commenced the building of their own church. The first service in the new church was held May 22, 1898. The cornerstone was laid by Prof. Johannes Ylvisaker, July 22. 1898. The size of the church is 40x24, and 14 feet high, and supplied with a tower and chancel.
On November 9, 1900, it was decided to organize a separate congregation, and that the name of that congregation should be Concordia Evangelical Lutheran congregation.
The congregation owns one-sixth of the Fort Ridgely and Dale parsonage and cemetery.
Among the founders of this congregation may be mentioned Johannes A. Bergley, Halvor Johnson, Iver Mahlum, Ole Pedersen Ronne, Hans Jensen, John Foss, George O. Steen, Oscar Johnson, Gustav Johnson, Gottfried and Hans Cormontan, Martin C. Skau, Martin Larson, Johan Bernhard Tweet, Gabriel A. Nilsen Bjurselmo, Carl Nilsen, Sven and Gilbert Gilbertsen, Even Anderson.
[The Fairfax, Minnesota Centennial Book (1882-1982, authors unlisted) notes on page 85 that the Concordia Congregation merged with Trinity Lutheran in Franklin to form St. Luke's Lutheran Church. The book also reports that people in Camp withdrew from Ft. Ridgely Congregation in 1885 to form the Camp Congregation. In the same year members of the Dale Congregation who lived in Bandon Township withdrew their membership to form the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Congregation. On page 87 the Fairfax Centennial Book gives some additional insights into these churches (the following is edited)]:
Ft. Ridgely and Dale stayed with the Little Synode [a Synod that did not join in the merger of the Hauges, Norwegian, and United Synods in 1917. It is now known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod with its headquarters in Mankato, MN] using liturgy and chanting. The ministers wore a long black robe with a high stiff white collar. Zion people showed more revival, conversion, and repentant spirit. A lay man was the leader in scripture and song.
Camp kept its pioneer atmosphere; homemade pews and altar and railing and other furniture. Camp had two wood stoves, one on each side. All churches each had high pulpits until a tall minister decided he got too hot. Each church had wood stoves with long stove pipes across the ceiling leading to the chimney in front. Ft. Ridgely and Dale, and Camp churches had a reed organ in each church. Zion used a piano. The churches had kerosene lamps either hanging from the ceilings or attached on the walls until electric lights were used. As was the custom, the women and children sat on one side near the back and the men sat on the other side.
On the side of the church yard there were stables for the horses to protect them while the worshippers were in the rather lengthy church services. There also was an outdoor privy hidden to the side.