BLUE MOUNDS (WKOW) -- A historic building that's been in America 122 years will head back home to Norway, where it was built. The Norwegian Pavilion, also known as the Thams Pavilion, was built near Orkdal, Norway, but only spent a few days there before being immediately shipped to America for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
The building has been a huge part of southern Wisconsin's rich Norwegian heritage. It now sits on Scott and Jennifer Winner's property in Blue Mounds, home of "Little Norway." The Winners had to close the once-popular tourist attraction in late 2012. They donated or sold many of the Norwegian artifacts inside their buildings, but they didn't know what to do with the Norwegian Pavilion. "A lot of people contacted me and dreamed of what to do for the building," Scott Winner says. "And I was pretty tired of experiencing people's dreams that were not possible."
Over the years, 2 million visitors have walked the pavilion's floors while touring Little Norway. And it was a special visitor who sparked the eventual sale of the building and its upcoming trip back to Norway. A Norwegian man named Olav Kvaale who heard about the building from his grandfather wanted to see it for himself while he was in the United States, so did an internet search to find out exactly where it was. He came across a WKOW article about Little Norway closing and the building being in limbo. He knew he would have to make special arrangements if he wanted to see it, so he contacted 27 News Anchor Dani Maxwell for help to get in contact with owner Scott Winner. Dani was able to help the two connect and eventually, Olav and his wife made the trip in June of 2014. Another couple came along with them, Oddmund Stenset and his wife, Sigrid. Winner says, "They started hearing it about it over there and it took over a birthday party and a man who owned a hotel in Orkdal (Norway) called me and said, 'Would you sell it to us?'"
Oddmund Stenset and a few other Norwegians were so serious about their offer they formed a group called Project Heimatt and got the City of Orkdal involved to raise money to not only buy the pavilion, but have it shipped back to Norway and reassembled. Winner says the city is paying for everything, including liability insurance, and the project will cost nearly $1 million.
The Winners sold the pavilion to the city for $100,000 July 23. Winner says the assessed value is about $850,000. "It wasn't about the money. It was about what was best for the building. Saving the building is the most important thing and reconstructing it and saving it for future generations. I told them would sell it at fraction of price if my family could come back to see it at the opening ceremonies."
27 News got a chance to talk with Project Heimatt members just after the contract signing. Arne Asphjell told us, "It's exciting and emotional, both for Scott, Jennifer and for us! We will take very good care taking it down and packing it; good care of it. That's a comfort to the Americans. It will be taken very good care of here in Norway."
The Winners plan an invitation-only dedication ceremony in early September. They will start to dismantle the building September 7.
Opening ceremonies in Norway are set for June of 2016. The crown prince of Norway, Haakon Magnus, and his family will be there. Asphjell says they are focusing the ceremony on a younger generation, because they are already planning a "re-celebration" in 2076 and they want some of those same people at both events. "Preferably for people born after 2000 because there will be another reopening in 60 years. We plan to make a time capsule that will be opened at that point. The crown prince of Norway's daughter, who is 11 now, she will be queen then and she will hopefully be there in attendance at the ceremony in 2076," says Asphjell.
Asphjell says they are also planning a celebration 123 years from now, to recognize the building being in America and Norway the same amount of time. Asphjell says they expect the Thams Pavilion to stand in Norway for 1,000 years. It is a replica of a traditional stave church, and they have been standing in Norway for nearly 900 years.
The news of the project has mostly been reported in local Norwegian media, but Asphjell says once the sale and celebrations are announced, they expect it will become national and international news. A film company called GammaGlimt plans to produce a documentary about the project and a book may also be written about it by a Norwegian author.
Winner says, "I would have guessed it would have been reviewed here, I would have never guessed it would be in Norway. This is my legacy for my generation."
Links and Related Stories:
Norway Building/Thams Pavilion Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Norway-Building-Thams-Pavilion/598245100277993?fref=ts
Little Norway: Future is up in the air where the past meets the present - http://www.wkow.com/story/25669370/little-norway-future-is-up-in-the-air-where-the-past-meets-the-present
Little Norway in Blue Mounds up for sale; artifacts donated or being sold - http://www.wkow.com/story/26615462/little-norway-in-blue-mounds-up-for-sale-artifacts-donated-or-being-sold
Norwegian city council approves project to ship historic Little Norway building overseas - http://www.wkow.com/story/29168790/norwegian-city-council-approves-project-to-ship-historic-little-norway-building-overseas
Auction of Little Norway artifacts - http://gavinbros.us/event/little-norway-antiquescollectibles-blue-mounds/?instance_id=648