Thorsby is a small, rural town in central Alabama that is proud of its Scandinavian heritage. Settled in 1865 by three Swedes, Theodore T. Thorson, John F. Peterson, John E. Hedberg, and one Norwegian, K. G. Faegre, the Town of Thorsby was declared a promised land for northerners looking to locate in a warmer climate, suitable for farming and better health. The founders formed the Concordia Land and Improvement Association and began advertising in northern newspapers about the ‘utopia’ they had discovered in the south. Many traveled by railroad to purchase a tract of land and start a better life. Thorsby became affectionately known as the little “Swede Town” by locals.
Today, the town has very few Scandinavians living among the 2,000 or so residents, but the architecture of the old homes and church are reminders of the days when all the shops and businesses were operated by Swedes, Norwegians, Finns and Danes. The home pictured was built in the late 1890’s by the main visionary for the town, Theodore T. Thorson, and has been beautifully restored. The town maintains a museum in the old Norwegian Lutheran Church named “Helen Jenkins Chapel”. A Scandinavian Cemetery is available for visits any time and a self-guided motor tour map is available from the Town Hall.
A yearly heritage festival is held around the middle of October, the Thorsby Swedish Fest, that celebrates and heralds the town’s Scandinavian roots. The festival hosts a beauty pageant, car show, entertainment, arts and crafts booths, food vendors, games, and fun for the entire family in the Richard H. Wood Memorial Park. The 2008 festival saw roughly 4,000 visitors and each year continues to increase. There is a current movement among town residents to find more ways to connect with their Swedish beginnings. If you visit the town, you’re sure to enjoy finding Sweden in Alabama, USA.
-- Authored by Tracia Bussey
In 2010, the Town of Thorsby was honored as the location for a family reunion of the Thorson family. Family members from as far away as South Florida, Colorado, California, Washington State, and more came here to gather as a family and to be present for a memorial dedication service acknowledging the town's Scandinavian heritage. There were also many desecendents of the Peterson founding families here for the festival and dedication as well.