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Finding Minnesota: Inside The American Swedish Institute

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At the beginning of the 20th Century, Minnesota became home for the largest Swedish population in the country.

That’s why so many people here are of Swedish descent.

One place they can go to learn more about the culture, history and language of Sweden is right here in the Twin Cities.

This week in Finding Minnesota, we go inside the 33-room mansion on the corner of Park Avenue and 26th Street in Minneapolis.

It is the American Swedish Institute and right now it is under renovation and expanding.

You’d be right to call it a castle. Back in 1908 when this house was built, it was one of the fanciest in Minneapolis.

And that is just what Swan Turnblad, the owner, wanted.

A Swedish immigrant, he earned his riches by publishing a Swedish language newspaper.

Christy Stopelstad is the director of development.

“It is a jewel. And I think what we have heard is that he wanted to share a story that a Swedish immigrant could come here and be successful in business and be a contributing member of the community and share his wealth and interests with others,” Stopelstad said.

After living in the lap of luxury for about 20 years, the Turnblads moved out and turned their prized mansion into a museum; a place where people could see the intricate artistry that covers the walls, the ceilings and even the floor.

“The woodworking is one of the most stunning features. There is a lot of mahogany. There were woodworkers on site that did all the carving around banisters, fireplaces and even the dining room furniture was hand carved,” Stopelstad said.

You’ll also find something you’ve probably never even heard of before — 11 wood-burning stoves made of colorful porcelain tile, imported from Sweden.

The Turnblads actually had central heat.

The traditional Swedish wood stoves were put in to simply beautify the place.

Today, the building is undergoing a major renovation and getting a huge addition.

Bruce Karstadt, president of the American Swedish Institute,
showed a bit of the construction site, adjacent to the Turnblad mansion.

It is where a new 34,000-square-foot cultural center will open next summer.

It will have a cafe, a museum shop, a gallery and a second-floor event center big enough to hold weddings.

“They are already coming through here. We have visitors from all over the country and also from the Nordic countries and different parts of the world. Scandanavian immigration to this region greatly influenced the development of Minnesota and surrounding states,” Karstadt said.

Stopelstad said the Turnblads would have loved all the changes.

“I think they would be so proud. They would be delighted to see what is happening inside this building. I think it would be pure joy to see what is happening,” she said.

The Turnblad Mansion closed temporarily last spring so that some remodeling work could be done on the lower level.

They are creating new classroom space, a gallery and a library downstairs.

It will be reopening on Nov. 12.

And beginning on Nov. 19, you will be able to check out the popular annual Christmas Fair at the mansion. For more information on the American Swedish Institute, go to their website.

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