With the coronavirus pandemic raging now throughout the world, it is interesting to note that a
much worse epidemic caused by cholera struck this area in the 1850s. In Andover, several hundred Swedish immigrants died.
During the height of this epidemic, a wagon would go to each home in Andover every day. A 16-year old Swedish immigrant farmhand was constantly pressed into service to drive his one-horse spring wagon and pick up the dead from their homes.
Many who died were buried in unmarked mass graves located in three blocks just south of what is
now Illinois Route 81 on the west edge of Andover. A monument there was dedicated in 1996 by Archbishop Gunnar Weman of Sweden in remembrance of these Swedish emigrants.
Almost all who came in 1849 and the early 1850s lost members of their families to cholera.
Andover, which is celebrating its 185th anniversary this year, was founded in 1835 by English
settlers. Swedish immigrants began arriving in the late 1840s. They started construction of the first Swedish Lutheran Church, now known as Jenny Lind Chapel, in 1851. It carries here name because the famous 19th century Swedish singer donated $1,500 to the building fund.
Life was harsh on the Illinois prairie. The church served as a dwelling for many of the immigrants
who could find no other place to live when they first arrived. During the cholera epidemic, the basement of the church became a hospital. Scores of members died of this dread disease, and they are buried in mass graves in the adjoining cemetery. Lumber meant for the church had to be used for their coffins.
Very few churches were built in the midst of such sorrow, pain, and tears.
Not until the fall of 1854 was the church so near completion that it could be formally dedicated.
The church was built in the most plain and prosaic form. Without a steeple and a bell, the church attracted thousands of Swedish immigrants to Andover and is recognized as the “Mother Church” of the Augustana Lutheran Church in America.
Over the years, many world and church leaders have visited the Jenny Lind Chapel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. They include the king of Sweden three times, the queen of Sweden, princesses, Swedish bishops and archbishops, presidents and bishops of U.S. Lutheran church bodies, Norwegian author and poet Alfred Haugue, Swedish and U.S. ambassadors and consul generals, Swedish artist Johann Thunberg, governors of Swedish provinces, the bishop of Arcot Lutheran Church and president of the Union of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India.