Between 1854 and the end of the century, thousands of settlers located to the Clifton area and established the largest Norwegian colony in the southwest. They settled primarily in a triangular area northwest of Clifton extending 18 miles to the town of Cranfills Gap. This area today is known as the Norse Historic District, created by the Department of the Interior in 1983.
It was in this region that immigrants farmed, married, raised families, worshipped, and were buried. The first Norwegians arrived from two failed east Texas settlements in 1854. They were accompanied by Cleng Peerson (1782-1865), “Father of Norwegian Immigration to America.” Bosque County would be Peerson’s final stop after 30 years of establishing Norwegian colonies throughout the country. The first Norwegians were drawn to the area by its beauty, abundant water, wildlife, and fertile soil. They were also offered free land by the state as an incentive to settle the area, where Indians were still very much a presence on the western fringes of the frontier.
Some 40 structures, most built of native limestone, still remain in the Norse Historic District. After some 150 years, many of the old homes and outbuildings are now in ruins, while many have been lovingly maintained and restored. The district also includes three historic churches. The Norwegians first worshipped in the home of Jens Ringness, a restored 1859 homestead located on FM 219 midway between Clifton and Cranfills Gap. FM 219 was renamed Cleng Peerson Memorial Highway in 1975. In the blacksmith shop behind the house, mail carrier Ole Ringness forever changed agriculture with his invention of the disk plow. Today, the Ringness House is a museum open for tours on special occasions and by appointment.
Our Saviors Lutheran Church was organized in 1869 and a church was built in the Norse community in 1875. During its heyday in the late 1800s, Norse was the heart of the Norwegian settlement in Bosque County and home to several merchants, a post office, and a school. Today, little remains of the once thriving community, but for the historic church and cemetery, which contains the grave of Cleng Peerson. King Olav V of Norway visited the cemetery in 1982 to lay a wreath and dedicate a marker to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Peerson’s birth.
The Questad House, located next to the Our Saviors Church, was the home of Carl Questad, a leader of the early Norwegians. Questad House is frequently featured in historic home tours in the district and is perhaps the best remaining example of an early Norwegian homestead in the area. Questad played a role in the infamous capture of Norwegian teen Ole Nystel by Comanche Indians near the house in 1867.
Another historic church in the district is St. Olaf’s Kirke, which was built in 1886 to better serve the needs of Our Savior’s congregation as the Norwegian colony grew to the west. A larger church was built by St. Olaf’s at Cranfills Gap in 1917 to replace “The Old Rock Church,” as it is affectionately known today. The Rock Church remains a popular location for artists and weddings, seemingly unchanged after more than a century.