Day 207 - New Britain
The metal and hardware manufacturers of New Britain attracted a lot of Swedish immigrants from the metal-working city of Eskilstuna as well as from the metalworking town of Finspång in Östergötland. It did not take them long to erect one of the most beautiful churches of Swedish origin in America.
First Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 77 Franklin Square (860-224-2475; www.1stlutherannb.org), is a large, impressive early twentieth-century, twin-tower Gothic building in light Vermont granite. It represents the dream of the congregation’s dynamic pastor, Sven Gustaf Ohman, who served the church from 1895 (fourteen years after its founding) to 1922. Inspired by Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden, Ohman used similar design elements at First Lutheran. When it was completed in 1906, the church had two soaring spires above the present towers, but these were removed in 1938 because of structural weaknesses. The Swedish bell bears an inscription from Psalms in Swedish.
The impressive interior (remodeled twice) is notable for its vaulted ceiling, large stained-glass windows depicting scenes from Christ’s life (also small windows at the rear of the sanctuary portraying Gustavus Adolphus and Martin Luther), a large balcony on three sides, and three large paintings by Olof Grafström (1855-1933) at the front of the sanctuary. The altar painting depicts the Crucifixion. The two side paintings portraying the Resurrection and Ascension are in large niches made specifically for Grafström’s works. The sanctuary also features a magnificent Casavant organ installed in 1968.
One block from First Lutheran on Franklin Square is the former sanctuary of Bethany Covenant Church. The light-colored brick church, built in 1920, is now owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.
Nearby, at 57-61 Arch Street, is a three-story, light-colored brick building identified as Vega Hall, constructed in 1897. It was the former headquarters of the Vega Benefit Society. Visible under the roof line is an elaborate ship sculptured in stone.
The Klingberg Family Centers, 370 Linwood Street (860-224-9113), were founded by the Reverend John Eric Klingberg. Born into a poor Västmanland family, Klingberg worked in a steel mill near Chicago before earning a theology degree at the University of Chicago. Remembering his difficult childhood, Klingberg in 1903 founded an orphanage in New Britain. It remained nondenominational though closely connected with Swedish Baptists. Today it is a large residential treatment facility for emotionally troubled children. The site’s oldest building was constructed in 1920.
Buried in Fairview Cemetery whose office is at 110 Smalley Street, is Swede Nils Pearson (1850-1938), founder of the Vasa Order of America. This Swedish American fraternal organization, first established in 1896 in New Haven, currently has lodges throughout the United States, Canada, and Sweden (see Bishop Hill, Illinois). Pearson’s grave is marked with a red-granite memorial stone.
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