Part two of a series
“No one man can be given more credit for the development of the city of Spring Grove than Mons Fladager,” wrote area historian Jane Briggs Palen, who noted that there were only two inhabitants in Spring Grove – Robert McCormick and William Hinckley – when Fladager arrived in 1859. He operated a store in a log hut, that with help from two sons and ultimately a grandson, would become a thriving business, which would serve the village for more than a century.
Born in Norway in 1826, Fladager worked as a painter there for two years before emigrating in 1858 at age 32. As did many Norwegian immigrants, he settled first in the young state of Wisconsin. Some would stay; others would later seek opportunity farther west. Fladager worked for a wood-turning business in Manitowoc, but not satisfied there, he continued west the following year to Spring Grove in the new state of Minnesota.
Fladager purchased 40 acres of land, which contained a small log hut, from which he operated a store until 1864 when he built a new two-story building at the intersection of what are now Main and Division Streets. In 1881, Fladager built a brick building across the street, where he operated a general merchandise business until his death in 1905, a month before his 77th birthday. The original building was torn down and replaced by a building where his sons, Henry and Peter, ran a men’s and women’s clothing store.
The routes of railroad expansion determined which frontier villages would prosper and which would wither or maybe even die. Previous to the 1879 arrival of the railroad in Spring Grove, Mons had his 45 acres surveyed and platted. There was little interest in purchasing town lots until it became known that rail traffic was in the near future. The birth of the business district came with the railroad.
Mons promoted the area for settlement by other Norwegians and endeavored for their success. He was one of the founders of Trinity Lutheran Church and served on the board of directors of the town’s second bank – the State Bank of Spring Grove. He was deputy postmaster before turning down the appointment to become postmaster. He eschewed political activity, preferring economic and social pursuits.
His 1905 obituary stated, “In early life, he gave his attention to painting, which formed his principal employment until coming to America… was of a quiet nature, of good habits, a man of intelligence and a historian with considerable knowledge of art… he held several positions of trust in the pioneer days when his services were most needed. He was well informed on public affairs…”
In 2004, the city of Spring Grove placed a three-piece memorial to Mons Fladager on Main Street in Viking Park. The historic iron Lion from the Fladager Store was moved across the street to join a bronze sculpture bust of Fladager, sculpted by
local artist Craig Bergsgaard. Origin of the school nickname “Spring Grove Lions,” is included in the inscription from the monument that follows:
Mons Fladager, Father of Spring Grove
The body of this leading citizen rests in the West End Cemetery, yet his spirit lives on in our wonderful town of Spring Grove which he inspired and blessed.
Born May 7, 1828, in Ulnes, in the valley of Valdres, Norway. Died April 8, 1905, Spring Grove, Minnesota
Mons Fladager immigrated to Spring Grove in 1859, then a sparsely-settled area of the American Frontier. Fladager bought 40 acres of land from Peter Halvorsen Torgenrud, another early immigrant to the area. He established his first business venture here as a mercantile store in a log house. Fladager plotted a town, sold the lots, selected the location for Main Street and persuaded the railroad to build a depot so that trains would stop here. Over time, Fladager’s mercantile store prospered as did the town of Spring Grove and eventually, he built a new family store here which became the largest mercantile in all of Houston County.
Fladager worked in the store throughout his life until three days before his death. He was by far the oldest merchant in Southern Minnesota at the age of 76. Fladager was a true pioneer with an entrepreneurial vision, strong courage and deep faith in God. He loved people and he and his family inspired others with their work. The Fladager family’s heritage continues on in Norway just as it does here in Spring Grove today. Ole Fladager, Mons’ brother, was a famous sculptor in the late 1800s and many of his works are now on display
in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway. His burial site is in Rome alongside many of Europe’s most famous artists and poets.
The Fladager Family Store operated continuously in Spring Grove for 107 years in the same location until 1967. Mons’ son, Henry Fladager, took over the business upon his father’s death and carried on the family’s vision for a vibrant and growing Spring Grove. Among Henry’s community contributions was Spring Grove Homecoming, first held in 1907 and every 10 years thereafter.
Henry was followed in the family business by his son, Maurice Fladager, who continued the Spring Grove Homecoming tradition, serving as its chairman in 1947. He continued the family store until 1967 when he sold it to Robert and Marilyn Hillman of Spring Grove.
An important symbol of the Fladager store was a lion statue Fladager received as a gift from his cousin, Mons Anderson, also an early settler and clothing manufacturer from La Crosse, Wisconsin. The lion statue became a lasting symbol for the Fladager Family Store. Children sat and played on the lion when they came to the store. Because of its popularity, the lion symbol was adopted by Spring Grove athletic teams which are known today as the Spring Grove Lions. The Fladager family donated the lion statue to the city of Spring Grove where it is enjoyed by new generations of children just as it has been for more than 100 years.”
Sources: April 13, 1905 Spring Grove Herald; 1991 book, “Soil, Timber and A Spring,” by Jane Briggs Pale; Mons Fladager monument Inscription.