St. Olaf College: Norway Valley

Norway Valley, a 15-acre parcel of native hardwood trees, is the oldest woodland area on the St. Olaf College campus. It was originally named the Vale of Tawasentha, borrowed from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, The Song of Hiawatha. The valley was acquired in 1889 by the St. Olaf baseball team after the former owner chopped the majority of hardwood trees for firewood, leaving a barren hill pimpled with tree stumps. The baseball team raised funds to purchase 20 acres, including Norway Valley, to build a baseball field on campus grounds (Mellby Hall Green).

Anna E. Mohn, wife of the college's first president, Thorbjorn N. Mohn, recalled in her 1906 reminiscences that the valley "was shorn of its beauty and grandeur by the woodman's ax. … The question was now how to restore its beauty?" Because evergreens were a favorite of Norwegians, a plan developed to plant a thousand trees in Norway Valley, she stated. Reverend I.M. Dahl, a member of the college's Board of Trustees, volunteered to contribute all of the funds needed for this purpose.

As the valley regained its beauty with an abundance of towering pines, students sought its solitude for a variety of reasons. Over the past century plus, Norway Valley has developed a rich history of use and interaction.

The Water Tower

Since its completion in the spring of 1948, the 150,000-gallon capacity St. Olaf Water Tower has attracted its fair share of mischief-makers. Students climbing to the top leaving their mark or engaging in clandestine activity have been the norm for…

Monument in the Woods

Under a canopy of basswoods and sugar maples in Norway Valley, fifty yards east of the water tower, sits a monument dedicated to Reverend Ole O. Fugleskjel, a member of the St. Olaf College class of 1894. The nine-foot pillar of St. Cloud gray…

The Water Tanks

Tanks A Lot! Nestled in Norway Valley are two domed water tanks which were constructed in the spring of 1961 for the city of Northfield. As early as 1904, the city placed its first water tank on Manitou Heights to take advantage of the natural…

Well-Worn Footpath

What do golf balls, bullet casings, baby food jars, and a 1902 silver half dollar all have in common? Each item was found by someone poking around in Norway Valley. Since the early 1880s, students have made the woods their playground, and faculty…

Poetry of Place

The valley of the stalwart pines beneath the college hill Away from all the campus stir—a place so quiet and still . . . So wrote St. Olaf College’s athletic coach, Ade Christenson, to his beloved in 1926. Others like him over…

Shakespeare Among the Vine and Pine

“St. Olaf Shakespeare Cast Give Play in Real Forest," stated a newspaper headline for the 1924 spring inauguration production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Over the next seventeen years, until 1941, Norway Valley hosted twelve additional…