Jamestown offered all this during my mid-July visit to the Scandinavian Folk Festival, where there’s a variety of activities from a Viking village, a children’s zoo and arts and crafts, to lectures about food, genealogy or learning Swedish. There’s also food served for every taste and liking, although I rarely stray from Norm’s unique “korvburgers” with lingonberries—a sure winner. The festival offers a variety of music, from traditional Swedish folk to dance band music, but as a former student of Lund University I have a soft spot for Vasa Voices of Cleveland, who took the stage and sang Sköna Maj, Välkommen. Nicely done, and as usual, it brought tears to my eyes (even in July). Hats off to every volunteer, every organizer, vendor and visitor and, of course, the event’s prime engine, Don Sandy at the successful Jamestown festival.

Entertainment and activities aside, what makes this event worth the trip (it’s 7 hours by car from New York City) is its people. In Jamestown, everyone is open and friendly, meaning they make eye contact, eagerly answer questions and are curious themselves. Everything gets done but no one seems to be in a hurry to do so. There are old signs still painted on the sides of barns, stores close early and there’s a church on every corner. It’s an average small town in the United States, yet it seems everyone in Jamestown proudly carries a bit of Sweden and the town’s history with them.

The Scandinavian Folk Festival is actually held at the Gerry Rodeo Grounds just north of town, but who cares—you’re about as far west as you can get in the state of New York. Don’t confuse it with any of the other Jamestowns of the U.S., because this particular Jamestown is “just like Sweden.”

The small town, now with roughly 30,000 inhabitants, became the benefactor of that Scandinavian heritage of industry, intelligence and a taste for adventure far from home. The Swedish immigrants found a land so like their homeland in beauty, geography and climate that they established it and quickly grew into a blooming community. Their contributions to the furniture industry, both as workers and entrepreneurs, helped make Jamestown a major center of the furniture industry. By the 1920s, 75 percent of all businesses in Jamestown had been built and operated by citizens claiming Swedish ancestry. Jamestown for some time tallied the highest proportion of Swedish population anywhere in the U.S.

Although many industries and shops have migrated away from the area in recent years, and ancestral traditions over time get diluted, many Jamestowners still maintain their Swedishness. Almost every corner attests to this: Ecklof’s Bakery, the Peterson Farm, Peterson’s Candy, Davidson’s Restaurant.… The area not only has a high density of Swedish Americans but also a population intensely proud of its Swedish heritage.

Jamestown’s Norden Club, the local Vasa and Viking lodges and Scandinavian American Heritage Foundation are just four of the active Swedish American organizations here. The Scandinavian Studies Program at the Jamestown Community College, established in 1986, keeps the history and traditions of the first settlers and ancestors alive; a Swedish language program by the capable and enthusiastic Jeff Kroon offers a connection to modern Sweden and the language.
Jamestown, aside from being Swedish and the birthplace of Lucille Ball (which weekly attracts busloads of tourists), is also proud of the Roger Tory Petersen Institute. As a notable ornithologist, father of bird painting and author of two field guides of North American birds, Swedish American Roger Tory Petersen put Jamestown on the map. Since his death at the age of 87 in 1996, many people have written and spoken about the relevance of Petersen’s life in the context of the environmental movement of the present. A visit to the institute is a must when you tour the area.

The rolling hills and beautiful hardwood trees of Chautauqua County, at this time of the year is clean, green and lush - indeed, it might as well be a summer day anywhere along the Baltic coastline in Sweden. No doubt, Jamestown is a little corner of Sweden itself, just as far west as you can get in New York state.

What a great way for me to ease into Nordstjernan’s annual print hiatus during August. Thanks again; Don, Sandy, Evelyn, Gwen, Jeff, Jerry, July, Karen, Mark, Norm, Scott, Wes … Jamestown, you’re the best!


Wishing readers, contributors, writers, suppliers, friends a nice continued summer!

Ulf Barslund Martensson
Publisher & Editor In Chief