History of Stanton
Stanton began as the convergence of a railroad’s need [to populate its new route from Burlington to Omaha] with the hope of a young Sweden-born pastor to start a new settlement for his fellow immigrants. This pastor, then in Burlington, was born Bengt Magnus Johansson. After coming to Illinois in 1855 he changed his surname to the more distinctive Halland [his home province]. To further his idea of a new settlement he became a railroad agent for that purpose. The details of this story are told in the book GRACIOUS BOUNTY, published in 1952 by farmer-community leader Claus L. Anderson. The railroad named the town “Stanton.” Rev. Halland had hoped for “Halmstad”.
A few settlers came in 1869, then hundreds came in 1870 so that the town and the Lutheran church were both officially organized in the latter year. The Lutheran church [Mamrelund] and also after 1879 the Mission Covenant church were focal points of the community. Later there was also a Methodist Episcopal church [1891-1912]. The building, later remodeled, still stands as a house.
The Lutherans [which in 1870 was everybody] secured the top of the hill for their church and erected it by October 1871. In 1884 a much larger church was built to replace it. This second church was destroyed by fire on August 28, 1938, but the congregation immediately began to plan for a new one which was dedicated May 26, 1940 and still stands.
The Mission Covenant congregation built their first church in 1880, and the present one in 1908. Both Lutheran and Mission Covenant congregations have their own cemeteries.
Stanton has always had its main business street, proceeding north from where the railroad first went through the town [by where the post office is now]. Early stores were made at least mostly of wood so fire was a problem. There were major fires in 1888, 1904 and 1934 and several others. The fires did not destroy Stanton; it has always rejuvenated.
The financial decline of many towns in the rural Midwest has affected but not stopped Stanton. The Stanton Area Industrial Foundation was formed in 1970 first to help rebuild the café after a fire. It continued to help stimulate the Stanton economy. In 1988 it started building homes to sell. For this and other reasons the population has remained close to 700.
Agriculture is the dominant business in the community. For most of Stanton’s history every business depended on the farming community [active and retired] to be its main customer base.
The school system has also gone through transitions but survives with many successes in the record. The football team was Iowa eight-man champion in 2007.
Baseball has had a major role in Stanton history. The whole nation has had its romance with the sport, but Stanton has had a closer relationship than usual. One of the highs was in 1936 when the town team played in the national semi-pro tournament. Every year since 1939 [except 1942- 1946] Stanton has held Baseball Day – a day when all of the teams in town played a game sometime that day. Several times an ex-major leaguer came to play with the town team. That list includes Bob Feller, Bobby Richardson, Bob Cerv and Wilmer Mizell. On such occasions the crowd was over 3,000. For many baseball fans it was the event of the year.
There are several symbols and events that celebrate the Swedish connection. The most obvious are Santa Lucia, Skona Maj, the Dala horse, and, of course, the water towers.
The Santa Lucia tradition [now as a contest & program held about December 13] originated in Sicily ca. 300, spread to Sweden and in 1952 was brought to Stanton by the local Entre Nous club. By the rules any girl aged 13-19 and the oldest daughter in the home, may compete for the title. The process includes the girl serving her parents breakfast [at least coffee] in bed, followed by a vote by the community to pick the Santa Lucia Queen. The coronation program highlights the season.
Skona Maj is performed on May 31 every year. A male singing group goes to selected homes and places around Stanton singing certain Swedish songs in Swedish.
The Dala horse is a colorful flat wooden horse figure that can be seen imprinted with the residents’ surname near the front door of many houses. The idea originated in Dalarna, Sweden. They can be purchased at the Swedish Heritage & Cultural Center [SHCC] gift shop.
The water towers have been the most visible symbols, beginning in 1971 when the tower built in 1914 was painted and altered to fit the image of a Swedish coffeepot – “the world’s largest.” In 2002 a second water tower was built to appear as a Swedish cup and saucer. The SHCC now has the coffeepot on its lot and an extensive collection of artifacts and information about Sweden and things Swedish.
The Des Moines Register stated in 2000, with the headline “Stanton’s coffeepot runneth over” – “Visit the town that won’t give up.”