“We had been planning this special event for more than four years, and it was so disappointing to postpone it until 2021,” said Hundrafemtio chair, Kathy Hede Robinson ("hundrafemtio" means 150 in Swedish). But the stubborn Swedes who founded New Sweden in 1870 have seen disappointments before and have overcome many obstacles, especially in the early days of Maine’s Swedish Colony.
New Sweden, Maine was founded by an act of state legislature when the sons of Maine potato farmers headed west for better soil. The young Mainers had seen “greener grass” while serving in the Civil War. Realizing the importance of the Maine Potato to Maine’s economy, the legislature dispatched William Widgery Thomas of Portland (he had served as an ambassador to Sweden under President Abraham Lincoln and knew well the Swedish people and their language), to round up hearty farmers from all Sweden's provinces. It was hoped these Swedish farmers, accustomed as they were to a cold climate, would till the soil abandoned by the Maine farmers.
The first band of 51 Swedes arrived in 1870, with the promise of acquiring 100 acres of land and a log cabin, but only six cabins were built. Crammed into these lodgings, many died that first winter of a virulent flu ... so it could be said that New Sweden had its very first delay because of a deadly epidemic.
But the relentless Swedes did not give up, and the next year another wave of Swedish immigrants arrived. The settlement expanded to become Maine’s Swedish Colony, comprised of New Sweden, Stockholm and Westmanland. Not to be deterred by the 2020 pandemic, New Sweden has delayed—but not cancelled—its 150th anniversary celebrations.
“If all goes well,” said Robinson, “we will hold all the same exciting events in 2021.” These events include a parade in which the grandson of William Widgery Thomas will come riding on a fine white stallion—as the founder did at the 10th anniversary of New Sweden in 1880. Henry Thomas, who is now in his 80s, is a proud benefactor of the New Sweden Historical Society.
Other events will include a pageant in which the history of New Sweden will be acted by descendents of the original settlers on stage at the Thomas Park Bowl.
In the meantime, a special cookbook “150 Years–150 Recipes” will be on sale for those who wish to try the Swedish cuisine found in New Sweden. The recipes come with a photo and mini histories of those whose recipes are featured.
“We love to share the history and heritage of our Swedish community near and far,” said Robinson. "And until we can celebrate our history in person, our cookbook is a fine and rewarding way to experience our heritage.”

Hundrafemtio will be held July 22–25, 2021. Cookbooks are available by contacting Kathy Hede Robinson at 150th@maineswedishcolony.info


Brenda Jepson