Under the sponsorship of Swante Palm and his uncle S. M. Swenson, Swedish immigrants began arriving in Travis County in great numbers shortly after the Civil War. By 1868 they accounted for 25% of the county's population. While many settled throughout the county, the majority was drawn to the fertile prairies of northeastern Travis County. New Sweden and Decker were the first communities to be established in the early 1870s. As they grew, the Swedes expanded to form other nearby communities, such as Manda, Lund, Kimbro, and Carlson.
"The first store was built in 1889 by Oscar Nelson on the northwest corner of the church property…
New Sweden was a bustling community center boasting of two doctors, Gillespy and Carlsberg, two drug stores, and confectionery built by the doctors, and at one time a drug store operated by Theo Bloom. There was a millinery shop owned and operated by Mrs. Lizzie Wilson. Mr. Thornblad opened a photographer's 'gallery. 'Mr. Ernest Samuelson did a big business as a blacksmith and was the first country smith to lay a weld on a plow share--others riveted them on…
A shoe repair shop, which kept the early settlers' shoes in good repair, was run by M. Guylse in connection with a hardware store operated by Mr. Andrew Olson. There was also a mattress factory which later was used as a band hall."
A Century on the
New Sweden Prairie, 1976
Today the New Sweden Lutheran Church serves as a solitary reminder of the once thriving New Sweden community. The Church was organized in Manor in 1876, with services held in individual homes, school houses, and the little "Stone Church" at Gregg, until a chapel was built at Manda in 1896. In 1922 the present structure, with its 104-foot spire, was erected in New Sweden.
The Decker community and streams take their name from early Travis County resident Isaac Decker. Decker Lake, located in the area, was constructed in the 1960s and has been renamed Lake Walter E. Long. Decker Lane, however, still cuts through the rural countryside. The Decker Methodist Church, built in 1879, was replaced with a larger structure in 1901.
"This community is located about 8 miles east of Austin on a beautiful rolling plain, cut through by the streams, little and big Decker, from which the community has gotten its name…The first pioneers [of] the community were Swedes who moved here in the 1870s, almost simultaneously with the beginning of the New Sweden Colony. The cultivation of the soil was possibly more difficult than in many other localities, partly on account of the prevalence of stones, and partly because woods had been cut and the ground was full of stumps and bushes. Nothing could frighten these smålänningar (emigrants from Småland, a province in Sweden); the howl of the wolves, the rattle of the rattlesnakes, stumps and stones were the same to them; everything must be removed. The stranger, who today comes to these communities and sees the well-tended farms and the attractive homes, he understands little of the labors of the pioneers."
Texas, 1918 (translation by Carl Widen)