The ornate wooden church known simply as the Chapel In The Hills was built to house a Lutheran radio show, and based both in architecture and construction on an ancient Norwegian holy house.
Finished in 1969, the ornate church was built by Rev. Conrad Thompson, a Lutheran minister who had previously spent time in Norway and fallen in love with the rustic appeal of their historic churches. Looking for a place to house his fellow reverend and radio show, Lutheran Vespers, this new church was based on the famous Borgund stave church which had survived in Norway since its construction around the year 1150. Thompson actually sourced the original blueprints for the ancient Borgund church from the Norwegian Department of Antiquities and built the Chapel In The Hills to be an exact replica of its Norwegian forbearer.
Like the original the South Dakota recreation was built almost entirely out of wood, including wooden dowels that hold the whole thing together. It has been speculated that it was the wood’s ability to expand and contract with the elements across the centuries that allowed the Borgund church to survive as intact as it did. Both the interior and the exterior of the Chapel In The Hills are covered in intricate carvings which were etched by both local artisans and a Norwegian specialist who was brought in to recreate the themes of the original church.
In addition to the replica chapel, two other structures were built in the turf-roofed tradition. Lutheran Vespers was broadcast from one of the turf buildings until 1975. However, the Chapel In The Hills is still still owned and operated by the Lutheran church to this day. It is now a popular place for weddings and will hopefully survive for just as long as it’s Norwegian predecessor.