In 1849, Erik Peterson and two brothers left Karlskoga, Sweden to prospect gold in California. Erik changed his mind in Chicago. His brothers continued on to California, while he went south for a few months, then back north to work in a logging camp along the St. Croix River. Along the way, he passed the location of the future village site, liked it, and filed a claim in 1851. He sent a letter to another brother in Sweden, Jakob, encouraging him to come. When he didn’t get a reply, he went back to Sweden only to find that Jakob had already left. Jakob had a tough voyage to America. His ship captain died en route, leaving his green son in charge; the ship rammed into an iceberg before turning south to warmer waters. Jakob’s group wintered in Moline (Illinois) in 1853, where one of his daughters died. He finally reached Stockholm in the spring of 1854.
While in Sweden, Erik got married and organized a party of 200 to go to America with him. Erik was quite a cad, though. He booked the cheapest, least comfortable passage from Liverpool to Quebec for his fellow Swedes, keeping the extra cash as profit. After they reached North America, they traveled to Chicago by train but Erik booked them in cattle cars where a cholera epidemic killed nearly one-third of the group, including his own mother. He tried to claim he didn’t know her, so he wouldn’t have to pay for her funeral. When he finally arrived in Stockholm, only 30 of the original group were with him (some opted to stay in Moline rather than continue upriver).
With that inauspicious beginning, the proprietors platted the village in 1856 and called it Stockholm on Lake Pepin. Perhaps because of bad karma, the village grew very slowly, centered primarily on the farm sector. In the 1870s, Paul Sandquist made a living selling lemon beer, and John Gunderson did the same by brewing and bottling spruce beer. By the time the village incorporated in 1903, it had 300 residents but would soon enter a period of steady population loss until reaching bottom in the 1940s when fewer than 100 people lived there.
On July 18, 1938, Stockholm was visited by Swedish royalty: Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, Crown Princess Louise, and Prince Bertil. They were touring the US to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first Swedish settlement in the US (at Delaware). The town was notified on a Friday that the royals would be stopping on the following Monday, so they spent the weekend busily prettying-up the town and the rail station. Nearly 700 people turned out for the 15-minute whistle-stop speeches. Prince Gustaf told a Swedish newspaper that the stop in Stockholm on Lake Pepin was one of the top three highlights of his months-long tour of the US.
The village’s fortunes began to turn around when artists began moving to town in the 1970s. Most made Stockholm their year-round home and opened shops and galleries that continue to attract visitors from throughout the region.