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Danish Immigration Topic of Keuka College’s 
Lecture by the Lake July 17

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Penn Yan resident Stephanie Olsen will deliver an encore presentation of “Danes in Yates County,” the fascinating story of the influence Danish immigrants had on Yates County history, Tuesday, July 17, at Keuka College. 

Part of the College’s Lecture by the Lake series, the presentation will outline the story of the great Danish migration, what led Danes to leave their homeland, and what attracted them to the Finger Lakes, particularly to Yates County. 

Free and open to the public, the lecture begins at 5 p.m. in the lower level of Lightner Library.

Ms. Olsen knows this chapter of Yates County history as well as anyone—at least of her generation. Not only has she studied the decades-long migration that brought hundreds of Danes across the ocean and into the Finger Lakes, she herself is the granddaughter of one of those families and has lived for extended periods in her ancestral homeland.

More than a century ago, waves of Danish natives emigrated to the region, lured to the farmland in and around Keuka Lake. In northern Jutland, where many of the local Danes came from, the soil was sandy, it wasn’t very productive, and it was hard to farm.

“When the Danes came here and settled, especially in what is now Benton, I think they thought they’d died and gone to heaven,” says Ms. Olsen. “When word of the rich farming conditions reached home, new families flocked to the region, a trend that lasted into the 1920s.”

Eventually, Danish agricultural reforms and the nation’s free healthcare, as well as good old-fashioned homesickness, led some transplants to return to Denmark. This also lessened Danes’ desire to head to America.

Throughout the presentation, Ms. Olsen will return members of the audience to the era when Yates County was known as Little Denmark.

The College’s next Lecture by the Lake is slated for Friday, Aug. 17. It will feature a discussion on the quality of water in the Finger Lakes. It is free and open to the public.

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