The Clifton area has a rich and unique heritage. The city slogan, “Norwegian Capital of Texas…and so much more,” couldn’t be more fitting. While the area is known foremost as the largest Norwegian settlement in the South and Southwest, its heritage also includes a large German population, as well as the expected Southern and Hispanic influences. The result is a community with largely two blended ethnic cultures unlike any other.
The Norwegian settlement in Bosque County began in 1854. By the turn of the century, several thousand settlers of Norwegian descent made their homes primarily between Clifton and Cranfills Gap to the northwest. The heart of the Norwegian settlement was the Norse community. The first Lutheran church was established at Norse in 1869 (Our Saviors) to serve the early settlers, with other congregations later founded near Cranfills Gap and in Clifton. The Norwegian settlement was so strong that visitors would be hard-pressed to hear English being spoken prior to the turn of the century. Church services were still conducted in Norwegian prior until the outbreak of WWI.
Large as the Norwegian influence in Bosque County was, the German community ranks a close second. The German settlement was concentrated southeast of the Bosque River with the community of Womack as its nucleus. There, German immigrants founded Zion United Church of Christ as well as the predominantly German Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Clifton.
Both the Norwegian and German settlers kept their language and customs alive for many years following their arrival in Bosque County. Today, descendants of those two pioneer groups keep alive their ethnicity and heritage through special events held throughout the season in Clifton and neighboring communities.
The Norwegian Society of Texas, Bosque County Chapter, observes several special occasions including Norwegian Independence Day or Syttende Mai each May. Our Saviors Lutheran Church at Norse has held its annual Norse Smorgasbord each November for more than half a century. The two-day event features an evening feast of authentic Norwegian cuisine which attracts visitors from near and far.
The annual Norwegian Country Christmas, held the first Saturday in December, is the best opportunity to experience firsthand the Norwegian influence in Clifton during the warmth of the holiday season. The tour typically includes Norwegian foods, storytelling, folk dancing, and visits to historic Norwegian homes and churches. That same weekend, the community of Cranfills Gap comes alive with their annual Lutefisk Dinner. Lutefisk is a baked Norwegian codfish which was enjoyed by early settlers at Christmas much like turkey and dressing at American Thanksgiving dinners.
The German heritage of the community comes alive each November with the annual Zion Heritage Sausage Supper at Womack. There, German delicacies, such as homemade sausage and kraut, are enjoyed by visitors. German food booths also are prevalent at the annual Clifton Fall Fest each November and Heritage Village during the December Homes Tour. Both the German and Norwegian heritage are kept alive for visitors in the permanent and changing exhibits of the Bosque Museum in Clifton.
Today’s growing Hispanic population in Clifton is represented in its restaurants, foods, and in special events such as Cinco de Mayo celebrations held in May.