Finding Danish connections in Wilbur, Washington

Wilbur, Washington – It’s easy to miss this little farming town nestled between the rolling wheat fields along Highway 2, but it’s definitely worth a stop – especially so if you are Danish.

From the late 1800s to the mid 1900s Wilbur was home to “Dane Town.”

Danish last names dominate Wilbur Cemetery, just north of town: Lauritzen, Lyse, Madsen and Andersen. As a fellow Dane I was intrigued: who were all these people and what did Wilbur look like when they arrived?

Wilbur incorporated in 1890 and narrowly missed being named “Goosetown” after founder Samuel Wilbur Condit’s nickname, Wild Goose Bill.

In its heyday, several thousand people called Wilbur home – and about a quarter of them were first- or second-generation Danes.

One enterprising Dane was Frands Madsen who operated Hotel Madsen on the main street of Wilbur. Madsen was in the hotel business for almost 40 years together with his wife, Anna Madsen. The Big Bend Historical Society in Wilbur is full of photos and stories from the bustling hotel, which is rumored to have had its own supply of liquor coming down from Canada during the prohibition.

So how did the Danes find Wilbur? The Museum of Danish America in Elkhorn, Iowa, has a digital archive of Danish newspapers published here. They connected Danish communities across the nation, and ran classified sections featuring land for sale.

On June 30, 1909, C. J. Skovgaard writes in Danish in the paper Dannevirke that he is offering tours of 40,000 acres of land near Wilbur.

“Fall was beautiful and sunny. The locals say the winter was the worst in 23 years … we had ten days in January with freezing temperatures, but otherwise it was calm with beautiful snowfall, and no blizzards or storms... Summer is warm and beautiful. If you buy land here, you will settle in a beautiful and healthy climate.”

“Dane Town” was on the right as you head north to the cemetery, but most of the homes and also the big hotel is gone. A bit west of Wilbur you find Govan and its charmingly dilapidated and much photographed one-room schoolhouse, and old homesteads can be spotted here and there.

This town is far from dead: the Wilbur Register is still published here, also serving nearby Almira, Creston, Keller and Lincoln, and you can get lunch at Doxie’s Diner on Main Street. Campers and RV’ers can stay at the Country Lane Campground which also is the home of the Cook Shack Café.

And don’t forget to pet Wilbur the Pig who sits right in the center of town. For more info go to

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