Jølster during Astrup’s lifetime

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jølster Municipality, like so many other rural Norwegian districts, was a society undergoing change. It experienced the introduction of industrialization, innovations in communication and modernization in agriculture, all of which enabled the peasant population to change from subsistence farming to producing a marketable surplus of crops and goods. The farmers organized themselves into cooperatives in order to ensure stable prices. An increase in Norway’s population set the conditions for trading with Bergen and other cities. The school reform of 1860 safeguarded education, and more and more women started working outside the home. All these factors made it easier for Jølster – a relatively insular community up to this time – to interact with the wider world.


Jølster’s population grew sharply in the 19th century, despite exceptionally high levels of emigration and migration. In 1800 there were 1,811 inhabitants; by 1900 the number had risen to 2,858, while in 2011, the population stands at 3,021.

Postal service in Jølster

In 1785 the Trondhjemske Postvei (Trondheim Postal Route) was established. In Sunnfjord district, of which Jølster is a part, mail went from Dale (in Fjaler Municipality) to Sveen in Bygstad (Gaular Municipality) by rowboat, and from there it was carried on foot or horseback, through Førde Municipality and up to Jølstravatnet (lake). From here, another rowboat took the mail to the north end of the lake – to Skei. From Skei, the mailbag was carried back to Førde via the southern end of Breimsvatnet, then by boat to Reed in Breim.

The overland postal carriers met the rowers at two points in Jølster Municipality: Skei and Ålhus. With its strategic location, Ålhus vicarage became the first ‘post office’ in Jølster. This was in 1787. As early as 1774, however, Colonel Fasting had raised the question of establishing a post office in Jølster, but it was not mentioned in the official list of Norwegian post offices before 1808. The first postopnaren (postmaster) whose full name is recorded (in 1860) is Anders Emanuel Johanneson Aalhus.

To begin with, Ålhus had the only post office in all of Jølster, and the address for everyone in the municipality was simply ‘Jølster’. In 1833 it was changed to ’Aalhus’. The spelling changed to ‘Ålhus in 1917. By 1973 this primary post office was downgraded to ’secondary’, and by 1977 it was downgraded again to ’C’. It closed in 1991 and mail was re-routed to Vassenden, the village at the west end of Jølstravatnet. The village of Skei (northeast end of the lake), had a postopneri(’place to open post’ or ‘post office’) in 1875, and eventually 13 Jølster villages had either a brevhus (’letter house’) or postopneri.


In light of the postal route, the road between Vassenden and Ålhus was built in 1822, and when the last stretch of road between Ålhus and Helgheim was completed in 1859, Jølsterites could claim they had a continuous road along the north side of Jølstravatnet. The road along the lake’s south side, from Vassenden to Sægrov, was built in stages in the 1870s. It was widened and improved for motor vehicles between 1938 and 1945.

Through the initiative of the hoteliers Tollef Gabrielsen Skrede and A. O. Aardal from Skei and Nikolai Nielsen from Vassenden, a share-holding company was established for purchasing and operating a wood-fired steamboat. ’Skjold’ started ferry service on Jølstervatnet in 1891. The journey from Skei to Vassenden took approximately two hours and cost 50 øre for adults and 25 ørefor children. Astrup’s good friend, the teacher Anton O. Fond, was helmsman from 1900-1913. The boat operated on Jølstravatnet up until 1913, when it was made redundant by a bus system. The populace of Kjøsnesfjorden then purchased the ferry and used it until the road to Lunde was finished in 1938. In 1913, Andreas Lunde purchased the motorboat ’Skei’ and used it to transport goods and people to the isolated farms along Kjøsnesfjorden.

Rutebilar: buses for passengers and goods

When Norway’s parliament, in 1918, voted to financially support local transportation initiatives, Jølsterites took the opportunity to establish Jølster Kommunale Automobilselskap (Jølster Municipal Auto Company). The firstrutebil – a ‘Republik’ with a 2,5 ton payload – was purchased and ran its first route on 22 July 1919. It was crucial for Jølster’s farmers to be able to transport their marketable goods to and from the steamboat dock at Steinen in Førde (the traffic hub for travel to Bergen). The rutebil was therefore driven between Førde and Sandane (main town along the lake Breimsvatn) four days a week, and two days a week it travelled back and forth between Førde and Skei. In 1920 a third route was established along the south side of Jølstravatnet. Despite the local initiative to found this municipal transportation venture, it lasted only one year as an independent company; in 1920 it merged with Firda Bilag (Firda Automobile Company).


The route from Vadheim (a village on the banks of the Songefjord) to Sandane (alongside Gloppenfjord) is one of the most attractive tourist routs in Vestlandet(Western Norway). In the late 19th century, several tourist hotels were built along the route. Since transportation by horse-drawn carriage was available on a daily basis and the trips were relatively short, there were good conditions for livery stations and hotels in Jølster. Guesthouses had of course already existed since the early 18th century at both ends of Jølstravatnet. During the summer season, the farmers earned welcome cash by transporting tourists with horse and buggy. Lunde (in Jølster) had a livery station as early as the 1890s. Andreas Lunde established Lunde Tourist Station and he also guided travellers across the glacier from Lunde to Fjærland.

Vassenden (at Jølstervatnet’s west end) had a livery station, a post office, a shop and, by 1892, a telephone station. Nielsen’s Hotel at Vassenden was built in 1888 by Nikolai Nielsen Vassenden. The three-story building was constructed in the Swiss chalet style. Nielsen also ran a dairy farm at Vassenden. His son Anfinn eventually took over as hotelier and postmaster until 1940. At this time the hotel’s management was transferred to Anfinn’s cousin Kristian A. Støfring (1902-1965), and its name was changed to Vassenden Hotel. In 1941 the hotel was appropriated by the Nazis. It housed German soldiers until the end of World War II.

In 1964 a flat-roofed annex was added to the hotel. Attempts were made in the 1980s to camouflage this appendage with a false roof and to make it harmonize better with the original building. Another name-change came about in 1989, when Vassenden Hotel became Jølster Hotel. From 1998 to 2001 the hotel was used to house asylum seekers. Then, after reverting to normal hotel operations for almost a decade, it once again, in 2010, became a reception centre for asylum seekers.

At Skei, the Skrede family had long operated a livery station. In 1889 the family also opened a three-story, 30-bed hotel. It also was built in the Swiss chalet style. The hotel bought its first automobile in 1921. It burned down shortly after the Nazis requisitioned the hotel in 1943. After World War II, the second-generation hotelier Tollef Tollefson Skrede rebuilt the hotel and extended it to accommodate 48 beds. A new fire wreaked havoc in 1959, but the hotel was once again re-built and extended in several stages. Skei Hotel bought out its competitor, Stanley Hotel, when the latter declared bankruptcy. It was dismantled and re-built as an annex to Skei Hotel.

Electric power stations

The first power stations in Jølster were built at Helgheim, Ålhus and Skei in 1916. More small power stations were built later – Sandal’s, for instance, opened in 1943. Many of these were operating until the 1960s.


In the late 19th century, when Norway’s agricultural practices were modernized and subsistence farmers started producing a marketable surplus, some of the most important joint-ventures were the building of dairies. By sharing investment costs, farmers could operate more efficiently in producing cheese and butter for further sale. Bergen was the most important market for dairy products in Western Norway.

In the course of very few years, 26 dairies (both small and large) were built in Jølster. Most of the farms Nikolai Astrup had anything to do with were affiliated with a dairy. Both at Ålhus and at Myklebust, there were butter dairies that sold products via Norske Meieriers Salgssentral – Norway’s largest dairy cooperative. In Brenden in Sandalen, there was a butter dairy that initially sold its products to England, and only later to a merchant in Bergen.

Fur farming

In 1910, Ole M. Totland from Bryggja in Nordfjord pioneered in fur farming by importing wild silver foxes from Canada. This was risky business and required substantial investment during the first decades. Hence, in Jølster as well as elsewhere in Western Norway, farmers established shareholding companies for owning and operating silver fox farms. Hans Astrup, brother of Nikolai, started farming silver foxes at Grøset farm in Ålhus in 1925. The following year Bendik J. Nedrebø began a farm at Bø in Ålhus. In 1927, Ola Nedrebø, Johannes I. Døsen and Anders Erikstad collaborated on setting up a farm, and then again in 1929, the latter of which was at Helgheim.


Jølster Sparebank (savings bank) was established in 1900. Its first premises were at Instetunet in Årdal, in an old house owned by Ola Andersson Årdal (1854–1904). Ola ran a horse-and-buggy service and a guesthouse from his farm. Another of his farm buildings was used for many years as the municipal council’s meeting house. The bank finally built its own premises in Årdal in 1912 and remained there until 1997. This building still stands alongside European Route E39.

General stores

Anders Knutson Sunde opened the general store A.K. Sunde in Ålhus around 1900. It moved to a new building in 1955 and closed down in 1990.

At Vassenden, Ivar Hylderaas (1857–1957) was the proprietor of Voss landhandel (‘country store’). This store probably opened in 1894, in the building later called Blåbutikken (’the blue shop’). In Sandalen, Gunnar Hylderås opened a general store in 1926. Up to 2008 it was run by Gunnar’s son Ingvald Hylderås. Meanwhile, the Vassenden store closed down as early as 1961.

Pencil box factory

In 1917 the brothers Kristian and Bertel Eikås started manufacturing pencil boxes at Flugelona in Vassenden. They continued until 1959. Kristian Eikås (1899-1974) was a teacher and the founder of Jølster’s Heimeyrkeskulen (‘home-vocation school’). He was the school’s rector from its inception in 1945 through 1969. In 1939, he took the initiative to establish Jølster’s chapter ofHusflidslaget (the Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association).


During Astrup’s lifetime there were two churches in Jølster. Ålhus Church was built in 1795 by the master builder Gunder Gregorius Støfringshaug. Before this, a stave church stood on the spot.

Helgheim Church was erected in 1877. Its architect was J.W. Nordan and its master builder was Ole Vanberg. There has probably been a church at Helgheim since the 13th century. Mayor Anton Øygard from Stardalen endeavoured to move Helgheim Church to Skei, but lost by one vote when the proposal was brought before the municipal council.

Other artists in Jølster during Astrup’s lifetime

Jølster has been the home of many artists and has enjoyed a rich cultural life, also during Astrup’s lifetime.

With respect to fiddlers; the Viken family at Skei has produced well-known musicians for several generations: Ola Olsson Viken (1848-1926) was a teacher, a mayor and an excellent fiddler. His son Anders O. Viken (1898-1976) perpetuated the legacy and also became Norway’s foremost composer of slåtter(dance music usually played on a Hardingfele, a Norwegian fiddle with eight or nine strings). He composed more than 500 slåtter, examples of which are ’Jølstrabrura’ and ’Huldresølvet’.

Arne Viken (b. 1925), the son of Anders O. Viken, took his Hardingfele with him when he settled in Mo i Rana (just south of the Arctic Circle) and has done much to promote music and culture in Northern Norway. Rakel Viken (1891-1995), the wife of Anders O. Viken, nee Bolset, worked in a local dairy but also wrote poems. She involved herself in ethnography and published her collection of old words and expressions from the Jølster dialect.

Daniel Olson Viken (1886–1935) is another cultural figure from Jølster. He was a teacher and labour party politician and eventually settled at Nes in Romerike (closer to Oslo), where he was mayor in 1929. In 1922 he published the poetic cycle Røykfritt krut (‘Smoke-Free Gunpowder’). He was deputy-representative for Akershus (county) in the Norwegian Parliament for two periods: 1925-1927 and 1931-1933.

The fiddler Johannes B. Nedrebø (1854–1934) was from Ålhus and lived atBensentunet, a place Nikolai Astrup hoped could become a national heritage site. ’Bendik-Johannes’ is the fiddler figure in many of Astrup’s motifs of the midsummer bonfire.

Nikolai Olsson Berg (1875-1956) was a farmer, painter and photographer. He promoted the idea of raising a commemorative stone monument to Nikolai Astrup. In 1953 he helped transport the enormous stone to Ålhus. His photographs document many aspects of Jølster from the early 20th century.

Anton E. Fond (1866-1938) from Stardalen was a close friend of Nikolai Astrup. He taught school at Myklebust and Sandal from 1893 to 1913. In addition, Fond was a proficient painter.

Johannes Fossheim (1890–1981) from Vassenden was a farmer and woodcarver. He was Engel Astrup’s cousin, and several of his works can be found at Astruptunet. Jølstra Museum in Vassenden exhibits several wood sculptures by Fossheim, among others, Fanitullen, which received special recognition at a regional exhibition in Bergen in 1928.

Eivind Fossheim (1892–1982), brother of Johannes Fossheim, was a teacher and collector of old houses and ethnographic artefacts from the region. He built up the collections at Jølstra Museum in Vassenden.

Johannes Aalhus (1880–1910) from Ålhus was a teacher and promoter of theNynorsk language. He was a key figure in the målstriden (’the language dispute’) in the early years of the 20th century. One of the main opponents to the idea of using Nynorsk in schools and churches was the priest Christian Astrup, father of Nikolai Astrup.

Solveig Berg Lofnes

Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

Nikolai Astrup