4 minute read

Welcome to Kingsburg

Story by Lifestyle Staff

Photos by Topograph

You don’t have to travel far to experience a little Scandinavian-European flair. Kingsburg has been known as “little Sweden” since 1921, when 94% of its population was Swedish-American. Today, it’s referenced as the Valley’s Swedish Village, featuring Swedish architecture, Dala horses, Swedish flags, and bay trees throughout the town. This month, we’re sharing our day-trip discoveries from our visit to one of our Central Valley small towns.


The history of Kingsburg began in the early 1870s, with the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, when it was first named “Kings River Switch.” The town was a flag stop at the historic train depot and is where many Swedish natives settled. In 1894, after going through a series of name changes that included Wheatville, Kingsbury, and Kingsburgh, it was given its final and current name. Twelve years later, in 1908, it was officially incorporated as a town.

A notable town landmark is the 122-foot water tower shaped like an antique Swedish coffee pot. It was built in 1911, modified in 1985, and is now lit up at night, so it can be seen all hours of the day and night.

Jailhouse Museum

With its share of saloons and bandits, Kingsburg was considered one of the "toughest" towns to live in during its early years. A 50-square-foot jail was built in 1924 and operated until the early 1970s. It was later given to the historical society in 2008 for restoration and functions now as a walk-through diorama that gives visitors a sense of what it was like to serve time in jail during the 20th century.

Kingsburg Historical Park & Museum

The historical museum park has 17 exhibits and is operated by the Kingsburg Historical Society. It is open to the public for self-guided tours on specific days of the week. They also host public events such as The Holiday Lights and offer venue rental for private events.

Notable People

Rafer Lewis Johnson, a Kingsburg native, was the USA team’s flagbearer and decathlon gold medalist in the 1960 Olympic games; he also won silver in 1956. Notably in 1968, he along with a few others, tackled Sirhan Sirhan to the ground after he shot Robert F. Kennedy. After retirement, Johnson was an actor and sportscaster and was instrumental in helping create the Special Olympics. His brother, James Earl Johnson, played professional football for the San Francisco 49ers from 1961-1976.

Monte Dale Clark was born and raised in Kingsburg, and after graduating high school, he attended college at University of California with a football scholarship. He went on to play in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, and Cleveland Browns. He later served as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers from 1976-1977 and the Detroit Lions from 1978-1984.


Kingsburg has many murals throughout the downtown district, depicting life in the small town. Lifelong resident and late artist Maxine Olson designed many of the murals. Notably, her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad at places including the San Juan Bautista Gallery, the Palazzo Casali in Venice, Italy, the Forum Gallery in New York City, the Chait Galleries in Iowa City, the University of Calgary, the Artes Americas Museum, and the Smithsonian.

Swedish Festival

The town’s most notable annual event is the Swedish Festival, which draws people from all over the country. It’s held during the third weekend in May and features a Swedish pancake breakfast, a parade, and the coronation of the Swedish Festival Queen. Many booths and activities are set up all along the main downtown street, offering crafts and food from classic Swedish culture.