In the summer 1891 a suspension bridge over Ölfusá near Selfoss was built by the initiative of Tryggvi Gunnarsson. At the time, it was the greatest structure that Icelanders had undertaken and the bridge was formally opened on the 8th of September 1891.
To undertake a structure of a bridge over the most powerful river in Iceland was a monumental task for a poor nation. The material for the bridge came from England and the main builders came from Newcastle. The material was unloaded at Eyrarbakki and then they waited until they had snow and frost so it would be easier to drag the material the 12 km (»7, 5 miles) to Selfoss.
The bridge was a turning point for the development of population in Selfoss. In the year 1900 there were 40 inhabitants in the Selfoss region, but today Selfoss is by far the largest town in the South of Iceland. The main line for transport in the South of Iceland was destroyed when the old bridge (Ölfusárbrú) caved in from the weight of two trucks on the night of the 6th of September 1944. The drivers were alone in the trucks, which plunged into the river when one of the main cables gave way. One of the drivers was not hurt, but the other driver was in immediate danger and was thankfully saved by the bootstraps after having floated on top of a tire about 300 meters down the river. That man was Jón I Guðmundsson and he was later appointed chief constable in Selfoss. Guðlaugur Magnús was in the other truck and he waded on shore.
Immediately they began to build a new bridge. The Second World War was coming to an end and workforce was available from Britain, so the process of building the bridge went well. A new bridge was opened the 22nd of December 1945, a beautiful suspension bridge which is still used today.
Selfoss was Þórir “Hersir” Árnason’s homestead, but there are also references that Ingólfur Arnarsson spent the winter 873-874 ²under Ingólfsfjall west of Ölfusá”.
There are few rural communities in Iceland that still have the first house, which was build in the populated area, still standing. That house is Tryggvaskáli. The history of Selfoss and the history of Tryggvaskáli are interwoven, but Tryggvaskáli is the house which marked the beginning of an idea for a centre of population. The first elementary school was in Tryggvaskáli, the first library was also there, the first telephone exchange, the first bank in Selfoss and etc.
Tryggvaskáli and Selfoss are still today, as they were more than 120 years ago, when the bridge was build, a junction to all the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland.
The name Selfoss is easier for foreigners to pronounce, compared to other names of towns and places in Iceland, and if tourist want to impress it is easy to say Selfoss.
No river in Iceland has as much water as Ölfusá. When Sogið (a river from Þingvallavatn) and Hvítá (a river from the glacier Langjökull and which also runs into Gullfoss on its way to the ocean) merge, they form Ölfusá.
The biggest salmon caught in the South of Iceland was 39 pounds and it was caught 1910 in Ölfusá.
Large flooding from the river has hit Tryggvaskáli a few times. The biggest flooding were 1948 and 1968, then the staff at Tryggvaskáli had to walk in water to above their knees and the supplies were saved by boat from the house. It is interesting to take a look at the markings on the bridge opposite the door on the west of Tryggvaskáli.
The large rock in Ölfusá opposite Tryggvaskáli is named Jóruklettur. The story goes; that the giantess Jórunn from Sandvík became very angry when her father’s horse was defeated in a horse – fight. She tore off the upper leg of the winning horse and ran towards Selfoss, which was then called Laxfoss. During that time there was no bridge over Ölfusá and therefore she, worn-out, had to pull pieces of rocks from the cliff of the riverside and throw them into the powerful river. Then Jórunn stepped on the rocks and said “Fitting is a maiden step, time to get married”. However, she did not marry, but settled down in Hengill, became the worst shrew and destroyed both men and animals on their way over the heath Hellisheiði.
There is a water-horse in Ölfusá and Hannes Gíslason a farmer from Kotferja spotted it in the summer of 1905. Hannes described the water-horse as a white horse swimming in the river and that its head and mane were above the water. This water-horse later saved two men from Stóra Sandvík from drowning when their boat was capsized.
In 1907 four men spotted a monster in Ölfusá. The monster was 4-6 meters long and 2-3 meters wide and the men saw it swimming in the river for about 30 minutes and it mainly kept above Laugadælur. The monster was black and domed. There are a good many sources of a monster in Ölfusá and Hvítá. Documented sources are quite a few and go back from 1636 and up to present time. A few years ago some anglers spotted the monster at Gíslastaðir and a dog which was with them barked profusely at the phenomenon, as it had never seen a monster before. Most people describe the shape and size of the monster in the same way, so it is probable that it is the same monster.
In the spring of 1901 the first proprietor moved into Tryggvaskáli. It was Þorfinnur Jónsson, and he at once set up accommodation and service for travelers. At that time Tryggvaskáli was in the original state. Þorfinnur bought Tryggvaskáli from the county in the year 1904, but the county had bought the house from Tryggvi Gunnarsson. Þorfinnur later added to the building and then sold it in 1918.
After the Great Frost-Winter 1918, Tryggvaskáli was sold and bought the following years and there was always business in accommodation and service. In the spring of 1934 Guðlaugur Þórðarson added a congregation hall to the house and the function of the house changed greatly towards restaurant operation and gathering. Guðlaugur and his daughters ran Tryggvaskáli until 1942.
Hotel – and restaurant operation was extensive in Tryggvaskáli after 1942 and up to the year 1974. The owners that whole time were husband and wife, Brynjólfur Gíslason and Kristín Árnadóttir. Their daughter, Bryndís Brynjólfsdóttir, was later one of the ringleaders who saved Tryggvaskáli, when the plan was to demolish it around 1990. In 1995 Bryndís and Þór Vigfússon, Árni Erlingsson, Sigurjón Erlings, Ásmundur Sverrir Pálsson and Þorvarður Hjaltason founded an association to preserve Tryggvaskáli – Skálavinafélgið, which initiated the reconstruction of the house. We are forever grateful to them.
The first resident of Selfoss:
Sigurður Sveinsson stonemason, who among other things worked on building the Icelandic house of parliament from 1880-1881, administered the stonework of the bridge (Ölfusárbrú) and most likely Tryggvaskáli as well. But in Tryggvaskáli he and his wife María Matthíasdóttir stayed for the winter. Their son was born in Tryggvaskáli on the 13th of September 1890, or about a month after it was established. The boy was christened and received the name Óskar, and it can be assumed that he was the first native-born resident of the town Selfoss.
Óskar later moved by himself to the New World in 1911 and settled in Winnipeg. There he studied electro technology and pewter making and after a six year stay he managed to invent a novelty for electric stoves. The company General Electric wanted to buy the patent from him for 11 thousand dollars, but the young resident of Selfoss was ambitious and bold (which is the manner of people from Selfoss) declined the offer and intended to get a patent himself and start production. His dream did not come true that time, because more capital was needed than the young and unknown man could provide.
Óskar married the Norwegian – Icelandic Hansína Amundsen and they moved to Seattle on the Pacific Coast of The United States of America and Óskar started working for the aircraft factories of Boeing in 1933. Óskar had a long and successful career with the Boeing factories and along with supervision he designed new equipment for work arrangement and work rationalization.
The management of the factories honored him with a multiple acknowledgement and gave him a four year work extension. Óskar visited Iceland in 1963 and of course stopped in Tryggvaskáli and looked around the house he was born in. He died on the 19th of February 1970.
Tryggvi Gunnarson, parliament member was always ambitious and it is mostly thanks to him that a foundation was laid so that Selfoss became a densely populated area. Tryggvi was the first bank director in Iceland 1893, when he became the bank director of Landsbankinn. The bank was in Bankastræti in Reykjvavík and the name of the street was changed from Bakarastræti (Bakerstreet) to Bankastræti (Bankstreet) so one could say that the takeover of the banks is not a new thing.
Tryggvi Gunnarsson bought Þrastarskógur and gave UMFÍ (The Icelandic Youth Association) the land. He was the chairman of the Icelandic National Partner Association, was a member of the town council of Reykjavík and was the chairman of the animal protection association from the time it was founded until the day he died.
He was a member of parliament for almost four decades and among other things he supervised the building of the Icelandic house of parliament. He cultivated the garden of the house of parliament and eventually he was buried there in 1917, the only Icelander.
The king of Denmark:
In the summer of 1907 Friðrik the eight king of Denmark visited Iceland. A lot was done for the visit and the king went all around the country. Roads were cleared, Kóngsvegur (King-road) was laid and King Friðrik and his entourage traveled around the South of Iceland for a week. He stopped in Tryggvaskáli on the 5th of August after a trip to Haukadalur, Hreppar and a livestock show along the bridge of Þjórsá. When he came to Ölfusárbrú and Tryggvaskáli a host of people greeted him with a ceremony.
“The king and Hannes Hafstein road in the forefront and the flock went along the smooth highway” was written in chronicles. In accounting records is says in inclosure 139 that reverend Þórhallur Bjarnason (who was with the king’s entourage) had 20 glass bottles of ale in Tryggvaskáli for 35 dimes a piece, all in all seven kronas.
The son of Friðrik the eight, the Danish king Kristján the tenth came to Iceland in 1921 and after travelling all around the South of Iceland for a week he received a banquet in Tryggvaskáli. The king ate in the blue room on the upper floor of Tryggvaskáli, which later was naturally named the king’s room.
The Second World War:
In the Second World War the British took over Tryggvaskáli and had their base there, along building a quarter of barracks by the river. On February the 9th 1941 an enemy bomber flew over Tryggvaskáli, but there soldiers were getting ready for mass. The airplane then turned around over Ölfusá and when it came back and was over Laugardælaeyja there was loud gunfire. One man died the cook Martin Hunter was shot in the head when he looked out the window and he died instantly.