The historic Turnblad mansion was built between 1904 and 1908 for Swan Turnblad, his wife Christina, and their daughter. Swan immigrated from Sweden in 1868 with his parents and the family settled in Vasa Township in Goodhue County. He worked on the family farm for several years before moving to Minneapolis in 1878 where he found a job typesetting for Swedish-American newspapers. He met Christina Nilsson in Minneapolis and the two were married in 1883. The following year, their only child, Lillian, was born. 

Swan became the owner of the Swedish language newspaper Svenska Amerikanska Posten in 1887. Under his management, circulation steadily increased from 1,400 in 1887 to 40,000 by 1900. Svenska Amerikanska Posten was said to have the largest readership of any Swedish-language newspaper in the United States. 

With his newspaper a success, Swan turned his attention to building a grand home for his family that reflected their new financial position. He considered three proposals for a mansion on Park Avenue—once the Summit Avenue of Minneapolis—before settling on a French Chateau design by Minneapolis architectural firm Boehme and Cordella.

The three-story, 33-room mansion reportedly cost $1.5 million to complete. Just a few of the remarkable decorations in the home included 33 kakelugnar tile fireplaces, an African mahogany-paneled grand entry recognized as the finest in North America, three turrets, unique woodcarvings throughout the home, and a hand-blown, enamel-painted window on the grand stairway landing. 

The ornate window is a reproduction of the painting Valdemar IV Atterdag Holding Visby to Ransom by Carl Gustaf Hellqvist. The Danish King Valdemar IV is seen sitting on his throne to the right with his army in the background. The Danish have threatened to destroy the town of Visby, Sweden unless the citizens give up all their valuable possessions. The mayor of Visby is seen in the center with his fist clenched. His beautiful wife is by his side looking toward the heavens for divine intervention. The original painting was too small to be placed in the space allowed for the window, so the craftsman extended the length by placing himself in the artwork on the left side.

Although the family listed the mansion as their official residence starting in 1908, they spent most of their time living in an apartment across the street after 1915. After Christina died in 1929, Swan and Lillian moved into the apartment full-time. In December of that year, Swan Turnblad founded the American Institute of Swedish Arts, Literature, and Sciences. He donated the mansion, the newspaper, and his book and artifact collection to the new institute to preserve Swedish culture in America. We know it today as the American Swedish Institute.