Scandinavians in Alabama
This is a copy of part of the book, "Memories Preserved," Vol. II.
The book is a paperback, measuring 5 3/4 inches wide by 9 inches tall.
It has 134 pages, printed in 1992.
The book contains footnotes at the bottom of the pages.
This online version has the footnotes all on one page.
Front Cover Back Cover
Foreword [not copied]
Preface (To Scandinavians in Alabama)
Scandinavians in Alabama: Migration from the Midwest[not copied]
Interviews with Descendants [not copied]
Arthur Nelson [not copied]
Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Howard [not copied]
Pearl Ahlstrand [not copied]
Fred Hedberg [not copied]
Evelyn Anderson Chell [not copied]
Dorothy Peterson Carlisle [not copied]
Interviews with Silverhill Residents
Guide to Interviews with Swedish Americans [not copied]
Click each footnote number to be taken to that reference,
then click your browser's back button to come back to the article.
The history of the Scandinavian migration to North America goes back to
1638 when the first Swedes and Finns arrived in the Delaware Valley. Sweden,
which had established itself as a great power in Europe under Gustavus
Adolphus II, wished to gain a foothold in the New World. Although the New
Sweden Colony was conquered by the Dutch in 1655, the Swedish colonists
earned a place in the history of the new nation, the United States.1 When the
350th anniversary of the founding of New Sweden was celebrated in 1988, we
were reminded of the much larger numbers of Scandinavians who came to the
United States two centuries later - not as colonizers but as immigrants.
In the 19th century, the Norwegians led the way for the Scandinavian
immigration to the United States. A small Norwegian Quaker colony was
established in 1825 at Kendall in up-state New York by Kleng Peerson who
had left Stavanger on the Norwegian west coast for America in 1821. The
majority of his countrymen began to arrive two decades later and settled
tnainly in the Midwest. According to the Federal Censuses, 1850-70, the
largest number of Norwegians could be found in the state of Wisconsin. In
1880, however, Minnesota had attracted more Norwegians than Wisconsin.
The Swedes arrived next. A few families and smaller groups left in the 1830s
and early 40s, but it was not until 1846 with the exodus of about 1,000
"Eric-Jansonists" to Henry County, Illinois, that the emigration from Sweden
gained momentum. The leader of the sect, Eric Jansson, had broken with the
State Church of Sweden; rather than conform with the laws of his homeland,
he chose to set out for America. He founded the religious colony of Bishop
Hill, Illinois. Many of the original colony buildings still stand, making Bishop
Hill one of the most prominent Swedish historical landmark in the United
Illinois became the number one 'Swede' state in the Union, closely followed
by Minnesota, but by 1890 the trend was reversed. More Swedes could then
be found in Minnesota than in Illinois. The Federal Census for that year
shows that the Swedes had spread to all states in the northern half of the
nation and to a lesser degree into the South. Texas was a favorite southern
state, but Swedes could also be found in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Tennesee. It is somewhat surprising that 51
Swedish-born persons lived in Alabama as early as 1850. In 1860 they
numbered 155. After that, there was a decrease until 1890 when the number
jumped to 488. The highest figure was reached in 1910 with 755 Swedish-born.
In 1890 the aggregate of Swedes, Norwegians and Danes, in Alabama, including the second generation, was 642. The numbers grew as the Thorsby and Silverhill settlements were founded. In the country as a whole, the number
of Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes was 1,535,597. 2
The states of New York and California were popular among the Danes
before 1860, as was Utah for those Danes who had been converted to
Mormonism. In 1870-80, more Danes lived in Wisconsin than in any other
state. In 1890, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin had an almost equal
number of Danish-born inhabitants.
The emigration from Finland occurred relatively late. As a result the best
homestead land had already been taken. A large number of Finns became
lumberjacks or ironminers in the Upper Midwest with a concentration in
Upper Michigan. Many Swedes and Norwegians were also lumberjacks and
ironminers. Single men often worked on farms during the planting and
harvesting season and as lumberjacks in the winter.
As emigration from Sweden reached its peak in the mid-1880s, most of the
immigrants settled in the cities. Over 43,000 Swedish-born lived in Chicago in
1890. Chicago at one time was the second largest "Swede" city after Stockholm. It is generally agreed that 125 million Swedes immigrated to America
before 1930. With the Norwegian immigration to the United States exceeding
750,000, only Ireland had a heavier emigration relative to their population.
The number of immigrants from Denmark was about 350,000. The maximum
was reached in 1882 when 12,000 Danes emigrated. Finland saw about 380,000
leave between 1860 and 1930, almost all of whom chose to come to the United
States. Together, these four Scandinavian countries accounted for about 2.5
million of the 31 million Europeans who crossed the Atlantic as emigrants.
The immigrants from Europe came mainly in three waves, 1847-56, 1865-73,
and 1880-93. The last wave was prompted by an agricultural crisis in Europe.
By 1890 the frontier had reached into even the remotest areas. Landseeking
immigrants in the 1880s and '90s headed for the Plains States, to Nebraska
and Kansas, eastern Colorado, and South and North Dakota.
While the frontier steadily moved westward, many settlers in the Great
Lakes states sold their improved farms and moved west where land was
cheaper. Numerous Swedes from Illinois became pioneers of Kansas and
Nebraska in the late 1860s. We have heard of the droughts, the grasshopper
swarms, and the dreaded prairie fires that many had to endure. Also,
depressed prices hit the farmers of the Great Plains around 1890. Thus there
were always those who were ready to move once more. An article in The
Banner, Clanton, Alabama, on June 20, 1895, states that there were plans to
relocate people from Nebraska and Kansas to Alabama:
"General News Summary: To inspect Alabama Lands"
While the settlers of Thorsby, Alabama, came mainly from Minnesota,
Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin, the founder of Thorsby, T. T. Thorson, had lived
in Nebraska. The migration to Alabama was naturally not limited to
Major Hunter, secretary of the Grand Army immigration
committee, and Col. J. F. Zediker of Nebraska, will commence their investigation of Alabama lands on the 19th.
Their first investigation will be along the Alabama Great
Southern Railroad from the northeast to the southwest
comer of the state. Col. Zediker is editor and proprietor of
the Lincoln, Nebraska, "Camp Fire," one of the leading
Grand Army papers of that territory, and he represents
hundreds of families in Nebraska and Kansas, who desire to
come south to live. Full description of the property examined
will be published in the Nebraska 'Camp Fire.'
The author is indebted to Mr. Benjamin D. Roberts, for his invaluable
assistance in providing copies and information from the original land deeds,
incorporation papers, and from the local press. The Thorsby descendants
whom I have met and corresponded with have been most kind and willing to
help. Special thanks go to Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Howard of Thorsby, Mrs. W. H.
Carlisle (the former Dorothy Peterson) of Birmingham, Mr. and Mrs. Martin
Hedberg of St. Paul, and Mr. Milton Thorson of Evansville, Indiana. Through
the Oscar Johnson Memorial Library, I came in contact with Silverhill
residents Milton Cline and Ted Forsman, who were very helpful.
I would also like to acknowledge the assistance received from Rev. Thomas
R. Noon, Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. John Christianson, Luther College,
Decorah, Iowa, and two emigration archives in Sweden: the Emigrant Institute
in Växjö (not the least its director, Professor Ulf Beijbom who read the manuscript) and the Emigrant Register in Karlstad, as well as the American
Friends of the Emigrant Institute of Sweden, Inc., for access to their oral
history interviews and other assistance. The Lutheran Theological Southern
Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, kindly arranged for the microfilming
of the records of the now disbanded Concordia Lutheran Church of Thorsby.
Those records made it possible for me to include in the notes the birthplaces
of many of the original settlers. The original spelling of their names has been
used at least once in the notes.
Scandinavians in Alabama by Lilly Setterdahl
Migration from the Midwest
In the mid 1890s Scandinavian-American newspapers advertised land in the
states of Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Texas had a certain familiarity as
the first Swedish settlement there had been founded near Stamford in the
1840s. By 1895, at least 14 Swedish settlements had been established in
Texas.3 The Danes established the Grundtvigian colony of Dannevang near
the Gulf of Mexico and the Norwegians settled in the Panhandle.4
The Haga Colony, Centerville, Mississippi, could boast of a population of 90
Scandinavians in September 1895. At that time, land was also available at
Yazoo-Dal, Mississippi, by the Yazoo Mississippi Valley Railroad Company.
Following the founding of the Thorsby colony in Alabama in 1895, at least two
Scandinavian families moved from Mississippi to Thorsby. According to the
same newspaper, both prairie and woodland were still available in Minnesota
In Alabama, Scandinavians from northern states established colonies in
Thorsby, Silverhill and Fruithurst. The founders of these colonies planned to
grow fruits and vegetables. Scholars have paid little attention to the migration
of Scandinavians from the North.
In 1896, Oscar Johnson of Chicago, an immigrant from Dalarna, Sweden,
founded a colony in Silverhill, Baldwin County, in Southern Alabama.6 The Svea Land Company in Chicago, which advertised land for sale in Silverhill, was also founded by Oscar Johnson. The other two officers were C. A.
Carlson and C. A. Vallentin. Johnson's daughter, Elvera Armstrong, said in
an interview in Silverhill in 1978 that her father visited Thorsby in 1895, but
decided against locating there.7 According to Mrs. Armstrong, her father
explored the South as early as 1893. She said she came to Silverhill with her
mother and her younger sister, Agnes, and her grandfather, John Peter
Johnson, in January of 1897, but, according to another source, it was in
January of 1898.8
Thanks to a manuscript, "The Founding of the Silverhill Colony," written by
Charles Norman, we have a first-hand account of how the colonization began
and the perils of the first years:
The Founding of the Silverhill Colony9
"In the spring of 1896, work opportunities in the Chicago shops were rather
scarce, and therefore the idea was conceived to try to improve one's condition
by turning to country living and farming.
"To that end, Oscar Johansson [Johnson], J. Linden, [C.] Swanson, C. O.
Carlson, and [C. A.] Vallentin met to discuss how to proceed. They decided
to travel to the South to explore the possibilities of founding a Swedish colony.
"The Illinois Central Railroad office gave them free tickets for the excursion
as far as Nashville. Upon arrival in Nashville, the party bought tickets to
Mobile, Alabama, but stayed over in Montgomery. While there, they became
acquainted with a real estate man by the name of Scott, who gave them maps
and notices about land, suitable for farming.
"They then continued their journey to Mobile, Theodore, and St. Elmo,
Alabama. Following a stay in Theodore, they went to Mobile and crossed the
Mobile Bay by boat to Battles Wharf in Baldwin County. At Battles Wharf
they became acquainted with a man named Smith, who had come all the way
from Ohio by horse and wagon. He accompanied the party on his way east for
15 miles to the vicinity of Fish River, where Aaron Hartford had a large area
of land for sale. The land was satisfactory, but there were considerable
difficulties in marketing the products, because the roads and other communications were poor.
"No land was purchased at this time, and the party returned to Theodore,
Alabama. Following discussions at the Windsor Hotel in Mobile, the decision
was made to return to Baldwin County. This time the party consisted of Oscar
Johnson, Vallentin, and Scott. They took the train to Bay Minette and from
there they traveled by horse and wagon 25 miles to the south in order to
inspect Aaron Hartford's land a second time and to find out whether the
climatic conditions were suitable for the northerners. This time, land was
purchased. The men returned to Chicago to notify the others who were interested in the venture and
to prepare for the colonization
of the land.
"The deeds were received in
June of 1896 and some time
later Oscar Johnson returned
to the South.10
he stayed 3 months at the
Swedish colony of Thorsby in
northern Alabama before he
continued to Silverhill.
"In the spring of 1897, Oscar
Johnson began to clear land
for a house, and during the
summer, when J. Linden arrived, the two men began to
build the house. But that
summer Yellow Fever broke
out, which prohibited communications with Mobile and
Pensacola [Florida]. Therefore, Mr. Johnson went to
Chicago and stayed there until
the end of November when
the Yellow Fever had subsided. When Oscar Johnson
returned he was accompanied
by Mr. and Mrs. Westerlund
and their daughter Lovisa, as
well as "Slauson" [Dr. Slosson
"Oscar Johnson's house was
now finished except for doors and windows, which could not be obtained
during the ravages of the Yellow Fever. The openings were covered with
boards to keep the wind out. Since the furniture had not arrived, they had to
use boards to make temporary beds. The mattresses consisted of pine needles
and dry grass topped with blankets and comforters.
"Now the most difficult question arose. Food had to be prepared, but where?
They had no stove and no chimney. But a woman is seldom helpless, so when
Mrs. Westerlund saw a burning tree trunk outside the house, she promptly
grabbed a pot and placed it over the fire, along with a coffee pot, and soon
a tasty meal consisting of oatmeal and coffee, and whatever else went with it,
was served. This was the first cooked meal in Silverhill. Later a stove was built
outside the house and it was used for cooking and baking. Since everything
was prepared outside, Mrs. Westerlund had to watch out for intrusive
uninvited guests because there were plenty of longnosed hogs running wild in
the woods in those days.
"On Christmas Eve 1897, Oscar Johnson had doors and windows in the
house and also a chimney. Then there was Christmas joy. The colony
consisted of only 5 people, but Christmas was to be celebrated the Swedish
way with fish and gröt (creamed rice).
"New Years Eve 1897 was celebrated with coffee and dopp (e.g. coffeebread). The first year, it was very difficult to obtain food supplies. One had
to ride or walk the long and often bad road to Marlow or Daphne, and what
one could find there consisted mainly of coffee, sugar, salt pork, and
"On January 1, 1898, Mrs. Johnson and her daughters, Elvira [Elvera] and
Agnes, arrived. The addition to the colony was especially welcome for Mrs.
Westerlund, who, so far, had been the only woman in the colony. The first
regular excursion arrived here in Silverhill in February of 1898 and consisted
of the following persons: 'Otto Solberg and wife, Charly [Charley] Johanson,
Ernst Dahlberg, Mr. Lind and wife, and Colander and family, and Ankarberg.'12
"The following episode about the difficulties the first settlers had to face may
be of interest. There was no milk to be had in Silverhill. Therefore, Mr.
Solberg decided to try to get a milch cow. To that end, he and Dahlberg went
north one Thursday morning, not knowing how far they would have to go
before being able to buy a cow, but they thought they would surely be back
before nightfall on Friday evening. When it began to get dark on Friday and
no Solberg was in sight, Mrs. Solberg became worried, took a lantern, and
went out in the dark woods to meet them. Being afraid of getting lost, she
didn't dare to go far, so she sat down on a fallen tree. There she sat until
midnight with her lantern in hand to show the way in case they should come.
It was Saturday night before Solberg, Dahlberg, and the cow arrived.
"During the first 5-6 years, the arrival of new settlers, especially during the
fall and winter months, contributed to the colony's growth and agricultural
"During the years 1899-1900 everything that was grown was needed for
consumption in the colony—potatoes, both sweet and Irish, corn, rice--nothing
was shipped out. Precious time was used to build houses and clear land.
During the years 1901-02 sweet and Irish potatoes and string beans were
planted, as well as some strawberries. Whatever could be marketed had to be
taken to Daphne and then shipped by boat to Mobile. The products often had
to be sold for little or nothing because Mobile in those days was a small
The tall pine trees that grew on the land had been tapped for turpentine
long before the Swedes arrived. The owner of the Lowell Turpentine Still,
Martin Lowell, always paid his employees in silver dollars, thus the name of
Silverhill. Oscar Johnson had planned to name the settlement Svea, but
changed his mind. When he started a sawmill in 1902, he continued the tradition of paying wages in silver dollars, and the name of Silverhill prevailed.
Pictured is the Silverhill Land Colony's pamphlet picturing Oscar Johnson's home and promoting "The Land of the Future". - Click to enlarge.
The Svea Land Company's 24-page pamphlet advertised land in Silverhill in
the Swedish language. Oscar Johnson compared the beauty of the land to a
The country is forested, but the forest does not cover the
land. Grass is growing everywhere, and the land is reminiscent of a Swedish meadow with its many beautiful flowers
and lush grass when the dew glitters in the sunlight from
The pamphlet stated that a family dwelling with four rooms could be built
for $150.00. The Swedish colony had access to more than 20,000 acres,
whereof 6,000 had been sold to Scandinavians. The price per acre varied
between $15 and $40. Satisfied customers were quoted. Silverhill Nyheter,
published monthly by Svea Land Company, reported in February of 1902 that
the railroad would come to Silverhill and that the sawmill was finished. "Svea
Land Colony will build houses, clear land, plant fruit trees and do all other
work for land buyers," it said. To further entice prospective buyers, the paper
wrote in English:
The soil consists of a black loam mixed with sand on clay
bottom. Coupled with even temperatures, eg. beautiful sunny
days with equal amounts of rain every month, the conditions
are favorable for growing all kinds of grain, rotväxter [Such
as potatoes which grow underground], vegetables, fruit, nuts,
etc., that are grown in the North.... It is possible to get 2-3
harvests a year on the same land. The climate and location
of the land, however, makes this region most suitable for
fruit growing, more so than any other area in the America....
In Silverhill, one can prosper from growing corn, oats, rye,
wheat, hay, cotton, cabbage, sugarcane, "upland" rice,
potatoes, sweet potatoes, melons, cucumbers and all kinds of
vegetables. But most profitable are fruit and tobacco. It is
equal to Cuba tobacco, which is marketed for about $1.50
per pound. Among the fruits grown in Silverhill are apricots,
peaches, pears, olives, plumbs, prunes, apples, grapes, figs,
pecan and other nuts, as well as berries of all kinds.
Silverhill is a Scandinavian Colony, admirably situated in
the very center of the beautiful pine belt plateau of Baldwin
county, Alabama, about ten miles east of Daphne.
The paper offered stock in the Silverhill Turpentine Manufacturing Company
at one dollar a share and assured its readers about the safety of the stock: "To
make turpentine, sprit (wood spirit), wagon grease, and charcoal from the oily
pine stumps in the South is no experiment, but an absolutely safe and profitable business."
The site is high, in the heart of the long-leaf yellow pine
forest, and is blessed with a mild climate, tempered by the
Gulf breezes. It has fine freestone water, numberless springs,
rippling streams and a romantic surrounding. In March and
April the woods are aglow with blooming trees and wild
The soil is a sandy loam with a good clay subsoil, and is
especially adapted to fruit, vegetables and general farming.
No better place for raising poultry or stock can be found.
Mobile and Pensacola afford good markets for all that can
Land is yet offered at $12.50 and $15 per acre. Terms to
suit purchaser. Ten per cent discount for cash. Free fare to
all who buy 40 acres land.
For parties who cannot go down at present, we will select
a piece of land, subject to their approval. If not perfectly
satisfactory, it can be exchanged for another piece of land of
the same market value.
Do not delay in securing a piece of land as prices are
advancing. Write today!
The Svea Land Company also placed large ads in Chicago newspapers
promoting land in Silverhill. One ad published in February 1905 lauded the
healthy climate and good water. "No snow and no sunstrokes. Excursion from
Chicago on February 21. 2,000 miles for the round trip price of only $20.00.
Come to see the South, the land of the future. Write to Svea Land Colony ...
A still larger ad appeared in a later issue the same month containing quotes
by a new landowner, Dr. Hakanson. The former Chicago physician, wrote:
The climate is splendid. The farmers can work their fields
all year round. Here are countrymen from nearly all of our
northern states. Productive farmers from Illinois, Iowa,
Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota have found
fertile fields here in Baldwin County. We have met many
who have left Chicago for health reasons and we can
mention a wellknown South Chicago engineer, Mr. C. A.
Edwards, whose health has improved remarkably in the
Alabama's evergreen forests.... Silver hill, Ala., Oct. 26,
An excerpt from a letter written by John F. Anderson, Belvidere, Illinois,
dated Oct. 20, 1904, was published as follows:
Silverhill, this new little town with its promising future was
most enchanting this beautiful October morning. In the
company of the colony's travel agent, the honest and
straightforward Alf Carlson, I visited Mr. O. Johnson's
beautiful home, and found him waiting to show us around.
It wasn't long before I had made my choice [of land]. Then
I hurried home to my family, so we can return to Silverhill
before winter and make our future home there. And now I
say to my friends and readers: Go and do the same. Leave
the smokey cities for a healthy area, where work is blessed
with a rich harvest and where one can forget about factories
and strikes and become independent in a foreseeable
Many new settlers arrived around the turn of the century. One of them was
Charles Olander, who commenced to build a hotel in 1899. The hotel dining
room was then used for church services. The building included a post office
and a store. At one time, there were three hotels in Silverhill. The Peoples'
Supply Company opened in 1902. It was operated by Theodore Johnson,
formerly of Paxton, Illinois, where he was also a grocer. In 1906 the Louisville
and Nashville Railroad came to nearby Robertsdale. Like Thorsby, Silverhill
has had its share of disasters. In addition to fires, it was struck by hurricanes.
A severe storm in 1906 caused some people to board up their houses and
leave. Many homes were destroyed. The corn that had not already been
harvested was a total loss.
We will now return to "The Founding of the Silverhill Colony."
"On December 5, 1903, a meeting was called to discuss the planting of peach
orchards, which was approved. In the spring of 1904, the planting began on a
large scale. In February 1905, 11,550 trees had been planted. From these
orchards one hoped to obtain a good income in the future, but the hopes were
dashed. Instead of an income, it became a loss, because bugs and diseases attacked the orchards so that the trees dried out and died. After two years there
were not many trees left. This was a costly experience for the ambitious
"The year 1904, the planting of cotton began. The price was low, yet the
production left a small profit. In the spring of 1907, Mr. Stall, a representative
for Newhall and Son in Chicago came here to interest the farmers in planting
cucumbers. He said that the price and demand for cucumbers was high. The
company he represented would take care of the expenses of seed, fertilizer,
and baskets, and the farmers were to provide all the labor. Then the profit
was to be split. The agreement was approved at a town meeting. We started
to plant cucumbers and there was a competition over who could produce the
finest ones. Meanwhile everyone hoped to make a good profit. When the time
for harvest came, and the pay for the hard work was to be received, the sad
news came that instead of a profit the producers owed money to Newhall and
Son. It was truly a lamentable situation not to receive any pay after a long
period of hard work. But with the tenacity of the northerners, one took the
loss, spit in one's hands and dug in once again.
"In 1907, the colonists entered into an agreement with the A. F. Jound
Company of Pittsburgh, Pa, to plant cucumbers, cantaloupes, and Irish potatoes for their account. The result was not what one had hoped, but it was
much better than the year before, because one did not owe anything in the
"During the years 1908-1913, the colonists planted Irish potatoes, cucumbers,
strawberries and sweet potatoes for marketing and also quite a bit of cotton.
The farmers realized the necessity of improving their cattle stock and to raise
enough fodder for them. Therefore, a larger area was cleared for corn and
hay and different kinds of vegetables, as well as for cotton, sugarcane and
Pictured is the Silverhill Creamery. Alfred Carls on in buggy to the left, Charles
Frisk by the door, and Axel Rundquist to the right.
From the Elvera Armstrong collection. - Click to enlarge.
Charles Norman goes on to tell about the dairy industry in Silverhill, saying
it was introduced by Claus Person, who arrived from Minnesota in 1909. Many
brought their cream all the way to Fairhope, which had a creamery. When the
dairyman Claus Frisk arrived from Michigan in the fall of 1909, he soon began
to build a dairy, which was finished in April of 1910. It was the first creamery
in Baldwin County.17 From that time on, the economoc outlook in the
colony improved a great deal.
From "The Founding of the Silverhill Colony" we also learn that the first
school house was finished in June of 1898. The 22x30 one-story building was
built by the Svea Land Company. It was used as a school until 1903 when it
became Oscar Johnson's office. While the new school house was built in 1904-05, classes were held at the Baptist Church. The first teacher was Emelia
Anderson. She was succeeded by Sara Carlson. Mr. Ovens was the teacher
while it was located in the Baptist Church. Svea Land Company paid the
teachers in 1898 and 1902.
Johan Isackson build a smithy in May of 1902.18 Oscar Johnson's sawmill
burned down in 1903, but was promply rebuilt. In 1904 he began to make
brick, but the work soon ceased. A. A. Nordin opened a hotel in 1905. The
same year, Charles and Patrik Norman built a cotton gin and mill. In 1909, O.
Forland began to press sugarcane. In 1911, O. F. E. Winberg, Oscar Johnson,
Breaden and Hokanson started to plant orange orchards. About 1,000 acres
were planted. From another source we have learned that the satsuma oranges
froze during one coldspell.
There were many clubs and associations in Silverhill. The Social & Improvement Club was started in 1905 to beautify the town by planting trees. The club
built a pavilion for social gatherings, nicknamed Sköldpaddan (The Turtle).
In 1906 or 1907 some young women started the club Nonperel to raise funds
for the purchase of library books. Silverhill had a Progressive Club, a Socialist
Local Club, a Midsummer Fest Association, a Town Choir, a club called the
Nifty Nine (nine single women), the Loyal Daughters, an Athletic Club, a Fair
Association, a Cemetery Association, a Dairy Association, and the Silverhill
Farmers Association (1912), as well as boys and girls poultry clubs, the boys
corn club, the tomato club, and the girls canning club. In addition, there were
the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and a Red Cross Circle.
Visit to Silverhill
When Lennart and I visited Silverhill in January 1991, we saw a sign pointing
to "The Oscar Johnson Park." The land was donated by the Johnson family.
A large water oak tree in the park had been planted by Silverhill resident Paul
Anderson. See interview with him.19
The streets in town are lined with water oak. We soon found the 3-story
house which Oscar Johnson built, now named the Oscar Johnson Memorial
Library.20 In the library's archives and museum, records showed that
Swedes had settled also in the nearby towns of Fairhope, Roscoe, Summerdale, and other places. We found copies of Silverhill Nyheter started in 1900
and succeeded by Silverhill Agriculturist in 1908. Both were in the Swedish
We met Robert Linden, who had been a wholesale grocer in the area for 40
years. His parents arrived in Silverhill in 1904. They owned a dairy farm with
purebred Jersey cows. We were told that although most of the settlers were
Swedes, there were also a few Norwegians. In 1909, 13 Bohemian (Czech)
families established a settlement southwest of Silverhill. "They spoke their
language, and we spoke ours," Mr. Linden said. Both Mr. and Mrs. Linden
speak excellent Swedish.21
Ted Forsman said in 1978 that Silverhill was all Swedish until the Bohemians
arrived. He emphasized that timbering was big business. The trees were two
feet in diameter and very straight. A wagon load of cut lumber cost only $5.00
Among the 290 families that colonized Silverhill was a group from Sister
Bay, Wisconsin. Alice Johnson told us that her husband, Emery Johnson,
arrived with his parents from Sister Bay in 1898.23 She said that many
settlers found it difficult to make a living in Silverhill. Some of the men were
forced to leave their families on the farms and go north to work for wages for
a while. Beginning in 1915, the Silverhill farmers experienced better times.
Markets opened, prices rose, and new homes were built. More families
arrived, and the colonization continued.
Clifford Utter, the grandson of Oscar Johnson, said that his grandparents on
both sides knew each other in Chicago.24 The Utter family swapped their
townhouse in Chicago for a farm near Fairmont, Minnesota. Clifford's father,
Gustaf Walfred, arrived in Silverhill in 1920 from Dunnell, Minnesota. He
married Oscar Johnson's daughter, Agnes. With the exception of one year's
residence in Fairmont, Minnesota, in 1926, the family lived in Silverhill.
Having served in World War I, Clifford's father studied at the University of Edinburg Veterinary School in Scotland. He received his Veterinarian degree from the University of Minnesota. The
dairy farmers in Silverhill needed a veterinarian, so he sat up his practice there. The farmers
could not always afford to pay him in cash. Instead he got meat or sweets for his family. The inkind payments made it difficult to purchase medicine and supplies. Mr. Utter recalled assisting his father in testing the cattle for tuberculosis.
When Clifford Utter was a teenager he used to hitch-hike to Minnesota to
work at his relatives' farms. Farm work was different up North, he said. A
large variety of grains was grown there. In Silverhill, farm work for the youth
consisted mostly of planting and harvesting sweet potatoes. The potatoes were
planted in January and harvested in May. The schools let out for the year
when the potato harvest began.
Mr. Utter could verify that tobacco was grown in Silverhill. Big crops were
harvested in the late '20s and early '30s, all grown under shades. The cucumbers and the watermelons were usually planted on new land. The crops were
rotated. Turpentine was continously tapped from the pine trees in the forest.
The black people made some money doing that work, Utter recalled.
Asked how the land company could afford to buy so much land (about
18,000 acres), Mr. Utter said that the land was "dirt cheap." His family owned
2,000 acres at one time. Down by the shores, his grandfather could have
bought sandy land at 25 cents an acre, but he figured it was worthless. "Now,
try to buy it," he exclaims. Utter remembered the lutfisk which was prepared
in the home for Christmas. Later it was prepared by the grocer, he said.
Mrs. Hazeltine Lyrene, who arrived with her parents in 1926, remembered
the tension between the Czechs and the Swedes when intermarriages occurred.
She did not believe that the in-laws of those two nationalities socialized at all.
She knew of the problem because two of her husband's sisters married
Czechs. Her mother-in-law was of Czech-German background but her father-in-law was Swedish. Mrs. Lyrene believed that most of the Czechs stayed away
from organized religion because the Catholic Church had been oppressive to
them in their homeland. When she was growing up, the Czech children still
went to a country school in rural Silverhill, while the Swedish children attended public school in the village. The blacks were not "allowed" to live in Silverhill, Mrs. Lyrene said. It was an unspoken rule. No one would sell land in
town to them.25
The History of Alabama (1927) published a biographical sketch about Oscar
Johnson, which reads in part:
Coming then to Baldwin County, he bought 7,000 acres of
land and founded Silver Hill. In this way he entered the field
for which his abilities fit him, and he has continued to buy
property, as well as sell it, and today owns 3,000 acres of
farm and timber lands in Baldwin County and adjoining
Silver Hill, his office building in Silver Hill, and his very
desirable residence, corner of Chicago Avenue and Broadway, and other real estate in the city. Not only has he sold
all of the original 7,000 acres, but he added to his first purchase until at one time he owned 20,000 acres. One-half of
the townsite of Silver Hill remains in his name, and he also
owns eighty acres of the townsite of Robertsdale, Baldwin
The farms in Silverhill were generally larger than in Thorsby. Andrew
Anderson had an 80-acre farm. Another reason the settlers liked the area was
given by Dr. O. F. E. Winberg:
Recognizing the need for a sound banking house in his
community, Mr. Johnson organized the State Bank of Silver
Hill, which opened its doors for business May 6, 1924, and
he has continued as its president.
While he votes the democratic ticket, his time is too much
occupied for him to enter politics. He affiliates with the
Lutheran Church. Fraternally he belongs to Tilden Lodge,
I.O.O.F., of Chicago, and the Northsjernan [Nordstjernan] Association.
The colonization project in Silverhill is unique when we
compare it with similar undertakings in various parts of the
country. It is common for colonizers (after a community has
been settled or the land sold) to leave and let the settlers
shift for themselves. The leader of the colonization company
in Silverhill, Mr. Oscar Johnson, departed from that policy
and remained in Silverhill, participating in the activities of
the settlers and sharing the disappointments. He has always
been found in the lead and has always considered as of first
importance the welfare of the people in the community.27
The co-founders of Svea Land Company, Carlson and Vallentin, withdrew
from the colony and moved to Chicago. Mrs. Armstrong said they were "just
agents." In 1926, 288 residents signed the incorporation papers for Silverhill.
The first mayor was Oscar Johnson. Following Johnson's death in 1929,
Charles Norman served two terms. He was succeeded by Paul C. Anderson
and G. L. Chandler. Emery Johnson was the mayor from 1937 to 1956.
Churches in Silverhill
On May 29, 1898, A. T. Westerlund began to hold Sunday School with eight
children. After about one year, he was succeeded by J. A. Edfelt, who continued until the Baptist congregations took over the classes. Many of the Swedes
in Silverhill were of the Baptist faith. They organized the Swedish Baptist
Church on November 5, 1899 at Olander's Hotel. For the first four years,
services were held in the school house. A sanctuary was built in 1903 and a
parsonage in 1907. The Reverend E. Wingren was the first pastor.28
Through 1929, the following pastors served: P. A. Sword, Karl Arry, Frank
Liljegren, Pastor Ekblad, C. G. Johanson, C. F. Walberg, Chas. Palm, as well
as Pastor Dalqvist. The church belonged to the Swedish General Conference.
In 1920 the congregation had 57 members. Swedish services were held until
1930. A new church building was erected in 1970.
The Mission Friends in Silverhill organized the Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church on November 20, 1902 with ten members at Oscar Johnson's
office.29 His office was used for services until a church was built in 1903.
The land company donated the land for the church. The first pastor was J. N.
Jackobson, a local farmer. Between 1913 and 1926, the preachers Hagstrom,
Wenstrand, Lundgren, and Nils Benson served the congregation until Pastor Österberg arrived. The membership in 1930 was 36. A new sanctuary was built
on the same lot in 1957. Swedish Christmas morning services (Julotta) were
still held in 1971.30
The first record book (of Zion Lutheran Church) reveals that most of the members were born in
Sweden: 6 in Småland, 5 in Skåne, 4 in either Västergötland or Dalsland, 4 in
Norrland, 2 in Dalama, 2 in Blekinge, with the rest being born in other
Swedish provinces or in Minnesota, Kansas, or Wisconsin. One person was
born in Denmark. Although Pastor J. E. Hedberg of Thorsby and E. J.
Werner preached and performed ministerial acts when they visited Silverhill,
there were no organized activities until Zion Lutheran Church was founded
on December 18, 1905 by Reverend H. F. H. Hartelius of the Augustana Synod. There were 16 charter members.31 Hartelius, who served the Lutherans in Thorsby, visited Silverhill every other month and held services in the
schoolhouse. Sunday school was also held. These activities ceased when several members moved to the northern states while others withdrew. With the
arrival of Pastor Swanlund from the the Augustana Mission Society in 1913,
the congregation was reactivated. A church was built in 1915. Oscar Johnson
donated the land for the church and the parsonage and cut all the lumber
without charge. Serving on the building committee, formed in July of 1915,
were Victor Olson, Carl J. Swenson, Hans Erickson, Sven Torson, F. O. Linder, and John Elfstrand. Mr. Elfstrand gave $500 to get the building fund
started. The members helped construct the church building. The first organist
was Miss Anna Linder (Mrs. Trygve Anderson). There are no records for
1906-1914. A Ladies Aid Society was started in 1914 at the home of Carl J.
and Christina Swenson with Mrs. Swenson as president.32 In 1915, Reverend S. Swanlund re-organized the congregation. He was succeeded by Reverend Arnold Nilson. For several years, students of theology served the congregation in the summer. Occasionally, supply pastors from other communities
conducted services and ministerial duties. A parsonage was built between 1919
and 1924, while Reverend John Benson, Jr., was the resident pastor. He also
served Thorsby and St. Elmo. Other pastors in residence were Reverend
Oscar E. Johnson, 1924-1930, Reverend J. P. Samuelson, 1930-1936, and
Reverend D. N. Anderson, 1940-1948. Among the supply pastors in later years
were Reverend Waldemar H. Lefstead of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Mobile.
He was born in Thorsby, Alabama. In April 1953, the Zion Lutheran Church
affiliated with the Georgia Alabama Synod of the U.L.C.A.
According to "The Founding of the Silverhill Colony," there were also
Adventist activities in Silverhill. Being influenced by Mr. Priger, the Adventist
leader in Marlow, P. W. Paulson, adopted the Adventist faith and worked
diligently in Silverhill for a couple of years.
Interviews with Silverhill Residents
In an interview conducted by Lennart Setterdahl in 1978, long-time Silverhill
resident Elvera Armstrong, a daughter of Oscar Johnson, recalled the day she
came to the settlement.34 Traveling by horse and wagon from Mobile Bay,
the small party encountered people in another rig, who shot at them. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Having arrived in Silverhill unannonced at 2 o'clock
in the morning, she saw the whole area ablaze. The large trees were burning,
stumps and all, she said. "Mother cried out, 'I think we are going to hell.' She
went out in the woods, sat down on a stump and cried. I don't blame her."
Their home was not finished--only the frame. "There was nothing inside," she
said. Another family also lived in the house. The women had to do the
cooking for the men in the turpentine factory. The food was served on long
tables. "Grandpa kept the pigs away. They were hungry." Mrs. Armstrong
added that her grandfather did not work 'a day in his life' after he came to
this country.35 He lived with his son. In return, Grandpa Johnson helped
with whatever he could.
Elvera's mother liked it better in Chicago. There, the family rented a flat
equipped with a bathroom on West 22nd Street near Ashland Avenue and
Paulina on the south side. The last job Elvera's father, Oscar Johnson, had in
Chicago was at Wells French Car and Foundry Company, in Blue Island.
Mrs. Armstrong related an experience her father had while he was the
foreman for the division. Following a flash flood, "the sewage got stopped up
and something was wrong down there. He was washed down through a big
pipe. No one knew until they asked for him. Mother did not know until the
next morning. She went there, and they told her that he was working. Mother
said, 'I want to see him. I don't want to know if he's here. I want to see him.'
The experience may have contributed to Johnson's decision to leave Chicago.
Mrs. Armstrong said that her father foresaw the crash of 1893. He knew that
he was going to be laid off, so he quit his job. He wanted to get away from
the cold winters. Being a machinist, he wished to open a machine shop down
South. He went back and forth to Alabama for a few years.
In about 1895, Elvera accompanied her mother and sister on a visit to
Sweden. Mrs. Johnson came from a family of ten children, eight of whom
lived in Sweden. Her father was a shoemaker and farmer. Elvera remembered
picking wild strawberries along the railroad track and attending a service in
the Karlskoga Church, where her mother had been confirmed. They did not
visit her father's birthplace. "There was no one left there," she said. They were
either in America or in Australia.36 John Peter Johnson's father had been
a Lutheran minister, "but he started to drink and could not preach anymore,"
Mrs. Armstrong said.
Reverting to her memories from Silverhill, she said that all the settlers
bought their land on time. "Then they went to Mobile to get a job. They paid
whatever they could. Dad bought most of the land from Dr. Slosson.37 If
someone could not pay and wanted to leave, Dad took over. Oftentimes I
wonder where all these families are. Some went to California to live. They
thought it was so much better, and they weren't better off there than they
were here. The Victor Nilsons, they went to Montana. That cold country!" The
settlers started out with 40 acres. "When a farmer had 40 acres that was
something. Now they can't make a living on 40 acres," Mrs. Armstrong said.
As the children grew up, they often had to move to find jobs.
"Everyone who lived here in the county gave so many days' work at the
railroad when it was built. We donated the labor. Then they built a little depot
for us. If anybody stood along the railroad track ... the train would stop and
pick them up. You just stood there and waved. That was service."
Mrs. Armstrong said that the courthouse was taken away from them. At first
it was located in nearby Daphne, but Bay Minette "stole it away." Somebody
was paid off and there was a shootout at night. They took the books and
loaded them on a logcart drawn by oxen, she explained.
Her father Oscar Johnson took care of almost everything in Silverhill. In the
beginning, he provided facilities for both school classes and church services.
When there was no pastor in the settlement, Johnson preached and conducted
funerals. He donated the land for the cemetery. Sometimes he also paid for
having a grave dug and a casket made. The family was of the Lutheran faith,
but since a Lutheran pastor was not always available, Elvera was married by
a Baptist minister (in the Lutheran Church). Elvera's sister was confirmed by
a pastor of the Evangelical Covenant faith. The pastors often exchanged
Due to a shortage of teachers in Silverhill, Elvera was sent to relatives in
Chicago to attend school for three years. She continued her education in
Mobile, staying there while the school was in session and coming home only
for Christmas. Having taken secretarial courses, she later worked as a stenographer in her father's office. She was the town clerk while her father served
as mayor. After her marriage she worked in the bank. Her sister became a
teacher and taught for 33 years.
Mrs. Armstrong recalled the first Christmas in the family home in Silverhill.
They had a Christmas tree and everyone in Silverhill was there. The children
were served first. "We had such beautiful cakes, and cookies and candy, and
apples and fruit of different kinds.... We had an arch built of two pine trees.
Then we had the stockings hanging on that. We must have been about 10
children. And we were served first and that was an honor to be served before
the grown-ups. Agnes and I and cousin Olga we were the ones on the program. I think we read half of the Bible each one of us.... It was, to this day,
the happiest Christmas we had in our life."
"Christmas Eve was the big holiday. Then we had lutfisk, sillsallat [a salad
containing herring, eggs, and beets], and herring. No turkey, because that we
had during the year." When they lived in Chicago, the children sat by the
window and waited for Santa Claus to come on the street car. "Dad played
Santa. He turned the coat inside out and had no beard. We didn't know it was
Dad." Mrs. Armstrong remembered getting a doll one Christmas and a small
tin trunk another Christmas from her aunt, Mrs. Olaf Nordine. The tin trunk
is still in the family. Most of the time, the children received clothes for
Mrs. Armstrong also recalled the dances that the young people enjoyed.
"Dad gave two lots for a pavilion. When we got the pavilion we danced there.
Dr. Winberg and his wife and all the parents went with the young people and
looked on as they danced." They danced the waltz, the two-step, and square
dances to the accordion, the mandolin, or the violin. They also had an old-fashioned piano. At 12 o'clock sharp everyone went home. "Then we went to
Sunday School in the morning as usual. The pastor did not say anything. We
had our parents with us.
"On Sunday evenings we used to sing. We had friends at home all the time.
We had a piano. My sister played and we all sang. Mother served supper
every Sunday evening. We could be 10-12 up to 18. We all gathered at our
home. It was the old house. Dad said, 'Then I know where the youngsters
are.'" Sometimes they played croquet and tennis.
After her marriage, Elvera lived with her husband in Omaha, Nebraska, for
about three years, where Mr. Armstrong worked in the office of the Union
Pacific Railroad. Upon their return to Silverhill, he served as president of the
State Bank of Silverhill. The bank was forced to close in September 1930. It
had been founded by Oscar Johnson in May of 1924.
Mrs. Armstrong told us how the library was started. "There were seven of
us. We started to meet every other week, because there wasn't any other fun
than that. We met in the homes. We had parties and got money that way. We
would buy books, and we asked for books for the library. Dad had one end
of the old house for his office, and we got the other for a library. The children
only had to pay 5 cents for each book they borrowed. Everyone gave us books,
except we did not get any from the rich people. They gave to the large libraries. We were 30 in the club. Now there are only seven or eight left. We gave
it (the library) to the town. Now they have to take care of it."
About the climate, she said that one got used to it. The storms were not as
frequent years ago as they are now. In the beginning, they had typhoid or
intermittent fever. "My sister had typhoid fever and she lost her hair. They got
medicine from Mobile. People usually survived. We had a doctor, a woman,
she had a white horse and a cart. She stayed at somebody's house for 2-3 days
and the sick people came there and she took care of them." Mrs. Theodore
Anderson was the midwife.
Mrs. Armstrong pointed to a banana tree outside her house and said that
her bananas don't taste the same as the ones in the stores. "They are a little
raw. But one year I let them stay on the tree, and they were so delicious that
year," she said. She also had pecan trees, but said that in order to get any nuts
the trees had to be sprayed for insects.
Elvera Armstrong, one of the first settlers and one of the last, passed away
at the age of 97 on May 29, 1985. The interview with her was in the Swedish
Paul Anderson was born in
1896 in Kearney, Nebraska,
and came to Silverhill with his
parents in 1913 from Haxtun,
Colorado, where the family
had a farm. "Father had a
good friend who lived here
and he came to visit him one
day. It was warm. He looked
around and he liked it. Dad
was in his 50s. It went to 40
below zero in Colorado. It
was 20 below when we left on
November 18. All but one
brother came. He stayed there
in Haxtun and farmed." Anderson froze his ears at one
time in Colorado and didn't
think he would have survived
for long had he stayed there.
"Mother used to heat brick
and take to bed. I went to
school in 20 below zero for
In Silverhill it was hot, he
said. "Everybody was clearing land here and the stumps were burning and
smoking. They sold the big pine trees for timber. All you saw was cucumbers.
They made money on them cucumbers. Shipped them from Robertsdale by
rail. Also a little potatoes and corn. When cucumbers sold for 15 cents a
barrel, one could buy a steer for $3.50."
Anderson remembers dancing with Elvera Johnson at a club called Sköldpaddan (The Turtle). "It was a dance hall. The old people were against it. We
had no saloons. No beers or nothing sold here until about 1930," he said. Paul
Anderson's marriage to Gudrun Erickson of Norwegian background in 1918
was the second marriage ceremony in the Zion Lutheran Church after the
marriage of Elvera and Philip Armstrong in 1916.
Anderson was drafted for service in World War I. He had been in uniform
one week when the war was over. His father wanted him to go to college, but
Paul chose a machinist school in Kansas City. About a year later, he started
an automobile shop and dealership in Silverhill. "There was a few cars here,
but no repair shop around 1918. No bank then. Had to go to Mobile. At that
time it wasn't hard to borrow money. I borrowed $7,000. No counter-signing.
I made pretty good for a while. Ran the business through 1936. It was rough,
but I made it." Anderson, who employed 4-5 mechanics, lost $3,000 when the
crash came. "People couldn't pay taxes. Had to walk away. Some stayed, some
went back to Illinois and stayed there a few years and came back."
The town council still met at Oscar Johnson's place in 1926 when Anderson
became active in politics. He was the mayor in the early '30s. Although
Anderson was a Republican, he had to be neutral to hold office. "They were
all Democrats in the South, but people here didn't run on any party, only on
person," he said.
Recalling the Czech settlers, Anderson exclaimed, "You would be surprised
how many of them bought lutfisk, herring, and anchovies. There were intermarriages. Some Swedes became Catholics. About 1940 when the war broke
out, the attitudes changed toward the Bohemians. There are six different
nationalities in Baldwin County. They are all practically together now," Anderson said.
"The Swedes gradually became slow [slowed down]. Not like in Chicago.
Mother got used to the area. She was knitting and gardening. My sister was
the same way. She made pillow cases and sweaters. One lady had a weaving
loom. The ladies went together for kafferep. Kaffe pa bit med skorpor (Coffee
klatches. They sweetened the coffee with sugar cubes)," Anderson said in Swedish. The Silverhill Swedes subscribed to a newspaper published in Swedish
in Chicago, and Anderson was able to read it. He has traveled widely in the
world but has not been to Sweden. "I was going to go over one time, but
something happened, and I couldn't go," he said. He has, however, corresponded with a cousin in Sweden. "I have so many kinfolks over there."
Anderson lives alone in a mobile home placed on his lot on 1st Street. He
The town of Thorsby may have been named both in honor of T. T. Thorson
and Reverend Hedberg's home community. Judging from the information
which has been available to us, we surmise that T. T. Thorson was the principal founder of Thorsby. However, he needed the support of his fellow
Swedes and relatives, John F. Peterson and Reverend Hedberg, to form the
partnership company named Concordia Land and Improvement Association.
When the company was incorporated, Mr. Faegre, a Norwegian-American
with judicial training, was added to the board of directors. All four men had
lived in the Midwest. While the founders were from Iowa and Minnesota,
many of the settlers whom they recruited had lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, and
other midwestern states.
The founding fathers came to Alabama to escape the severe winters in the
North, to buy and sell land and grow fruits and vegetables. A combination of
factors-climate, disease, difficultites in making a living-enticed their followers
to pull up their stakes in the Midwest and come South. The depression of
1893 might have been a factor.
The settlers were successful until the fruit trees became afflicted with
diseases, for which there was no remedy in those days. Mr. Thorson took
heavy losses, sold out, and relocated in Madison, Alabama. Later he settled
in Decatur in the same state. Mr. Peterson diverted to raising chickens. After
a few years, he moved to Madison, Alabama. Here he farmed until 1917 when
he moved with his family to LaPorte, Indiana. Reverend Hedberg moved to
Minnesota in 1904 following the death of his wife. Mr. Faegre, the mayor of
Thorsby in 1901, moved to New York State. Thus none of the original four
leaders remained in Thorsby for the rest of their lives although Thorson was
still in Alabama. The reasons for their departure varied. Reverend Hedberg
needed his relatives in Minnesota to take care of his motherless children. The
other men saw better opportunities elsewhere.
When the founders left Thorsby, many of the other settlers followed their
example. Those that moved back to the northern states probably did so for
economic reasons. A typhoid fever epidemic may have frightened some to
leave. Most of the people who moved away had not purchased land in Thorsby.
Swedes outnumbered the Norwegians two to one. The Danes formed a very
small minority. The social structure was similar to other Swedish and Norwegian settlements in the United States. The Scandinavians lived within their
enclave and socialized mainly with each other. They founded churches and
educated their children. Some of the men were active in the Thorsby Band
gian settlements in the United States. The Scandinavians lived within their
enclave and socialized mainly with each other. They founded churches and
educated their children. Some of the men were active in the Thorsby Band
which no doubt played many tunes of their homeland. The ladies socialized
privately and formed ladies aid societies. They continued their tradition of
baking and cooking the Scandinavian way. Their favorite Christmas food has
survived in Thorsby to this day.
The economic structure was different from that of many other Scandinavian
farming communities in the United States in that the fruit farms were small.
Most of the settlers were able to pay cash for their land. Year-around crops
offered more opportunities to earn a living. The settlers lived in close proximity to one another, they built solid homes in town, founded businesses, and
formed cooperatives to market their products. Together, they drilled for water
and arranged for electricity.
In the beginning, the Scandinavians in Thorsby were not a very homogeneous group. It is likely that many of them had not seen each other before
coming to the colony. Two Norwegian Lutheran congregations were founded
in Thorsby and one Swedish. The settlers who stayed adjusted and liked the
area. When the children were grown, they had difficulties finding employment
in the area. Moving either up North or to cities in the South, they kept in
touch with Thorsby and returned for visits. When the young people moved
away and the old folk died, the Scandinavian population in Thorsby began to
dwindle. The names of many of the original settlers can be found on the
tombstones in the Thorsby Scandinavian Cemetery.
The Howards became successful in growing and marketing flowers and
stayed. Arthur Nelson found work in the South and retired in Thorsby.
Members of the second and third generations often married Southerners and
assimilated into the general population. Mr. Howard, who was born in Thorsby, feels that he is "something between a Northerner and a Southerner." His
wife, a Southerner for generations, has developed a strong interest in her
husband's heritage. The Scandinavian heritage seems to have been very
important in their lives.
The Scandinavians that moved out were replaced mostly by Southerners. The
population of Thorsby in 1988 was 1,542. The local businesses were: The
Thorsby Associates (Ladies' coats and suits); The Union Camp Corporation
(a Veneer plant); The Tommie Corporation (a Ductile Iron Foundry); and the
United Lumber Supply (a wholesale company).
On February 26, 1988, the local newspaper, Independent Advertiser in nearby
Clanton featured articles and photographs depicting the history of Thorsby.
A Heritage Day was held on April 10 and a Swedish Fest on September 24,
The Scandinavian settlers of Silverhill also came to the South to escape the
cold midwestem winters. Smokey cities, factories, and strikes were cited as
contributing factors. The success of Silverhill could in part be attributed to the
Silverhill is smaller than Thorsby. Yet, all three churches founded by Swedes
remain active (three different denominations). Silverhill was predominately
Swedish for many years. Many of the descendants still live in the area, and a
few are able to converse in the Swedish language.
Silverhill was different from Thorsby in that the farms were large enough to
support a profitable dairy industry. In contrast to Thorsby, most of the Silverhill pioneers bought their land on time. In 1940, Silverhill had about 300
inhabitants. In 1988 the population had grown to 630 residents. "This is a good
place to live," Robert Linden said. Clifford Utter labeled Silverhill a "bedroom
community" to Mobile. In 1991, the only industry in town was the Baldwin
Paint and Body Shop which in 1988 employed 4 to 6 workers. Annual heritage
festivals are held celebrating the predominately Swedish heritage. Today,
"snowbirds" from the North come to Silverhill to spend the winter months.
Other retirees, who grew up in Silverhill, have returned and built permanent
homes. The Gulf Coast with its white sand beaches attracts thousands of
tourists. Communications are good. Silverhill is no longer an isolated community.
There was also a Scandinavian settlement in Fruithurst, Alabama, on the
Georgia border. Decorah Posten, a Norwegian-American newspaper, advertised land in Fruithurst in 1896. An ad appearing on June 8th of that year
stated that Fruithurst had 1,000 settlers and that more than 500 of them were
Scandinavians. The land sold at $400 for ten acres, including two planted acres. On June 30, 1896 excursions to Fruithurst were advertised from Minneapolis at the price of $12.85. Prospective settlers were to contact the J. A.
Westerlund and Co., Fruithurst, Cleburne County, Alabama.39
As we have seen, Scandinavians also lived in St. Elmo, Theodore, Fairmont,
Roscoe, Summerdale, and other places in Alabama.
AMERICAN FRIENDS OF THE EMIGRANT
INSTITUTE OF SWEDEN, INC.
Organized October 21, 1984
Incorporated November 20, 1984
Gunnar Mossblad, President, 9951 Hascall Street, Omaha, NE 68124
Phone (402) 391-8910 FAX (402) 453-2082
Carl E. Carlson, Vice President, 2530 15th Avenue, Rockford, IL 61108
Lennart Setterdahl, Secretary, 3452 Fourth Street, East Moline, IL 61244
Phone (309) 755-2858 FAX (309) 755-1573
Marilyn A. Galley, Treasurer, 3318 26th Avenue, Rock Island, IL 61201
Niel M. Johnson, Past President, 15804 Kiger Circle, Independence, MO
Lilly Setterdahl and
American Friends of the Emigrant Institute of Sweden, Inc.
East Moline, Illinois
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 88-71431
Johnson's Valley Printers
Verona, MO 65769