Skip and I think of (and thank) them often during these sweltering days, especially when we come into the cool of the house they built. Between the wraparound porches, high ceilings and transoms, and 8-foot-high windows sited to catch the slightest breeze, we have little need for air conditioning.
Carl and his lovely wife, Hilma Cecilia Sjöberg, came to the property in 1902 with five-year-old Ethel and three-year-old Bessie in tow. The following year, Hazel was born. After 16 years of working for the H. & T. C. Railroad, as a bridge-builder and foreman, my guess is Carl must’ve been overjoyed to buy this “beautiful property on the southern edge of the Decker settlement.”
Carl’s parents were farmers in Sweden. He left the farm to work in his brother Jonas’s sawmill, then emigrated to Texas at age 19 with his other brother Johan (his family photo is below) in 1885. The Bergstrom boys were part of a large Swedish migration. Between 1880-1900, the number of Swedes recorded in the Texas census jumped to 4,344 from 364. By WWI, one-fifth of all Swedes had come to the US. Like the Irish before them, a combination of agricultural disasters and population growth had forced people to find a better place to live. Ultimately, brothers Sven, John and Carl Bergstrom bought adjoining farms and married local girls on what is now Decker Lane. Hilma was a 23-year-old Austinite when she married the adventurous 30-year-old Carl in 1896.
Austinites still have a connection to Carl and Hilma’s nephew Earl. Younger than his female Bergstrom cousins, Earl was a dark-haired boy with fine features. It’s fun to imagine him swimming with the girls in the large pond that once graced the front of our house. Or perhaps gathering watermelons together like our kids do with their nephew Bogie. After his mother died in 1912, Earl’s family moved into town but surely he visited his “farm” cousins often. Earl went on to graduate from A&M and became a banker, but he is remembered as the first WWII casualty from Austin. He is who our Bergstrom airport is named for.
About the time the Bergstrom portrait (above) was taken in 1918, J.M. Ojerholm described the Decker community this way:
“About eight miles east of Austin on a rolling plain, the community got it’s name from the little and big Decker creeks that cut through it. The first settlers were Swedes who came to the area in the 1870s. Cultivation was perhaps more difficult here than in other areas, partly because the forest had been cut down and the land was filled with tree-stumps and shrubs.
Nothing could deter these people from Smaland (a province in Sweden). The howl of the wolf, the cry of the owl, the rattle of the rattlesnake, tree-stumps and rocks, it was all the same to them; they all had to be cleared. A stranger who comes to this area today and sees the well-tended farm and attractive homes can hardly guess at the toil of the first settlers.
You can now travel on wide graveled roads in six-cylinder automobiles at speeds of forty miles per hour, where fifty years ago an ox-cart was the mode of transportation and the roads were cow trails. In the ‘80s, the settlement went faster and the community grew in all directions. Because of the proximity to the capital, the inhabitants of Decker have become involved before others in political battles in Travis county. They have been prominent in the temperance movement, which in later years played such an important role in the state. At the latest election, when Travis County became a dry county, every vote from Decker was on the side of prohibition.”
I like musing on our real and imagined similarities with the Bergstroms: We came to the farm with small children and high hopes after toiling in other careers. They were active in civic affairs (us, too) and supported prohibition (not so much). Carl, described as conscientious and industrious, became a successful farmer (like Skip). And like them, we savor the way the sun fires the sky as it sets behind the barn and marvel at the sound of howling coyotes as we fall asleep. Visitors to our house always comment on how good this place feels. We feel it, too. Maybe it’s the lingering of a traditional Swedish blessing, commonly found over doorways, at work:
O Gud, du livets källa, välsigna alla som här inträda, med liv, god hälsa och välgång. Amen
(Oh God, the giver of life, bless all who enter here with life, health and prosperity, amen)
Whatever the reason, we encourage you and your family to come to the Bergstrom homestead and experience the blessings here at Green Gate Farms.
Note: Elizabeth Flynn provided this photo of the Bergstroms. Together with the Swedish Historical Society and the Association of Civil Litigants, she is forming a committee on wills and inheritance to advise people on how best to use the photos and documents they inherit. For more information, contact her at: 512-345-5584.