SYCAMORE

The first Swedes in Sycamore were Peter Johnson from Mjellby. Blekinge. and Andrew Johnson and Anna Carlsson, a widow, both from Skateliif, SmAland. Somewhat later came the brothers Daniel and Sven Gustafsson and Anna Andersson, a widow whose husband had lost his life while serving in the Civil War. Peter Johnson was still livin g in 1898, a venerated member of the Swedish Lutheran church. His wife and a daughter died in 1897. Andrew Johnson. who was a brother-in-law of Peter Johnson, removed to Colorado in the late seventies and died there as the owner of a goldmine. His widow, née Anna Carlsson, who returned to Sweden, was still living there in 1898. and Daniel Gustafsson was then living in Iowa. His brother Sven died prior to that time

When the Civil War broke out there lived in Sycamore a Swedish ex-artillery officer by the name of C. J. Stiihlbrand, engaged in the business :of abstract examiner. He obtained a commission from Governor Yates to recruit a battery of artillery, was chosen captain of the battalion formed by this and a couple of other batteries, was promoted major and then brigadier general for bravery, served in the army for about a year after the close of the war, then made his hnme in Beaufort. S. C.. died in Charleston Feb. 3, 1894, and was buried in Columbia, in the same state. To this prominent Swedish-American citizen we will revert in a subsequent chapter, dealing with the Illinois Swedes who took part in the Civil War.

 

In front of the courthouse in Sycamore the people of DeKalb county in 1896 erected an imposing monument in memory of the inen from this county who fought and died for the Union cause on Southern battlefields. Among these men were a number of Swedish-Americans. Another early Swedish settler here was Carl Carlson from Moheda, Smidand, arrived in 1869 and subsequently the most successful and prosperous Swedish farmer in the county. He was still living here in
1898, enjoying a considerable fortune accumulated during a life of toil and prudent husbandry. During the period covered by the late sixties and early seventies the number of Swedish inhabitants was substantially increased through direct immigration from Sweden. In 1870 they were stron g enough to organize a Lutheran church, which was for a time the only Swedish church in the place, being followed in 1888 by a Baptist church, which, however, has made but small acquisitions. The Swedes of Sycamore have taken active part in local politics, and several of them have held public office. In the matter of fraternal orders the Sycamore Swedes will not bear comparison with other Swedish-American centers.

In the year 1880 there were in Sycamore and vicinity about 1,000 Swedish people and in 1905 some 1.500. Those living in the city are engaged in various commercial pursuits, many of them being in business for themselves. A number of the retired farmers of the neighborhood are now residing in town, enjoying in their old age the fruits of their labors in earlier years.

Before closing this brief historical sketch of the Swedish colony at Sycamore, we desire to give an account of the interesting visit paid to Sycamore years ago by Christina Nilsson, the renowned Swedish singer. In December, 1870, the Swedish nightingale appeared in Chicago, captivating the moneyed aristocracy of the city at a grand concert, and being herself feted at a splendid banquet given by Swedish-Americans headed by the Svea Society. The Swedes in Syca­ more, hearing of these affairs, were seized with a natural desire to see and hear the prima donna. This desire was strengthened by the fact that relatives of the great singer were living in Sycamore, as well as other persons who knew her from the time when, as "Stina from Snu gge," she traveled around singing at country fairs in SmAland.

But there was still another reason why they wished to have her visit Sycamore, and that a weighty one. Twenty years before, Jenny Lind had given a handsome sum to the fund for the building of the St. Ansgarius Church of Chicago and subsequently donated a valuable communion service to the same church. Why, then, they reasoned, should not Christina Nilsson visit her own people at Sycamore and by her voice assist in raising the money needed for a church for the congregation organized that same year? They met and counseled, resulting in the appointment of a committee to go to Chicago and make their wishes known to the singer. In order to make assurance doubly sure, they appointed on this committee Anders Ingemansson, a man whom Christina Nilsson well knew. In former days while Anders was living at Liifhult, a part of the property belonging to the iron works at Huseby, SmEand, he often hauled loads of ironware from the factory to Vexiö or Ljungby, and many a time the little flaxen-haired violin player from Snugge got a ride with him to and from the fairs held in these towns. Would she have the heart to refuse a request made by him? Hardly.

The other two members of the committee were one G-ustafsson and Andrew Johnson. Through the kind offices of Rev. Erland Carlsson they obtained an audience with the singer, who consented instantly. Certainly she would come and sing for them! But Strakosch, her impresario, said no. Suppose she would catch a cold and become indisposed but for one evening—it would entail the loss of thousands of dollars. Or if there should be a train wreck and she would break an arm or a leg, what a dilemma they would all be in! Such was his reasoning, concluding with a repeated refusal to let her go.

But the singer made light of the objections of her mana ger, mildly ridiculing his foolish arguments, until he had to submit. Not wanting to break her engagement in Chicago, Christina Nilsson was compelled to go to Sycamore on Christmas Day, which fell on a Sunday. She was accompanied by the singers and musicians of her company, a number of prominent Swedish citizens of Chicago and, last but not least, Strakosch himself, who went in order to see that no harm came to his Swedish nightingale.

The concert in Sycamore was given in the American Methodist church, Christina Nilsson. as usual, made an absolute conquest. Probably never before had she sung Gounod's "Ave Maria'' with such profound feeling as at this occasion. She gave two other numbers, besides. Her American hearers were as charmed as her own country men. But the concert given in the church, to which an admission fee of three dollars was charged. had to be supplemented by a popular concert, in order to give the poorer classes an opportunity to hear her. At this concert, held in Wilkins Hall. she again sang "Ave Maria" and, in order to get into complete touch with her audience. now almost exclusively Swedish, rendered several Swedish ballads in the most approved style of little "Stina from Snugge." The net profit of these two concerts amounted to about $1,000. The amount. appropriated to the church building fund we cannot exactly state.

Ingemansson. the old friend of Christina Nilsson. who had engaged in the carpenter's trade in Sycamore. died there about 1S90. Her relatives, who doubtless are still living there. are Anna. Magni. Gustaf. Emil. Ida and Oscar Nilsson, the children of Petter Nilsson and Eva, his wife, now deceased. She was a cousin of the great singer. Another relative of the latter is Mrs. Carrie Bohlin, who bears the same relationship to the singer as the children of Petter and Eva Nilsson.

History of Swedes in Illinois

SYCAMORE EMIGRANTS

 

© Wini Caudell and all contributors

All rights reserved

Illinois Ancestors