Factories And Forebears — My Grandfather Carl Forsberg

When I was a little girl living on Ivy Street, I could hear the rhythmic pounding of metal on metal from factories down along the Chadakoin River. I remember it as an incessant noise to daily life, not loud but always in the air- sometimes louder than others depending on the wind and weather. Somewhere down there in the blocks and blocks and blocks of several storied brick buildings that run along the Chadakoin River, my maternal grandfather Carl Forsberg worked five days a week at Jamestown Metal Desk. He had come from Sweden in 1926 and found a job there. He kept it until he retired sometime around 1960.

In 1930, Jamestown hosted 110 factories of various kinds, factories that produced some of the finest good in the nation, some still listed in historical documents and sold as valued goods at auctions all over the country. It was the Chadakoin River that supplied power and possibility for these factories.

The woodworkers were primarily Swedish as were most of the metal workers. Swedes came here because the factories were thriving, and the area promised a new life on the hills of Chautauqua Lake.

Carl Forsberg was one of the thousands of skilled craftsman who came to work and build lives in Chautauqua County from 1865 1940, the primary immigration years. So many were Swedes. He was one of a generation of pragmatic, dutiful men who arrived here in Jamestown with a heart full of dreams, hardy men who worked long hours without complaint, devoted to quality labor and to their families. It was a different age in Jamestown. How those men must have felt arriving here in a new land, chugging into town on the Erie Lackawanna Railroad.

Some like my grandfather had left wives and children behind in Sweden and in Europe until they got on their feet here. It didn’t take them long.The factories here generally paid well and had active labor unions, which offered some job security and wages good enough for these immigrant men to save and buy their own houses, to feed their families well, to have money in the bank.

Red-headed Carl was an ex-Swedish Navy man from Hallefors in west central Sweden near the Norwegian border. He was small and sturdy. His brothers Emil and Herman stayed behind in Sweden. He saw them again twice, once in 1946 when the Forsberg family took the Gripsholm back and forth to Gothenburg after the war, and once in the late 50’s when he returned to Sweden by airplane alone. Carl brought along his eight millimeter movie camera and recorded the flight. His family comes to life on those little clicking reels of film, which grandfather liked to show in the basement of his hand built house on the lake shore in Fluvanna when we were children. Tick tick tick tick the minutes of people’s lives ran across the screen as they danced or smiled or joked for the camera. There was great Uncle Emil, seated at the table; there was great Uncle Herman looking tall, studious and handsome.

Carl’s parents were long dead by then, so we never saw the black haired, red bearded Victor, his father, or the blond French Huguenot Carolina Hero, his wife. Carl had a sister Victoria, too, one who died in childhood from an epileptic seizure and subsequent fall.

Carl recorded our childhoods too with attention to detail and a loving eye. We had no idea back then how important such recording of family was or how much those films would come to mean a half century later. It was so like him to be forward thinking like that. For he was extraordinary man, not just a hard worker but an eminently graceful man with the finest manners and a wry wit.

He worked hard and played hard as a sportsman and later a golfer. He loved his fishing boat. He tended it with care as he did all his possessions. He dressed well and spoke tenderly. One never wanted to disappoint him. When we visited, he offered ice cold Canada Dry ginger ale from his basement fridge. He liked to drive in his car with our dog Mike, a huge curly Lab/Poodle mix, in the seat next to him.

My grandfather was extraordinary because he was so much beyond his job that deafened his ears over time: a fisherman, a builder, a woodworker, a musician, a reader, a scholar at heart though he finished only up to the 8th grade. I am a reader because of him; I scoured the neatly organized shelves of his upstairs study, reading every book and every issue of National Geographic, which he had in order for over 20 years. There was Shakespeare on those shelves, and a copy of “the Greatest Poems” and the story of Edmund Peary.

Carl Forsberg was a musician of quality, a man who formed his own orchestra in 1929 and played on weekends at the Swedish halls in Jamestown. He himself played numerous instruments – piano, viola, accordion, guitar. He had a bass voice that I hear in memory singing “Tura Lura Lura,” one of his favorite tunes. My grandfather’s orchestra loved all the tunes of the era as well as tunes from the old country. Sometimes he would get out his accordion or his fiddle and play for us in the cool green living room when we were children. My mother and her sister Ingrid would dance the schottis gleefully around the room, their mother, the quiet Gunhild, smiling and clapping time as they moved.

Grandpa died in 1977 three weeks after his wife Gunhild and three months before his eldest daughter Ingrid. He was 84. He came to America with a dream. He built his own home on the lake in Fluvanna. He lived a good life. He is one of the thousands who built this town with lifetimes of hard work and sound values.

As I walk along the Chadakoin or drive the old factory streets today, I can almost hear the past throbbing in the walls of falling down buildings and empty lots. It’s quiet now along Foote and Harrison Streets. It’s silent throughout the old factory rows. But in that silence lies a history of immigrant lives and the heart of Jamestown. We here come from tough old stock. We here respect our past.

We learned such things from our immigrant forebears who showed us by their actions that life, work and family were our treasures. Their words and actions, ethics and values are the river inside us. We are in a sense those people who came before us here. And the old Chadakoin rolls on, tumbling over stones and memories, conduit of past.