Among the Swedish families who came to Oregon in the last quarter of the 19th century those who settled in the vicinity of Carlton were assisted in getting a foothold by a fellow countryman named John Wennerberg. Born in Hälsingborg, Sweden, in 1837, he lived in that town with his parents until 1852 when he went to sea as a cabin boy on a sailing vessel—not a surprising venture, for Hälsingborg was a busy seaport town on the coast of Skåne. John must have seen and been entranced by the ships and sailors who came and went from the port.
During the next several years John Wennerberg, cabin boy, traveled all over the world. In time he became a minor ship’s officer and as such found himself in Australia during the gold rush of the late 1850s. He left the sea, tried gold mining and apparently made enough money to purchase a sheep ranch there. How long he remained in Australia is not certain, but it was long enough to gain some farming experience and to add to his savings. John Wennerberg had a way with money. He hung on to it.
What manner of man was John Wennerberg? Those who knew him remember him as a quiet, dignified man, who deliber¬ated before offering an opinion or in answering a difficult question. When at length he did speak, he usually began with the phrase, “I fancy that ... ,” an English locution that may have dated from his days in Australia. He spoke English with only a faint echo of his native Swedish intonation, that language “tune” characteristic of the Scandinavian tongues. He must have been exposed to English, perhaps learned it at an early age. Ships and sailors hailed from all quarters of the globe, but English ships predominated because of the English need for Swedish iron ore. His letters, too, are literate and well-expressed.
A serious, practical man, be was not much given to humor, but he enjoyed a joke and now and then offered one of his own, twiddling his heavy gold watch chain as he did so. In stature he was average in height, rather heavily built, his bearing reflecting purpose and force.
In the early 1870s Wennerberg set sail for Oregon, partly because of the publicity the Oregon Country was receiving in those years in Australia, but mainly because of his brother, Daniel, who had emigrated from Stockholm to Portland where he estab¬lished himself as an expert cabinet maker. Portland was a small city in the 1870s and it was not surprising than Dan Wennerberg knew a great many of its prominent citizens, among them W. S. Ladd and Simeon G. Reed. Ladd and Reed owned farm proper¬ties in the Yamhill River Valley and it seems likely that Dan recommended his brother, John, to either Ladd or Reed as one who had experience and ability. At any rate, Ladd and Reed em¬ployed John to manage their farm west of Carlton. They had no reason to regret their choice.
Nor did John Wennerberg regret casting his lot with Ladd and Reed. They were exemplary employers, progressive and shrewd in their farming operations. Reed, for instance, laid the foundations for a blooded livestock industry in Oregon and was an early advocate of diversified farming in western Oregon. His Broadmead Farm near Amity, Oregon, was a prime example of diversification with its gardens and orchards and croplands. The farm near Carlton appears to have been somewhat less advanced, but perhaps for this very reason it presented a challenge to Wen¬nerberg, both agriculturally and managerially. It was an excellent training ground for the role he was to play in helping his fellow Swedes gain a foothold in the Carlton area.
John Wennerberg developed a real affection for Carlton and the Yamhill River Valley. Settled by Oregon Trail immigrants in the 1810s, it is an area rich in farmland, woods and streams, with the forested Coast Range to the west and the gently rolling Chehalem Hills to the east. Wennerberg also liked farming, as a business and as an operation—but strictly in that order. He did not shirk farm work, but for him the business side of farming was its real appeal. He had, as they said in those years, a head for business and it was not long before be had a farm of his own, purchased in part with his own money, the rest lent him by his brother, Dan. His first farm was comparatively small but in time be acquired more and more acreage around Carlton, some of it where Carlton now stands.
Over the years Wennerberg brought to his farm a number of Swedes to work as farmhands and housekeepers—Wennerberg never married—and later helped them get started on farms of their own. Thus one might say that he was the founder of the Swedish-American community that grew up around Carlton.
Probably the first of the Swedes to come to Wennerberg’s farm was John Lindberg. The story is told that Lindberg was robbed of every cent he had when he arrived in New York after passing through Ellis Island. A group of cardsharps engaged him in a game of poker and fleeced him of all his savings. It was a devastating experience, but a Swedish girl, a passenger on the same ship that brought John over, helped him recover from the shock not merely by offering sympathy but by lending him enough money to get to his destination—Minnesota. Apparently the friendship ripened into love for in Minnesota in the late 1870s they were married. Subsequently they moved to Oregon where, as mentioned, they worked for Wennerberg, Lindberg as a farmhand and his wife as housekeeper.