Saturday 30/7, almost finding the roots

After a deeeeep, dreamless sleep in Västervik, breakfast was eaten and then the main theme for the trip started; to look for my mother’s roots in Småland.

A picture of my 219 Ponton Mercedes with the stone wall so typical of Småland

A picture of my 219 Ponton Mercedes with the stone wall so typical of Småland


The first stop was Virserum where relatives had lived along a Ösköglevägen, a 10 km long country road whose northern end connects to road 23, a few kilometers from central Virserum. The road we found, but no house and plot of land that looked like it was remembered, could however not be found. Instead, we drove around in the central parts to see how Virserum looks like and what could be found. Then we stumbled upon the old train station and its narrow-gauge railway, managed by Föreningen Smalspåret Växjö-Västervik (Växjö-Västervik Narrow Gauge Association). The railway ran between Västervik and Växjö, with Virserum roughly in between. Today you can go by ride the nostalgic train to Åseda, approximately 30 km south-easterly direction of Virserum. In the gallery below you can see some of what Föreningen Smalspåret Växjö-Västervik manages.

  • The kiosk, at Virserum's old station building, that oozed old memories
  • One of Föreningen Smalspåret Växjö-Västervik's railbuses
  • Some parts of Föreningen Smalspåret Växjö-Västervik's fleet of railway vehicles

We didn’t take a nostalgic trip with the train, it was closed, but wandered around and looked at the station building, old trains and the kiosk, that oozed old memories, after which we took the car down to Virserumssjön (Virserum lake) to eat lunch.

A bad picture of the MB 219 Ponton, behind which you see Virserum's old station building

A bad picture of the car, behind which you see Virserum's old station building


Satisfied with the sandwiches, we started the 25 km long drive to Fagerhult, along, as usual, very beautiful and curvy roads, perfect for a vintage car, and past blue lakes. Not too far from our destination, in Skälsbäck, we drove past a fairly large vintage car meeting where old steam engines and tractors were also displayed. However, we chose not to stay, but instead to focus on the main task, our roots. We got many admiring, but also surprised, glances as we drove on.

Itinerary of the day

Itinerary of the day

The main street in Fagerhult

The main street in Fagerhult

Fagerhult was a nice little village, but it was not as picturesque and well-kept as many of the other towns and villages we visited in Småland. Fagerhult looked a bit "shut down". The church was quite worn and the cemetery as well. Strange.

Fagerhult's church, a proper little church in neo-gothic style from 1892

Fagerhult's church, a neat little church in neo-gothic style from 1892

But perhaps the area should be seen as a depopulation area (~220 inhabitants) that has not gone so well for... There had e.g. existed a narrow-gauge railway between Fagerhult and Mönsterås, situated at the Baltic sea, as well. This was supposed to connect to the railway line in Åseda (see above) to give Växjö a connection with a port. The money apparently ran out and that part of the track was never built. The railway never seemed to fare well financially and was finally shut down in the 60s. Well, we drove up and down the street, the few on the street must have wondered what we were doing, through the town in our search for recognizable houses. We found one of the landmarks, the parsonage, but the surrounding houses didn't match. We thought we recognized one or two of the houses around, but we couldn't put it together.

The place for the old dwelling house, now only an area for a transformer house, substation or likewise. A Mercedes 219 Ponton in close by

The place for the old dwelling house, now only an area for a transformer house, substation or likewise

A long phone call to my uncle did not help us further. But after a visit to the cemetery, in order to see if we could at least find some of the last resting places of the family, we noted an elderly man sitting outside what could be a retirement home. We approached him, and what turned out to be his daughter, and asked if they could help us. After a lot of back and forth, we understood why we had had problems. The dwelling house had burned down a few years earlier and the barn had been demolished, leaving only a paddock.

Behind the Mercedes Ponton 219 you can see the paddock, where previously was a large barn…

Behind the 219 you can see the paddock, where previously was a large barn…

We drove back towards Vetlanda, with a longer stop at the lake Serarpasjön outside Näshult to cool down. The weather was not quite optimal for a black car without air conditioning. I may have a large Webasto sunroof, but it still won't be quite the same. A bath, a few cups of coffee and a bun cured it. Not far from the bathing place, I found a perfect spot to take some pictures of the Mercedes. Not only because for once the light came from the right direction and it was also not so intense (good for photography) as the sky was sprinkled with powerful clouds. There was also a beautiful field beside the road, and between the road and the field was a stone wall so typical of Småland. Two of those pictures can be found in this article, one at the top of the page and the other one further down below.  After the photo session we drove straight to our accommodation at Kvarndammen in Vetlanda. The day ended with a car wash and a barbecue evening, as enjoyable as the day before.

Behind the Mercedes W105 Ponton, one of the family's other dwellings

Behind the Mercedes Ponton, one of the family's other dwellings the family had in Fagerhult

Småland’s stone walls

Everywhere in Småland you see stone walls consisting of small, and (usually) large stones taken up manually with digging bars and pickaxes when the land was to be turned into arable land. the stones were (usually) not just laid in a pile, but neat walls were built, often with the stones laid in "patterns" and with straight sides and flat tops. And consider that the stones were not laid on bare ground. First, a trench was dug out, 0.5-1m deep and equally wide, which was filled with stone as a foundation for the heavy stone wall. Without that foundation, the wall would sink or collapse from the movement of the ground due to the annual, deep ground frost.

It is tragic to drive past a grown forest in which you see old stone walls winding its way among trees and bushes, barely visible. Someone has, one or two hundred years ago, broken new ground which has now been allowed to grow back into a forest again... Do a google image search on “smålands stenmurar” and you will understand what I’m talking about.

If you are curious about these walls, as I am, and have the energy, you can read the two stories below.

A Mercedes-Benz W105 Ponton in Näshult

A Ponton in Näshult, parked beside one of the typical stone walls of Småland

An excerpt from the book “Stenminnen : de småländska stenmurarna - ett kulturarv

In English that would be “Stone monuments: the stone walls of Småland - a cultural heritage”.

You can also describe Småland's stone walls in numbers: They contain more than 200 million cubic meters of gray stone or enough material for 75 Cheops pyramids. In the forests of Kronoberg County alone, there are stone walls that would be enough to go a third of the way around the earth. One cubic meter of rock weighs two tons.

One of the most poignant and striking memorials to the difficult years is the famine in Rimshult, Almundsryd's parish in Kronoberg county. Striking because the walls that surround the fields appear so powerful and monumental. The background is similar to the creation of other walls at this time. The farmer Kral Månsson had the upper and lower fields cultivated during the year of need.

Those who quarried and hauled stone and laid the walls received 12 shillings a day (about € 0,02…) as wages for their work. The smallest penny that could be earned was of course welcome. Many of the stone walls were laid by farmers during the period of new cultivation and the period of change of laws and are often on the border of improbable wall construction. There was a general interest, almost a passion, not only to break up stone and expand their arable land, but also to build walls - it became like a competition in quantity and quality. "Father never had holidays or free time." says Jan Helmersson, "He just laid stone." Neighbors also tell of how Helmer Karlsson laid walls in the evenings in the light of the kerosene lamp. He talked a lot with the family about how they felt better when the fields became smooth and free of stones, that it was something that was good for the future.

Our dear MB 219 W105 Ponton, in the family since new, parked on the lawn by Kvarndammen where we spent the night

Our dear 219, in the family since new, parked on the lawn by Kvarndammen where we spent two nights

"The stone walls of the stubborn Småland people"

This part is “stolen” from Sourze.

As pasture, the Småland pastures are good, it is no coincidence that the area from the coast of Småland to Halland has been called the animal belt or the milk belt, animal husbandry has often been the most optimal. Nevertheless, it was important for each unit in the era of self-sufficiency to prepare arable land. This is when the stone becomes an acute problem, the stone prevented plowing and preparation of the land. At every homestead this Sisyphean work was therefore carried out - picking stone, breaking up stone with a spear, digging away stone, transporting away stone, building stone walls out of all stone. A Småland odalman told in his memoirs that as a young man, during a break during the mowing, his brother-in-law suggested that they should take the opportunity to pick some stones, now that they had nothing else to do anyway.

In many parishes in Småland, it was therefore customary for the children to receive a digging bar in addition to a hymnal at confirmation. The girls also got digging bars, often they were a few kilos. From the time the girls got married, they did not have to participate as intensively in the work, usually the mother in the house did not have to dig up stone two weeks before and after giving birth.

When the population of Småland increased after the great wars, so did the need for arable land to feed people, the best pieces were already occupied, so for the children in the siblings who did not inherit the farm from their father, new cultivation or emigration remained. It is difficult to imagine with what persistence new plantations were established. Surely many people out on a clearing in a forest in Småland have seen a stone wall roll away. Then consider this: in order to lay a stone wall, it was necessary to first dig a trench closer to a meter and sometimes deeper, along stone walls that are as tall as a man and several meters wide, you may not think that there is almost as much stone under the ground as well.

People raised in such circumstances will develop a particular mentality. Of the Smålanders who came to emigrate to America, some came to work as navvies. Railroad magnate James J Hill had this to say about his railway navies:

'- Give me Smålanders, snuff and vodka and I'll build a railway to hell if necessary.'


The next part of our trip can be found here, Searching my roots in Småland, part 3.

The hood and star of the family Mercedes Ponton W105on Djurgården, Stockholm, October 2021

The hood and star of the family Ponton on Djurgården, Stockholm, October 2021