121 Moore Street

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Address History
Olof A. Berntson business history
Robert W. Berntson business history
Anders Berntson combined history
Berntson surname vital history

Olof A. Berntson was born in Bohusland, Sweden, in 1868 and immigrated to the United States when he was 19 years old, settling in Lowell. He joined the city’s growing Swedish community, many of whose members were employed in the smaller woolen mills along the Concord River, in the cartridge factory, or in small artisanal shops near the Lowell Bleachery.

Initially Berntson worked a wage-earning job as a box maker and attended the Lowell Commercial College in the evenings. While attending the college, Berntson boarded on B Street in the Highlands neighborhood. He may have worked at James A. Thompson’s box-making shop on Chambers Street, one of eight box manufacturers in Lowell. Between 1889 and 1896 he boarded at three different houses on B Street.

Naturalized in 1893, he graduated from the Lowell Commercial College in the following year and in the fall of 1896 he opened a small shop, selling books and stationary. In addition, Berntson served as a ticket agent for a steamship company and started a newspaper called “Scandinavia.” His shop, located at 780 Gorham Street, was also his residence. The lot backed onto part of the Lowell Bleachery, was a block away from the Lowell Waste Company, and practically across the street from a fire station – not a prime property.

Picture of 121 Moore Street

This two-story, wood-frame building, erected after the turn of the 20th century, has a projecting bay, an off-center entrance capped by a pedimented gable roof, which is supported by ornamented wood brackets.  A brick veneer and slender rectangular window on the first floor were probably installed in the late 1950s.

Living with him and three other families in this relatively large building was Anders Berntson, possibly a brother but almost certainly a relative, who worked as an iron moulder. Two years later, Olof changed his business into a grocery. Listed at 788 Gorham Street, the grocery was in a wood-frame building near the corner of Livingston Street. He rented this property and continued to live there with Anders Berntson until 1899.

Picture of Ida K. Peterson
Ida K. Peterson, 1921
(passport photo)

In September 1896, Olof married Ida (Peterson), who had immigrated to the United States in 1891. By 1904 their children included Robert W., born in 1897, Agnes Elvira in 1899, Esther A. in 1902, Edith Marie in 1903, and Mildred O. in 1904. In 190 Berntson moved his business and residence to 125 Andrews Street, near Moore Street. This was largely a residential street and an Irishman named Lynch owned the small one-story frame building in which he was located. The Berntson family had just grown to five in 1903 so his growing family may have prompted this move. He remained at Andrews Street for two years before purchasing a property close by on Moore Street; the family was now at six.

This two-story frame building would serve as his store and residence for many years. It was probably still in breathing distance of the Lowell Bleachery but the neighborhood was strongly Swedish, with the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner and the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran church a few steps around that corner. The residential part of the building was numbered 123 Moore Street, while the store’s address was 121 Moore.

Picture of Olaf Berntson
Olof A. Berntson, 1933

(Newspaper photo
on retiring from the
post office after
24 years)

In 1909 Berntson obtained a coveted job as clerk in the city’s post office, where he worked for 24 years. With the help of his wife, however, he maintained the grocery business on Moore Street. After finishing high school in 1916, Robert, their son, started clerking at the store. He continued even a little after he also obtained a clerkship at the post office. Of course, he was probably helping at the store well before then, as his younger sisters, but the City Directory lists only “adults”.

In addition to his postal work and the family grocery, Olof Berntson maintained close ties with his native land. It appears that at least three members of his family made trips to Sweden by 1921.

Picture of Agnes Berntson
Agnes Berntson, 1920

(passport photo)

This is Olof’s translation of a letter to Agnes from her grandmother urging the 21-year old to visit. It would be surprising if Olof didn’t himself.

Photocopy of typed letter to Agnes from grandmother in Sweden.

Berntson wrote about the Swedish community in Lowell. He served over 50 years as a contributor to the Swedish newspaper Svea and produced a history of Lowell’s Swedes. In the 1890s, soon after a brass band composed of Swedish men was organized in the city, he played tuba. Berntson, who had become a citizen of the United States when he was a young man, taught English to immigrants in Americanization classes in the city in the late 1910s and early 1920s. He also taught Swedes in evening classes, which were originally established at the Butler School in the 1880s. After he left the post office in 1933, Berntson resumed the grocery business full time. He continued to reside on Moore Street, operating the grocery until he retired at age 78 in 1946. He remained there one more year, until 1947. He may have gone to live with son Robert, who had married Elsa C. Anderson in 1931 and who owned a house on Pentucket Avenue, or he may have gone into nursing care then. He was a patient in 1949 at Delaney Private Hospital (Nursing Home) on Varnum Avenue, not far from Lowell General Hospital, when he died. He was survived by his son Robert W. Berntson, and four daughters, each of whom had married a Swedish émigré.

Newspaper article showing picture of three postal employees 
                                  retiring, including Robert Bernstrom. title="Copy of newspaper article describing picture of three postal employees retiring. It states "Bob, the Voice of the Postoffice... 45 years service.""> Robert served as a clerk at the post office for a total of forty-five years, retiring in 1966. (The picture at right is from a newspaper article about his retirement party.) His obituary states: “A well known trumpet player, he played in many dance bands in the 1920s and 30s… he was the oldest member of the Lowell Musicians Union #83, which he belong to for more than 70 years. During World War I, he served in the US Naval Reserve…” He was an officer of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church but, showing an ecumenical spirit, also played trumpet at the St. John’s Episcopal Church Easter service one year. Every parent will understand his wife’s Elsa’s dedication as an active volunteer to the PTA.

Adolph A. Gauthier, of French-Canadian descent, operated a variety store at 121 Moore Street after Berntson’s departure and lived there as well. In 1951 Frederick F. Downs took over the Gauthier’s store, renaming it Downs’ Variety Store. He lived on Cosgrove Street, while Gauthier continued to reside at 123 Moore Street. Downs continued to run the store until the early 1960s. By 1964 the building was solely into a residence, which it is today.

A version of this story is available with references.