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In the summer of 1942 Johan Henriksson visited his birthplace in Övermark in Swedish Österbotten. Except for a short visit he made previously, he had been away for a third of 100 years since his childhood. Much had changed during that time. Many of the old people had departed and a new generation had arrived. The buildings were different than before. He felt like a stranger in the places where he played as a child. Memories returned and he remembered the history of the village and heard the voices of his parents from afar.

On a beautiful afternoon in the beginning of July he bicycled around the village with his relative Erik who represented the present. But his insight into the past was faulty. They tramped along the road west of the river. The half mile wide strip of ground stood as a wedding table for their eyes. The rain had turned everything luxurient an on the flat land the red painted farm buildings were bathed in a sinking sun. The buildings were of the old type with cottages with small rooms or were new buildings with short walls and wide gables.

Henriksson asked how many people presently lived in Övermark.

Erik replied that about 3,500 people are here, but many were from foreign places. The community is comprised of 25 mantal, distributed among 400-500 dwellings. Övermark is a typical smallholders community. In 1546 Övermark had 18 farmers. In 1755 there were 21 homesteads and 24 farmers. The church was built 1878, as stated above the door at the east entrance. Before then Övermark residents went to the mother church in Närpes because they weren't satisfied with hearing the text read in the reading room which was already there in 1721 at Lässtubäcken west of the present Gullans coffee house. The grave house that was near the cemetery boundary is the old reading room which moved to its present place in 1883.

While standing there, Erik related something of interest. When he was a child there was an old road on the west side of Lässtubäcken. It was the village's King's Road and there was nothing else at that time except a riding road along the edge of the river. In 1623 there was an inn in Övermark and from there Gustaf II Adolf issued a resolution on 13 March 1626.

Erik asked when the new road came. Henriksson said that after a long process, work begain in 1765. It was finished in 1779.

What was it like in Övermark at that time?

When Israel Hannibal Wennan created a map depiction of Övermark in 1755-56, the village was barely a half kilometer long. About half of the 24 farmers lived in In-i-byn - during my childhood this is what people called the closely built buildings on the 200-300 meter wide tongue of land between the river and the basin. Gullans site was directly east of Gullans coffee house. Brommels lived at the present market place, Åbonde lived on the savings bank site, Ers on businessman Svens present lot, Smeds was south of Gullans, and Öist lived east of Smeds. Gabbels lived west of Brommels, and between them Martens had his residence. Storthors was east of Åbonde by the river and Ersfolk where the cooperative is now. Perjus and Groop lived where the church now stands. Directly south of there were Bränn and Knij and probably Teir. East of the church Rafhök had his home. West of the cemetery was Nisuls and to the north Bäcks, Fratt, Kaars and Ragvals. Lillthors was the first new building east of the river at Byforsen. In addition was Billmark soldier's croft No. 45, Pihlrot croft, Kullberg, Kröning and Lagerbäck soldier's homes.

Much has changed since that time, said Erik.

Yes, the population has increased. Through emigration in the later 1700s and through marsh cultivation many groups of villages arose, a few miles apart from each other. In my childhood it was to our credit to be able to add up all the villages. We counted south along the road: Groopgålan, Roholmin, Bränngålan, In-i-byn, Grännäse, Dalan, Räfsbäck, Norrback and Pörtmossan. West of the church there were: Väster-i-byn with Knöpelbacken, to the north Myron. On the east side of the river to the south: Stenforsin, Häggnäse, with Faggbackan and Fålbäcken, to the east side with Södran, Tuvas and Tallbackan, northeast side with Kamar, Gamelgårds and Skräddar. To the east: Palibyn, Brännbackan and along the woods Valsberg and Valsås. Överträsk village in the west with village groups; Bobackan, Sårbackan, Aspnäse, Söderholmin, Aspbäcken, Svartnäse and Fröjnäse. Also, houses in the village groups were thinned by emigration at the time before the World War,

But now we will go over the bridge that was built of stone in 1862, to In-i-byn and I'll tell you about the houses and people there as conditions were at the turn of the century, also before the last emigration movement. The division of the farms had proceded quickly and only a few people had moved out since the 1700s, so 20 farms were concentrated on 300 meters along the road. The houses stood so close to each other that we boys could hop from roof to roof for long stretches. The places between the various farm outhouses were long and dark as tunnels - excellent hiding places when we played. The stable was a good place for banishment.

On each farm there was a cottage of the old type and a little cottage for the old people. On some farms there was also a fire cottage. The rest of the buildings were placed so that the cottages and buildings were built in a square facing each other. There were the stable, chaise shed, shed, sheep building, pig sty, privy, etc. The smith and the sauna were built a bit away from the other buildings. The manure pile lay open for the sake of convenience, with the oldest part facing the road. My father's mother, born 1824, used to tell how her mother said that the manure had been concealed with birch branches when Alexander I traveled through Övermark in 1819.

Who lived in the various farms?

We think of the farms east of the road, between here and the river, and from south to north they were:

  1. Smess-Mickas-Maj with son Oskar, who married Gull-Janneas-Edla (see No. 4) at the beginning of the century. Maj was a stinging old woman. She became a widow and married Hell-Pell (12), but they were not compatible and didn't live together. Behind Majas outhouse near the river was the remains of a wolfpit.
  2. Kaars-Gabrel and Anna-Stin. They had bought the house and shared the courtyard together with Mickas Maj. The farm, which was earlier owned by Juryman J. H. Smeds, d. 1893, was exceedling long and included in the north end was businessman B. Enholm's office. Kaars-Gabrel was disabled and periodically served as the village schoolmaster.
  3. Smess-Adrin was a son-in-law from Grännäse. His wife was Maja Johansdotter. The farm was affluent. By the 1870s Adrin, a violent but also good-natured man, had been to America and could talk about wild-western stories. He often ran around with a shotgun and trolling spoon.
  4. Gull-Janneas-Johan was married to Kajs from Kalax in Närpes. She died in the 1890s. The old father Janne bought the first large plough to Övermark in 1862. Son Johan carried on business in Sundsvall but traveled in the beginning of the century to America. The homestead then went to K. A. Franzen's ownership, and the farm remained near Gullan's coffee house.
  5. Gull-Hindrik and - Johan were both from Grännäse and had married sisters Stina and Mina. The lots were common for both farms. Hindrick was silent and mild, but Stina had spunk. Johan had previously been to America. Mina was an old woman who loved to read and could read Russian from her childhood days when the Russian military was quartered in the village.
  6. Ers-Pell and Mina lived where Svens farm now stands. Petter was a son-in-law at the farm and came from Brommels. He had good rapport with small boys. On this place Andreas Ehrström was born 16 June 1743, d. as chaplain in Kronoby 1822 - he was father of musician A. Ehrström.
  7. Hell-Oskar was son of Hell-Pell and was married to Anna-Lis from Yttermark. The farm was purchased. It had previously belonged to Ers son-in-law, also called Spelman, who owned a large part of Gamel-Prinsinas.
  8. Jockas-Ant was married to Mina from Mossar on the east side. They lived in the middle of the present trade business. Ant was a dreamer and versed in the scriptures and interpreted symbols of the sun and moon. When he became tipsy, he sang psalms so loud they could be heard down along the road.
  9. Dairyman K. G. Nordin was part of a glassblowing family from Berga factory in Pörtom and married to Bengs-Mari. They lived where Svarvar road opens into the new main road. To begin with Nordin had only leased land but later bought Hell-Pellas homestead on the north side of Svarvar road. Both of Nordin's farms still remain. He was jury chairman.
  10. Gabbels-Mattas-Hindrik, married to Gabbels-Stin from the east side, lived east of Nordin near the river. Earlier he drove home from Riveden before Christmas even though the snow was not good enough for sleighing.
  11. Hell-Pell was strong from work and had huge neck sinews. His first wife had driven to her death in Benvikbacken near Kaskö 1883. Her ashes were one of the first to be buried in Övermark's cemetery.%%%%%%East of the river lived the tanner, and to the north lived Maja-Len and son Hannes in a back cottage. A bit north was the yellow Björksboda farm, that was owned by shopkeeper B. Enholm.%%%%%%Then west of the main road, were the following farms, counting from the south:
  12. Sursmoss-Kal and - Stina who lived near the reading room. Both were old and had given their home to their daughter and son-in-law (18), and Kal had returned to his original work as a shoemaker.
  13. Anfolk (Antfolk) - Kalle and - Lena lived on the present market place. Kalle, a happy and good man, came from Aspbäcken and was a son-in-law on the farm. The north end was rented out as a store. The curve in the road at the market square meant, according to tradition, that a house stood there in the 1700s. The house stayed because the owner was a widow with many children. In my childhood the house was still there.
  14. Anders-Hindrikas-Kal and -Häck were brothers and their houses were together on the same site where the cooperative now is. Kal, slow and persevering, was married to Lena Gustava from Gottböle in Närpes. Häck had been a joker in his youth, but years and labor had put a damper on his enjoyment. He was first married to Gamelgårds-Anna-Stin and later to Jonka-Mina from Valsås. Their father was a lathe operator and smith.
  15. Martens-Lill-Johan was married to Lis from Martens at the east side. He died during my childhood of gastric catarrh, and both his sons divided the homestead. The original cottages, which are now owned by the miller, included an inner room and hall. They still remain and have been enlarged.
  16. Bjönäs-Johan-Petter had the same kind of cottage. It was used sometime as a Russian home and for teacher's meetings after Johan Petter and Edla had moved to Sursmoss-Kalas (13). The old father Pel had used a stone and chisel in olden days.
  17. Häckas-Ant was married to Kajs from Pjelax in Närpes. He, and many others, had been to America in his youth and came home with gold in a money belt. He was in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1906. He was an active man but not as quick as his father who, in hastiness, tried to cast a load of wood to the side when he drove into the corner of the barn.
  18. Martens-Josipas-Johan was married to Edla from Faggbacken. They lived in the most northern farm, which still stands. Half of the homestead is now donated to Närpes elementary school and Österbotten's Swedish Agricultural Society.

On the farms in In-i-byn about 40 years ago there were approximately 125 people. About 10 had visited America.

During the division settlement there was a general moving out of the village. Only four farmers stayed. They had it better than at the beginning of the century when small farms could not feed its people, at least not in In-i-byn with its scattered buildings.

It surely is an advantage to have land around, said Erik.

Surely. In the 1700s some farmers had only 40-50 parcels. In my childhood it wasn't much better. The parcels were small and separated far from each other. At our home we had 18 kilometers of roadway between the farthest field. The properties were called Källvallan, Myron, Myrhöve, Själskosläton, Bäckmossan, Källmossan, Åbackan, Soldänget, Soldatåkern, Nörrliden, Ersbackan, Åmyron, Fäboåkern, Geftnäse and Lillmossan. Along with Hemtomten, Hemskogen (to the nearest end it was 3 km!) and Utskogen. There was a lot of running around the entire community.

I nearly became eloquent but the village recollections linger and they warm the heart. Here at Lässtubäcken we rode sleds and we skied down Nabbin where Svinmyrbäcken falls into Lässtubäcken. We splashed in the river all day long in the summer. We caught fish in the streams. There were four mills and only one now. They were driven by a wheel set deeply in a log house that was replaced in the 1700s with a stationary wheel. On the village bridge the women beat their washing while herring swam past on their way to the bay. Later in life I often thought that the Ostrobothnian village life is related to the rivers that flow calmly in the flat country, furrowed by a little stream here and there that gathers speed occasionally. Moving slowly onward, arriving at the end where the everlasting sea widens.

By Albert Brommels, Den Österbottniska Byn

Translated by June Pelo

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