SFHS Topmenu: Finlander | SFHS | Repository | Talko | DEE |

Charles Tollber


Jump to: navigation, search



In his exhaustive study, Finlandsvenskar i Amerika, Myhrman mentions an Olin Tallberg from Lovisa in his discussion of the Cedardale community. Initially, I regarded this as an error because Helga Danielson did not include an Olin Tallberg in her notes of Finland Swedes in the Skagit bottomlands. Next I thought that Myhrman intended to list Charles Tollber of Fir Island, the earliest of the Finland Swedes to settle in Skagit County, and that he was confusing him with John Olin, one of the two Olin families in Cedardale. Upon rechecking Myhrman’s list again, I see that he includes both John Olin and Olin Tallberg for Cedardale. Who then is Olin Tallberg? I am convinced that there is no Olin Tallberg. Whoever provided Myhrman with the data on Cedardale may have commented that Maria Charlotta Tallberg born 1856 in Nybacka Finland was the spouse of Johan Olin, born 1859 in Orimattla, Finland. The couple married in 1881 at Nybacka, produced eight children, and Mrs. Olin with her children emigrated to Skagit County somewhat later. There is no Olin Tallberg in Maria Charlotta’s ancestry.

The following address could not be geocoded: Fir Island,Washington. The map cannot be displayed.

Who then is Charles Tollber?

He is the Finland-Swede on Fir Island that Helga Danielson as well as Myhrman’s consultant had forgotten about. Fortunately, there is a useful entry on Tollber in the 1906 An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties: their people, their commerce and their resources. It is stated here that he was born December 7, 1842 in Finland and that his parents were August and Anna Tollber. A search through Hiski, the Geneaological Society of Finland’s online site for a Carl born in 1842 and whose parents are August and Anna revealed nothing for a December birth date. Tollber’s death records, however, indicate that his father was K. Tollber. Likely a birth of a Karl in December 1842 whose parents are Karl and Anna would generate scores of responses and that approach is the one which must eventually be taken. The Hiski cite, moreover, suggests that Tollber is a variant of Tollberg.

In other respects the 1906 entry is filled with useful facts. At the age of 18, Charles went to London, England where he worked as a sailor for eight years. During this time he must have acquired proficiency in English and adopted the name Charles. Fifty years later, however, one of his sons seems unaware that his father was born in Finland. In 1868, Charles ventured across the Atlantic and found employment as carpenter at the Port Blakely shipyard in Kitsap County. Port Blakely is located directly across Puget Sound from Seattle. A year later he is in the future Skagit County filing for a homestead and is successful in getting one. During off seasons, he worked as a ship’s carpenter at various ports on Puget Sound. Disposing of his homestead in 1872, he purchased the first of the farms he still owned on Fir Island in 1906. The difficult task of clearing the land and removing the tree stumps began. In the early 1890s he purchased other acreage, which in 1906 was the property on which he lived, near the head of Brown’s Slough on the northwestern corner of Fir Island.

Historian Thomas Robinson provides other details about Charles Tollber. An early school on Fir Island was established on the Tollber farm either in 1876 or a little later. Skagit County was created in 1884 and considerable changes occurred regarding the placement of schools. In 1887, the school was moved to a new building just to the west of the North Fork of the Skagit River in a community called Rexville. Charles Tollber held a county license to operate a cable ferry across the North Fork likely so that the Fir Island children could attend school in Rexville. When the first bridge was constructed across the North Fork in 1888, Tollber’s cable ferry was no longer needed.

Robinson, suggests that the original owner of much of Tollber’s 1906 holdings was William Brown after whom Brown’s Slough is named. An ethnic Swede, Brown took up a homestead in 1867. The small 1890’s tract would be the plot on which the present White Swan Bed and Breakfast, initially Tollber’s commodious former home, is located.

In 1874, Charles Tollber married Hannah (Johanna) Anderson, a recent immigrant from Sweden. Born November 22, 1845, she died November 6, 1908 and is buried in the Pleasant Ridge Cemetary.There are no details on Hannah’s parentage or of her home parish in Sweden. Nor is it known if she had relatives in Skagit County other than her husband and children.

Five children were born to the Tollber union and all were living at home in 1900. Amanda the eldest was born October 1876. She died unmarried in 1912. According to the Fir Island 1900 census, Amanda was still in school and had attended nine months during the previous year. Second daughter Anna, born October 1878, was no longer in school but was living at home. By 1906 she was married to a Hansen but there is no information as to where the couple were living that year. Nineteen year old Carl, born March 1881, is listed as a farm laborer and living at home. Possibly he assisted in the operation of his parents’ farm. The Tollbers had two other sons, Ernest born November 24, 1884 and Albert born July 19, 1886. Both were regular school attendees according to the census of 1900. More will be said about each of the Tollber children later.

By 1906, the Tollbers had become quite successful. Their home was modern and contained nine rooms, “furnished in keeping with the success and position of the progressive owner.” The farm buildings, too, were “commodious and convenient” and the bottom lands surrounding them well-tilled. According to the 1906 writer, there was no question that “up-to-date ideas prevailed.” This was all in marked contrast to 1869 where the “… vast forests and wild waste of overflow lands had not been marked by the hand of civilization.” Tollber had faced a combination of conditions seemingly sufficient “to terrorize the bravest heart.” He had overcome them, however, and now had a “well appointed home, devoted family and a wide circle of friends, whose respect and esteem he holds.” He was a staunch Republican and a Lutheran.

The Tollbers lived between two Lutheran churches. There was a church which conducted services in Norwegian about four miles to the east across the South Fork bridge of the Skagit River from Conway. There was also and a Swedish language mission on the northern edge of Pleasant Ridge about six miles to the north, across the North Fork of the Skagit and beyond Rexville. Although Anna their second daughter had married a Norwegian, and may have attended the Norwegian church, the remainder of the family likely worshipped at Pleasant Ridge whose congregation consisted mostly of ethnic Swedes. The name Tollber does not appear among the charter members of the soon to be established Swedish language Salem Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon. This church resulted from the consolidation of three mission congregations, the one at Pleasant Ridge, the second in Cedardale and the third of Swedes living in the town of Mount Vernon Breta Tollber.

By 1910, Charles Tollber had retired and had moved to Seattle. The census of that year gives his residence as 1910-3rd West. He was living alone. Within a few years, Charles Tollber had remarried. His second wife was a Finland-born Finland-Swede named Breta. Born April 22, 1860, she had come to the United States in 1903. After her marriage, she did not work outside the home. The couple had only a few years to spend together, Charles died March 15, 1913 of valvular disease of the heart and is buried at the Mount Pleasant Cemetary in Seattle.

In the 1920 census, Breta is head of the Tollber household in Seattle’s Precinct 28. With her is Victor Johnson age 20 who may sometimes have been been a University student. The census taker initially had written in university student but then crossed it out. Victor appears to have been Brita’s sister’s son.. The 1930 census finds Brita living alone in a house having no mortgage and whose value was appraised at $2 000. It was located on Sunnyside Avenue near Corliss in Seattle. Possibly it is the same property referred to in the 1920 census. She died March 20, 1933. In her last years, she was cared for by non-Tollber kin living in another southern Puget Sound county as her name does not appear in the King County death register. Breta is buried in the Tollber family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetary.

Albert Clarence Tollber

After Charles Tollber retired and moved to Seattle some time between 1908 and 1910, his youngest son, Albert Clarence born July 19, 1886 took over the Tollber farm. The 1910 census informs us that the farm now carried a mortgage. The twenty-four–year-old Albert had been married to the 20 year old Washington-born Ellen Johnson for two years Both of Ellen’s parents were born in Sweden. Ellen was born in Washington, but not in Skagit County. I am tempted to think that she might have come from Ellensburg, and had relatives living there. The census reveals that the young couple had one child, Floyd whon was born 21 May, 1909. A second child, Corinne, born in 1913, died in 1914. She, like her grandmother Johanna, is buried in the Tollber family plot at Pleasant Ridge Cemetary. In the same year, Ellen died and is buried next to her daughter. Ellen’s grave is marked as mother, Corrine’s as daughter. Little can be said what happened to Floyd after his mother’s death. He was not living with his father’s sister, Anna Hansen in Skagit County nor does a Floyd Tollber appear anywhere in the 1920 or 1930 census.

Albert must have given up the farm soon thereafter. According to his draft registry card filed June 15, 1917, he lives in Detroit, Michigan. His residence is at 213 Concord and he is employed as a tire builder. Tall with dark hair and brown eyes and no deformities, he is listed as an ex-farmer and, since his wife is deceased, single. His employer is Morgan and Wright. Albert requests a deferment on the grounds that he has an eight year old son whom he supports. The registration card does not indicate where his son lives.

The 1920 census finds Albert in Pullman, Washington. He has remarried recently and has a 24-year-old wife Prudence. She was born 13 October, 1895 in North Dakota. Her father was born in Minnesota and her mother in Sweden. Albert’s father, Charles, is incorrectly listed as having been born in England. His mother’s birthplace is correctly given as Sweden. The 36-year-old Albert is a vocational student in 1920.

In 1930, Albert and Prudence are living in Yakima, Washington where Albert is employed as a roofer. Prudence had given birth to two children during the previous decade: Virginia is nine and Wesley is six. The Tollbers live in a rented house for which they pay $23 monthly. They also have a radio. Again Albert incorrectly lists his father as having been born in England. His mother’s identification is correct.

Albert died 28 March, 1949 in Seattle at the age of 62 (64?). Prudence V. Tollber died 27 February, 1980 in Richland, Washington. It is not known where Albert was employed or where he lived during the last 19 years of his life. Their son, Wesley C. Tollber born in 1924 had one year of university behind him when he enlisted for duty in WWII in Tacoma on the tenth of February, 1943. As usual residence, King County is given. Wesley was a tall thin fellow, 73 inches in height and weighing 147 pounds. During the years 1995 to 2001 he was living at Mt. View Estates in Rainier, WA.

Floyd A “Sam” Tollber, Albert’s son from his first marriage to Ellen, died in Ellensburg on May 22, 1997. His wife, Doris M. Tollber born 6 May, 1921, died January 14, 1999 in Ellensburg. They had lived at 1500 Millergaard Road in Ellensburg. Floyd and Doris are burried at Pleasant Ridge Cemetary in the Tollber family plot. Floyd has been laid to rest near his sister, mother, aunt, and paternal grandmother.

Amanda Tollber

Amanda Tollber was born 12 October 1876 on Fir Island and died 19 September, 1912 of chronic bronchial asthma and acute heart failure. Her brother Carl of Mount Vernon provided the information for her death certificate.

The breaking up of the parental home and the moving of her father to Seattle may have been disruptive to Amanda, but there are no documents to indicate whether this is true or not. What Amanda did was to move to the Billington Precinct in Adams County in Eastern Washington with her brother Ernest. Both operated farms there. This involves dry farming, but the 1910 census does not indicate that they had become wheat farmers. If the bronchial asthma which was one of the causes of her death had been troubling her for many years, perhaps she had sought out the dryer semi-desert climate of the Columbia Plateau to avoid further health problems, consequences of coping with the damp foggy climate of the Skagit Delta. Perhaps her younger brother had agreed to assist her in her farming operations in Adams County. Undoubtedly the land was inexpensive and the two siblings may have thought that since their younger brother taking over the parental farm, they could make a new start in Eastern Washington. The new farming enterprise appears not to have been a success. Less than three years later, Amanda is back in Mount Vernon and was dead. She had never married.

Ernest Adolphus R. Tollber

Ernest was born November 24, 1883 at the parental farm on Fir Island. In 1910, he had been married to the 25-year-old Hollie, née Penley, for one year. Hollie was born in North Carolina as were her parents William and Ida Penley. They were living on Fir Island in 1900 where William was a day laborer. The Penleys had bought the house in which they lived but it carried a mortgage. Hollie, born in 1887, was the oldest of the Penley children.

The next we learn about Ernest and Hollie is information provided on Ernest’s draft registration card. On September 12, 1918, he and Hollie were living at 7325 43rd South in Seattle. Ernest was employed as a hook tender at the ship yards of the Erickson Engineering Company. He had blue eyes, light brown hair and was physically firm.

Unfortunately, Ernest and Hollie appear on neither the 1920 census nor the 1930 census, but we can be certain that Hollie gave birth to at least one son. This was Eugene E. Tollber who was born 31 January, 1916. Eugene died October 5, 1991 in Renton, WA. Eugene’s wife was Rose Marie Thibault. She was born 2 October, 1925 in Ashland Wisconsin. She died 6 January, 1998. Their last address was 29815 222nd Ave. S.E. in Kent, WA.

Little is known about what became of Ernest and Hollie in the years following 1918. They devorced and Ernest did not remarry. His death records shed light on the fact that he had advanced himself educationally and professionally as of the time of his death of bronchial pneumonia on 4 October, 1947 at Providence Hospital in Seattle. By profession he was a civil aeronautical engineer. He, his son and daughter-in-law are all buried in the Tollber family plot at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle. They lie next to Charles Tollber and Breta.

Carl W. Tollber

Carl was born 14 March, 1881 on Fir Island and was the oldest son of Charles and Johanna Tollber. Not too much is known about Carl. There is no census data for him in 1910. September 12, 1918 found him and brother Ernest registering for the draft in Seattle. Carl was living in King County and was employed as a laborer at Pacific States Lumber Company at Sellach. As his nearest relative he listed his brother Ernest. Carl apparently was not drafted as he is not listed as being a veteran in the 1930 census.

Early January, 1920, finds Carl living and working at Port Angeles, WA. His residence is a large boarding house located on Second Street near the harbor. Carl is employed as a tractor driver at a lumber mill. During the same year Carl marries a woman named Amanda. She was 43 and was born in Minnesota of parents born in Sweden. The 1930 census finds the couple are living at Novelty in King County. Carl is listed as a general farmer. He died 30 June, 1942 in Seattle.

Anna Tollber Hansen

Daughter Anna, born in 1878, had married Norwegian-born Bert Hansen of Fir Island just after the turn of the century. The 1900 census tells us that he was born January 1869 and had emigrated in 1890. Anna was likely Bert’s second wife. Prior to his marriage to Anna, he was a farm laborer living in his own house at Skagit City on Fir Island.

Ten years later, the Hansens were living in the rural community called Harmony. It was located just to the west of Mount Vernon and not too far from the Kambs, two other Families with a Finland-Swedish connection. The Hansens had purchased a farm in Harmony which still carried a mortgage. Anna had given birth to three children, two of whom were still living. Harry C was eight and younger brother Melvin J was five. Bert’s mother Margaret, aged 73 was living with them as was a twelve-year-old nephew named Henry. The Hansens were sufficiently well situated to be able to hire two male, Swedish-born live-in workers.

In 1930, the Hansen family had moved back to Fir Island. Bert refers to himself as a general farmer operating his mortgaged farm. They have no live-in workers. The boys were out of the house at this time, but eleven-year-old Arletha is at home. Her two elder brothers are married. Harry C is living in Nooksack in Whatcom County and is married to Clara whose father is Swedish-born. A salesman of general merchandise by trade, Harry and Clara are living in rented quarters and pay a monthly rental of fifteen dollars. The 28 year-old couple have three young children, Clifton, Violet and Harlan. Anna and Bert’s other son, Melvin, is married to Josephine.They rent a dairy farm on Fir Island.on the Slough Road. Josephine’s parents were born in Norway. Melvin and Josephine have two young children, Norman born around 1926 and Joyce born around 1928. Although their great grandfather was a Finland-Swede, his Hansen descendents may feel themselves a part of the Norwegian community of Conway and Fir Island. There may still be Tollber descendents on Fir Island. Their grandmother Anna Tollber Hansen died 31 October, 1848.


The Tollber family is an interesting one because Charles Tollber represents the earliest settlement of a Finland-Swede in the Skagit bottomlands. Charles by all accounts was a highly successful farmer. There was a deep depression of short duration in 1907 which may have triggered him to give up farming. He was getting along in years at that time, however, and may have felt that he had done his share and wanted to have a few years to enjoy a well deserved retirement. In that case, the depression had nothing to do with his decision to move to Seattle. His children may have made a few poor choices with respect to their farming enterprises. For Amanda, poor health also played a role. The Depression of the late 1920s and through much of the 1930s required the sons to seek new economic opportunities. Ernest appears to have been the most successful of the children. One wishes that the 1920 and 1930 censuses had enumerated him and his family so that one could better document the positive changes that were occurring. The years following World War II were favorable ones, it appears, for all the surviving branches of the family. The development of the plutonium industry in Richland, Washington attracted many skilled and semi-skilled workers to the area,. Albert’s family may have been among them. Charles’ second wife, Brita may have been a positive influence for keeping the Seattle branch of the family together. If tombstones are indicative of religiosity, she may have been quite devout. Her tombstone carries the additional words “Asleep in Jesus.” Ernest’s reads, “I shall sleep but not forever."

Vincent Erickson

Personal tools
blog comments powered by Disqus