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Johan Richard Nyström


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Several months ago I received an e-mail request from a family in Finland, for help in finding descendants of their relative Johan Richard Johansson Kallis-Nygård-Nyström, born 28 August 1848 in Karleby, Finland. He emigrated to California and took the name John Nystrom. The family was under the impression that he was the founder of the city of Richmond, California.

I tried to do some searching on the Internet for people named Nystrom as well as checking the history of Richmond. In addition I looked at a lot of query sites on the Internet for the Nystrom name and submitted a query asking for information about John Nystrom and his descendants. On one Internet site I found a short article about John Nystrom that was written by John Perala. When I contacted him, he generously shared the date he had but he didn’t know of any living descendants.

My search on the Net for Nystrom names turned up a Hulda Nystrom in California. She wrote that her Nystrom family came from Sweden, but she had a co-worker who was a descendant of John Nystrom. Her name was Melva, daughter of John Nystrom’s son Melvin. When I contacted Melva, she offered to send me data on the entire family, which was a large one.

According to Melva, John Nystrom was not the founder of Richmond. He originally was a seaman and traveled around the world. In September 1881 he bought 70 acres of land for a farm at Ellis Landing. The area was known as Point Richmond. John’s younger brother Anders joined him in California and they farmed together. In 1881 John married Mary Griffins and they had 11 children. He retired from farming and subdivided his land into lots which were annexed by the city of Richmond in 1903. He was a pioneer and early promoter of Richmond and became interested in civic and commercial affairs. In 1908 he donated land for Nystrom Elementary School and during the Second World War there was a housing development named Nystrom Village. His grandson Stanley wrote a book about growing up in Richmond. I tried to borrow a copy of the book through my library, but was told that copies were limited and could not be loaned.

Later I learned that the genealogy society of Karleby, Finland had copies of old letters that John Nystrom had written to his sister in Finland. They were reproduced in the Karlebynejden publication No. 10, 1977. In addition, there was an article about him which I have translated as follows:


In the famine year of 1867, eighteen-year-old Johan Richard Nyström from Kallis village in Gamlakarleby parish emigrated to America. At that time there were no emigrant steamships, such as in our time, and if they had been available Nyström would not have used them because he was short of money. Therefore he did as many others had done in previous times: received permission to accompany a ship where he could work aboard for passage and subsistence.
Without a doubt his life’s destiny over there would be of great interest for his countrymen, but we cannot follow in detail his struggle for a future.
We know how little schooling existed at that time for children of a poor man, and one can understand that he didn’t have much knowledge. But nevertheless he must have had a lot of energy and had persistence, practical sense and a good natural intellect because over and over everything went well for him. Each Christmas for a long period of time he remembered his relatives living at home with beautiful gifts. In one of his letters he mentioned that he was not rich according to American standards, but if he returned to Finland with his fortune, he would be a millionaire. Over there he had been a building contractor and was also thought to be a justice of the peace, or a similar commission.
The other day his relatives here at home received a message that he died at the age of 65 years.” (He died of cancer.)
The newspaper in Richmond, California, the city where he worked with great success for many years and where he now closed his eyes, included a long remembrance, indicating the great thanks people owed him. We include here a part of the newspaper story:
Under the heading “Deceased Capitalist” and “J.R.Nyström, pioneer of this city is no more,” etc. wrote a Richmond newspaper for 24 December 1913 as follows:
“John R. Nyström, pioneer, capitalist and banker of Richmond – and a man who always enjoyed the greatest respect of everyone who knew him – died today, early in the morning at his home – Nyström’s homestead – on Tenth Street, following an illness of the past two years. Except for showing signs of breaking down in the past two years, he had an excellent physical constitution.
Nyström was 65 years old, born in Finland, but had lived the greater part of his life in this country because he came here as a young man during the latter part of the 1800s, when people had not dreamed about Richmond. He came to this part of Contra Costa and settled down on the place that is now part of Santa-Fe – Nyström’s addition to the city of Richmond – occupied with exporting from the old Stege wharf which served the entire area as the only transport line on the bay.
In 1881 he took Miss Mary Griffin, daughter of a newly settled family, as his bride and the young pair made their home in what was then called Nyström’s farm and presently is Nyström’s home on Tenth Street. In 1900 when Richmond was established Nyström was owner of a large piece of land which, as the city grew, became more and more valuable until the final distribution brought this owner a fortune.
Since then Nyström has been one of the city’s most foremost businessmen and showed himself as a financier of exceptional ability. He has assisted in many enterprises for the city’s enlargement and has always been among the leaders when it involved cultural improvement.
He served on the city council, involved in municipal government organization and helped greatly, through his wise advice, the immature township get around the many obstacles that threatened it. For many years he was also a member of the school district.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by the following children: Edvin M, Alfred I, Wm. H, Louise, Hazel, Edna and Raymond Nyström, Mrs. Mabel Mason, Mrs. Alice Schröder and Mrs. Lintville from San Diego.”
Under the heading “Complimentary Tribute to the Memory of a Pioneer,” wrote the same newspaper a day later:
“A tribute – demonstrating the high regard he had received from the community where he spent the active fruitful years of his life – was dedicated yesterday to the memory of John Richard Nyström. It was a migration of the most important men and women from all of the different circumstances in Richmond. The Freemason’s Masonic order had a hand in the ceremony at First Presbyterian Church where Pastor Curry – a friend of Mr. Nyström nearly all his life – conducted the solemn ceremony.
Nyström was a long-time member of the Freemason lodge McKinley whose fellowship was entrusted with the divine service with Exalted Reverend E. L. Jones as Grand Master, assisted by Pastor D. W. Calfee as chaplain.
Pastor Curry’s memorial address about the man who had been his friend his entire life, was the most beautiful tribute ever heard in this city at a similar ceremony. Many years ago Pastor Curry had married Mr. and Mrs. Nyström and his memorial address conformed well with the irreproachable honesty that characterized John Nyström’s helpful life in this community. Pastor Grey A. White’s speech was also a most moving testimony of a good person, a good citizen and a good father and husband.
Several pieces of music were performed by a quartet composed of Pastor G. A. White, Williard Poague, Harry Plate and Herbert Lange. Pallbearers, selected from the Freemason brotherhood, local government officials and the school board were: city alderman C. J. Garrard, school director O. A. Poulsen, B. B. McLellan, J. H. Rumrill, James Cruickshank and Benjamin Boorman. A delegation of Knights from Berkley Knight Commanders and Temple Knights (of which Mr. Nyström had long been a member) were present in full uniform. Fifty automobiles were necessary to drive the mourners to California Crematorium in Oakland.”
In a special dispatch to the newspaper “The Examiner”, a report from Richmond on 26 December under the headline “Sorrowful Demonstration by the City at a Pioneer’s Funeral” follows:
“An entire city showed its sorrow today at the funeral of John R. Nyström – pioneer, capitalist – who died at his home in Richmond on Wednesday.
The funeral service was held today in the First Presbyterian Church. Pastor Frank Curry, a lifetime friend of Nyström, conducted the ceremony. Hundreds of people were present. The remains were sent to Oakland.”

From Österbottningen newspaper, Gamlakarleby, Finland, January 1914

Translated by June Pelo

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