THE SWEDISH HOUSE
AXEL SANDSTROM SAILS FROM HOME
Axel Gustus Sandstrom followed the path he had cut along the sweet-water creek that led through a grove of alders to his house. Earlier that day, he had walked up from the river, past stacks of timber ready for the mill. Sunlight filtered through all but the tallest trees. He climbed the ladder into the attic, the smell of freshly cut lumber hung heavy in the air. His little house in Prosper was almost complete. After the board had been set and the last of the nails driven home, he paused a moment to look out the window.
Horses tied to hitching posts nosed their feed bags. He was feeling reflective. Gotenborg, Sweden felt far away, but the coolness of the spring air reminded him of home. Standing there it struck him, it had been eleven years since he and Hilda were married and nine years since he had said farewell and set sail for San Francisco. Axel planned to send for Hilda as soon as he could. As an able-bodied seaman, work would be plentiful and they imagined it wouldn’t be long. Looking out over the sea from the deck of the English sailing vessel, Axel could not possibly have imagined where his life would take him.
A year later, in 1899, Axel and his ship arrived in San Francisco, a city as wild and lawless as anywhere in the West and one had the impression anything could happen at any time. It was dangerous and exhilarating, a city on the edge of the frontier poised for the World stage. Soon after arriving, like a scene out of a Walter Louis Stevenson novel, Axel awoke to find himself on a whaling vessel headed for the Arctic Sea. He had been ‘shanghied’ and would spend the next three years working against his will in the frozen north. Somehow he managed to write one letter home explaining his situation. Finally, in 1903 he made it back to San Francisco. Soon after he found work on a three masted schooner, the Onward and began sailing the West Coast.
AXEL SWIMS ASHORE
Two years later on a run up the coast, the Onward ran aground and wrecked on the Bandon sand bar at the mouth of the Coquille river. Axel had arrived, swimming ashore to what would become his home for the next 47 years.
Memories of that chilly February day were still fresh in his mind as he turned his attention away from the window and to the board he was holding. From his pocket Axel drew out a small knife and carved, ‘August 17, 1907’. Setting the plank in a corner, he climbed down the ladder closing the hatch door behind him. Axel and Hilda were adjusting to their new lives on the Oregon Coast.
THE SANDSTROMS MAKE THEIR HOME IN BANDON
For thirty-plus years the Sandstroms made a life here living in the so called, “The Swedish House.” Axel was an officer on coastal schooners sailing in and out of Bandon harbor until he retired in 1936. After retiring from active service, Axel became a boatbuilder. Over the years he filled the house with carved relics of the sea and ships he carved out of single pieces of wood.
Much has changed in the hundred and ten years since, “The Swedish House” was constructed. In some ways, radically different and in others much the same. Stepping into this authentically restored property for the first time feels like stepping into the past or a set for an eighteenth century re-enactment. At any moment, a well intentioned volunteer on summer holiday from teaching eighth grade History, wearing a white apron over a long checkered dress, and mixing biscuits with a wooden spoon in a clay bowl, could step around the corner and invite you to sit and eat.
Of course, it wasn’t exactly the “wilderness” even in 1905. Pioneers and intrepid fortune seekers had been settling on the banks of the Coquille near what is present day Bandon for over thirty years prior and the light house had been in operation already for over ten. Rivers were the key to exploiting the resources of the region. Often, a river was the only way to access the timber-rich, jungle-like interior of the Pacific Northwest.
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