Gunnar Fridolf Löfgren’s House and Kungsbron (the King’s Bridge)

In the morning Jan drove over to Rödjenäs to pick up Judy and Nancy and drive them back to Kvillsfors for the activities. We drove with Aron, Lilly and Jack in the back seat of our rental car. Our first stop was at Jan’s grandfather Hjalmar’s younger brother Gunnar’s house near Kvillsfors.

Gunnar Lövgren in his later years would often entertain at the care home where he resided.

Gunnar Lövgren in his later years would often entertain at the care home where he resided.

Klas Oskar and Karolina Löfgren’s youngest son, Gunnar Fridolf, born in 1899, played the accordion from a very young age. He was 29 when his father died but evidently still not living on his own. Klas Oskar asked his son, Hjalmar, to take care of his younger brother. So Gunnar moved in with Hjalmar and his wife, Elsa. Elsa finally kicked Gunnar out as they had many children of their own and Gunnar was like a child himself. Gunnar had a girlfriend so he moved in with her. They lived in this house we were visiting with the girlfriend’s two brothers. Hjalmar came over to this house every week to take care of whatever Gunnar needed. Jan says that he didn’t understand why his grandfather came to this house every week and only realized much later that Gunnar was his grandfather’s brother. Gunnar was somewhat addicted to alcohol. Jan has heard that when Gunnar was in his cups, he would lie on the grass outside, on his back, and play his accordion.

Before Hjalmar died, he asked his son, Karl Erik (Jan’s father), to look after Gunnar. Gunnar was by this time nearly 80. Karl Erik helped Gunnar to move to a care home and the family visited him weekly. Gunnar still played his accordion in the care home.

Home of Gunnar Fridolf Löfgren (1899-1984) when he was an adult until five years before his death. Jan Lövgren, Daryl and Judy Lefgren McCracken explore the grounds.

We were struck with how low the ceilings were. It seems that an average-height man would have to bend over in the house. We explored the home and grounds, seeing the outhouse and a shed with an old bicycle. Inside the house, someone had made themselves at home with pads from lawn furniture leaning against the walls. Daryl, Jan and I were nostalgic thinking about Gunnar’s big sister, Tilda, who had emigrated to Omaha, Nebraska, and had written letters back to her mother asking if “Little Gunnar” still played music on his accordion. Gunnar was just six when Tilda left for America.

Lilly holds the old picture of the Kungsbron bridge and stands in front of the bridge as it is today.

Our next stop on the morning tour was Kungsbron. Of the bridge, the earliest existing written record was a letter written by the 17-year-old future king, Gustavus II Adolphus to his mother, the queen, about a battle on the bridge. The bridge spanned the River Em between Kalmar and Jönköping and the Danes were prepared to cross from Kalmar, which they had already conquered, into Jönköping that they hoped to conquer. But the young Gustavus II Adolphus and his army won the battle against 73 Danes, not allowing them to cross the bridge. Soon after, the Danish king grew tired of the war, called the Kalmar War, and retreated back to Denmark and began negotiations for peace. Gustavus Adolphus became the king the next year and greatly expanded the borders of Sweden. He died in battle about 1630.

The bridge was already called the “King’s Bridge” when the young and future king fought the battle. It is surmised to have been named for Sweden’s first king a hundred years earlier. The bridge may now be close to 500 years old. On August 24-25, 2012, the community celebrated the 400th year anniversary of the 1612 victory with a festival that included guided tours of the bridge. Jan and his son David were trained, along with eight others, to give the tours. The festival also featured the old village, Fröreda Storegård, where we were to go next and Dick Lövgren was to give us a tour.

Jan told us that the bridge originally had as many as 14 arches and at 700 meters was one of the longest bridges of this type in the world. Jan had a picture of the bridge taken about 1928 when it was still intact. The bridge collapsed in 1931 when two light trucks passed over it. The first truck made it across but when the driver looked back, there was a missing part of the bridge and the other truck had disappeared.

Jan said that when he was six years old, about 1958, he came with his grandfather, Hjalmar, to this area around the bridge. All the trees had been cut and the logs were lying here waiting to be floated down the river to the paper mill. Hjalmar was a forester and his job was to purchase trees from farmers then have them cut down by his crew. That day Hjalmar was there with little Jan to estimate the number and size of the tree harvest. Jan thinks that was the last time logs were floated down the River Em. His grandfather retired soon after.

Jan (center in the beige jacket) explains the history of the Kungsbron to his American cousins.

We walked along the grass-covered remains of the bridge while Jan told us his stories. Jack ran the length of the bridge, back and forth, several times. Aron hoisted Jack onto his shoulders and they discovered where the diverted River Em had gone. Lilly and discovered some plants that made perfect little water bowls, holding octagonal-shaped drops of water that shimmered like diamonds. I thought about the 55-year old trees that surrounded us, all grown up since Hjalmar and his grandson Jan had walked here among the logs. I thought about the grandfather, Klas Oskar, who lost his arm in a lumber mill accident; about his son, Hjalmar, who was a forester; about Hjalmar’s grandson, Jan, who manages a paper mill and his son David, who works there as well. Work in the lumber industry has been handed down through five generations now, through the years, all the families living here in the Järeda parish. And the family remembers the fascinating history of their ancestors in great detail.