Thorsby’s historic cemetery, Part II

Published 5:39 pm Monday, July 30, 2012

Marking the past: This headstone marks the grave of Maren S. Skov, an early Danish settler of Thorsby.

By Tracia Bussey

As promised in an earlier article, we are going to continue our stroll through the Scandinavian Cemetery in Thorsby off County Road 37.

Here lie the remains of many early settlers of the town, such as Frank William Nelson and his wife, Johanna. Frank was born in Sweden and Johanna in Finland. They moved from Wisconsin to Bessemer, where Frank drilled for minerals. He bought land in Thorsby and moved his family here.

Frank’s daughter Anna, two of his sons and their wives, Nels and June Nelson and Arthur and Audrey Nelson are also buried in the cemetery. Frank Nelson was a Spanish-American War veteran.

Peter Kortbeck Villadsen and his wife, Anna Skov Villadsen, both were born in Denmark. Peter had worked at various jobs, including motorman on a streetcar, before they moved to Thorsby from Illinois. He opened a woodworking business in town where he made doors, windows, sashes and other building supplies. His woodwork can still be seen in the old homes around town.

Two Villadsen children, Marguerite and Andrew, are buried near them. Anna’s mother, Maren S. Skov, is also buried nearby. The house at 28 Montana Avenue in Thorsby was the Villadsen’s home.

Ole A.V. Lefsted and his wife, Johanna Gustava Lefsted, both were born in Norway and came to Thorsby from Eau Claire, Wis. Many of the buildings in town were designed or planned by Ole, including the Norwegian Lutheran Church, which is now called Helen Jenkins Chapel. He also designed the Swedish Lutheran Church that once stood on Jones Street.

Many people do not realize there is a former settler of Thorsby in the Scandinavian Cemetery who was a highly renowned interior decorator. Gustaf Berlin and his wife, Johanna, were both born in Sweden. Gustaf was an interior decorator who decorated the Ringling Brother’s home in Berwyn, Ill., as well as chapels, hotels and theaters in California.

While he lived in Thorsby, he decorated the Swedish Lutheran Church, which included a beautiful mural. He also farmed and raised dairy cows. The house at 32 Peterson Avenue in Thorsby was built and designed by Mr. Berlin.

This is still only a partial list of the early Thorsby pioneers who are buried in the Scandinavian Cemetery. More will follow in Part 3 of this article.

–Tracia Bussey is a community columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. She can be reached at