The historic Reverend John E. Hedberg house in Thorsby

By Tracia Bussey

The Theodore T. Thorson house on Jones Street in Thorsby gets a lot of attention as a historical home left behind by the founder of the town, but there’s a house that stands on the next block that was built during the same time as the Thorson house by a gentleman who also was instrumental in the founding of Thorsby.

John E. Hedberg came to America from Varmland, Sweden, near the town of Torsby, with his family at the age of 6. They landed in New York and traveled west to Stockholm, Wis., settling there. The Hedberg family joined the Sabylund Lutheran Church in 1868, and John began preaching at the age of 18.  John was ordained in a Lutheran seminary and married Anna Thorson, sister of T. T. Thorson, who was also of Swedish descent.

During his early years of ministry, the couple’s family increased with the birth of six children.  Some time during the 1890s, Anna’s brother, T. T. Thorson, revealed his pioneering ideas to John, inviting his brother-in-law to join him in building a town as a missionary.

As an added bonus, T. T. informed John that since the climate was milder in the South, his health could also benefit, since John had not been well lately.

The opportunity must have been agreeable to the reverend and his wife, for South they traveled, to not only build a new life, but a church and a home. They arrived in Thorsby in 1896 as a missionary for the Augustana Lutheran Church. A seventh child was born to Anna and John after coming to Alabama while they lived in an undesirable house, but in 1898, they constructed the house that still sits on the southeast corner of Jones Street and Michigan Avenue.

After the home was completed, child number eight was born in 1900. Although the reverend’s health seemed to improve in the Southern climate, his wife Anna may have suffered adversely in it. In early 1904, Anna Hedberg became ill with pneumonia. She never recovered and died on Feb. 18, 1904. It is believed she died in the present library of the home.

Her body was sent back to Scandian Grove, Minn., where she was born. John and the children moved back to Minnesota, and he later married again, to Cecilia Nelson in 1905. He left behind the Concordia Lutheran Church that once stood on Jones St. where the CenturyTel building is now located. The church continued with services for many years, where the congregation sang and worshipped in Swedish until it finally closed.

The beautiful home that John and Anna built has stood the test of time, going through many owners and quite a few alterations to its original design. The current owners are slowly working to return the house to its former glory.

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