In May of 1899, Melville Smith bought approximately eight acres from Clara Robbins, the widow of John Robbins, and within a month he had divided up this land into 28 house lots, filing plans with the Norfolk County deed office to develop the area, creating Savin Avenue, Melville Street and Johnson Court. The bulk of these lots were sold and houses built between 1900 and 1910. Early census records show these streets became home to the influx of recently arrived Finnish, who initially rented homes on these streets. By the time all the lots had been purchased, houses had not only been built on the Savin Street, but also a lunchroom, a sauna, and a dry goods store also were built. Adding to the vibrancy of Swedeville.
Aina (Jakinen) Ahlfors’ Lunchroom – 6 Savin Avenue
Aina Ahlfors was born 17 Sept 1888 in Hango, Finland. She was the wife of Leonard Ahlfors and she came to the United States in September of 1921, without her husband, who appears to have remained in Finland. In 1924, she was living on Melville Ave, but by 1930 she owned the house at #6 Savin Ave, where she rented rooms and ran a lunchroom. By the 1940s, Aina was working for a family in Providence as a servant. Carl and Elizabeth (Erickson) Sandberg bought the property in 1933. They continued to rent rooms and Elizabeth “Liisa” continued to operate the lunchroom here for a few years. The Sandbergs moved from Swedeville by 1950.
The Savin Avenue Sauna – 27 Savin Avenue
Owned and operated by August Lehtonen. The building was set back off the street, kind of behind Karki’s Poolroom. It had a small parking area in the front of the building. The steam baths were located on the second floor, which guests could access from an outside staircase. There were three private saunas (steam baths) with attached a dressing room and shower room. There was also living quarters for the owner. When guests entered the bathhouse they were greeted by the “Sauna Mrs” who sat in a small room separated by dutch-doors, where she checked in guests and handed out towels. This sauna operated in a similar fashion to the sauna on Cedar Street. It had a cast iron heater in the center, with a drip pipe hanging over it to create steam in the space. This sauna was in operation into the 1970s. (now a home)
It should be noted that saunas were an important part of Finn life. In fact, in Finland, the first thing a Finnish family built on their home lot, was a sauna…even before they built a house! Every Finn had access to saunas, even in this day and age some business meetings conclude in a sauna. To take a sauna bath, one would first sit in a hot steamy sauna, then secondly take a quick plunge in a tub of cold water. Bathers repeated this cycle – hot, cold, hot, cold – for several sequences after which the bather was left with an invigorating feeling of rejuvenation of body and soul. In olden times, Finnish women often gave birth in a sauna because it was a very sterile place. In a cold land, it was probably wonderful to know you could get as hot and sweaty as you wanted. In Swedeville, some people lived in cold-water flats, they may have appreciated a warm sauna instead of a cold tub. Finnish Norwood families would go together to the sauna. Nudity wasn’t a big deal.
Willehead Karki’s Poolroom and Cafe – 33 Savin Avenue
Lydia Karki bought this property from Onni E. Saari in 1927. The property came with “buildings and improvements there on.” On the front of the property was a long building, which the Karki’s divided into two separate spaces. The smaller space nearest the street, was rented to Louis Davalger who ran a barber shop there for years. Davalgar was a well loved part of the Swedeville community. It was said Davalgar had a basic boy’s cut and a basic girl’s cut. If a parent wanted something different, they may not get it! The Davalgar family were Lithuanians who lived at #23 Melville Street for over thirty years.
In the larger space, Karki opened a poolroom in which he added a bar. When probibition ended, Karki began serving alcohol. Apparently, having a bar in the neighborhood, was not viewed as an asset. As early as 1942, the poolroom/café was being called “The Old Colonial Café.” Initially, Karki took on Onni Saari to help run the poolroom/tavern. Eventually, John J. Costello joined the management team, which allowed Karki to slowly step back from this business and begin to think about retiring. In the late 1940s the Karki’s sold the Café to Costello and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida. Costello owned the café until his death in 1963. Costello’s widow sold the business to James E. O’Donnell in 1964, who closed the barbershop and enlarged the facility into that space. In 1972, O’Donnell sold the business to an employee, Paul Angelo. The Old Colonial Café was a real townie place. It was so popular there was no sign, or a published phone number, but everyone knew where it was! It is said, guests could put in a reservation at the restaurant, go home, feed the kids, pick-up the babysitter, and return to the café two hours later and their table would be ready. Angelo sold the property in 2003 to Richard McGowan, who had worked for Angelo. He re-launched the tavern as the “Colonial House Restaurant,” which specializes in American comfort foods.
Karki’s Corner – 38 Savin Avenue
Willehard Karki was born born 6 Feb 1886 in Juya, Lauteala, Finland, he was the son of Kalle Karkkinen and died 6 Mar 1971 in Palm Beach, FL. Karki arrived in the United States in 1913, heading to his friend Willi Aho’s home in Norwood. He married in 1927 to Lydia Mary [?] Mahkala in Norwood. She was a widow with one child, Lillian, who was adopted by Karki. Lydia was born 9 Nov 1894 in Julasjarvi, Finland and died 1973 in Palm Beach, FL This family lived in the apartment about Karki’s shop, which was located on the corner of Melville and Savin Avenue. Karki bought the property in 1917 from August Suomi, by 1918 in a Norwood business directory Karki lists himself as selling ice cream and candy and as long as he owned this store, in business directories he is listed as a confectioner. In the 1910 US Federal census, working in his own grocery business, however, in the 1924 business directory shows that Kusta Antilla, was operating a store here at that time, while Karki lists his business at #31 Savin Avenue.
When Willehad Karki began operating his business at this address, he was the third person to have a business here. His business was more of a sweet shop then a grocery store. He sold penny candy, and ice cream—chocolate, vanilla and strawberry were the flavor choices. In the back was a variety of breads and cookies, baked by Lydia Karki, and a coffee bar. For the convenience of Swedeville patrons, Karki carried newspapers and had a pay phone available. Karki sold his shop in 1938 to Ini & Vaino Laakso, and he focused his energy on running the Old Colonial. The Laakso’s ran a variety store here until 1944, when they closed the store and turned the property into a private residence.
First Swedish Congregational Church (1902-1909) and
The United Co-operative Society Store (1909-1953) – 47 Savin Avenue
In 1902 Swedish Congregationalists bought this plot of land from Melville Smith. When the Swedes arrived in Norwood, they initially attended services in the First Church of Norwood (Congregational), when other Swedes settled in the area, they joined in and worshiped with Swedish Baptists and Lutherans. These two other denominations built their own chapels in Swedeville the late 1890s, and the Congregationalists held services in local homes. In June 1903 they dedicated a small chapel here on Savin Avenue to hold their services in. The chapel not only offered Sunday services, but also had a Sunday School and a Women’s Sewing Circle. In 1909, the Swedish Congregationalists closed this chapel and built a new larger Church at 71 Chapel Street.
The next owner of this property was INTO, here they created a United Cooperative Society Store. Initially they were part of a loose association of cooperative stores in Massachusetts, but when the association disbanded, the Savin Avenue store became a stand-alone store. When they first bought this site, they tried to make do with the old chapel, but it did not fit their needs, so they tore it down in 1917 to build a new structure, when they finished the building project, they had a spacious two-story structure. This larger building provided space for their grocery store as well as ample storage on the first floor, and shoe and dry goods store, with an apartment in the back for the facility manager was located on the second floor. When the shoe and dry good store did not do well, the second floor was turned into a restaurant. Oscar Bagge managed the grocery store and Hannah Nykwist ran the restaurant. In the 1920s the Coop bought land in North Walpole off Fisher Street where they set up a milk bottling plant. (The site also had picnic area and athletic fields for social events). For many years the United Cooperative Society Store did very well, but as supermarket chains started building in Norwood, the Coop could not compete with their prices, and in 1953 they closed their doors. As a little boy in the late 1940s/early 1950s, Dick Wiik remembers walking down Melville to the Coop to buy bread, candy and to play on a baseball pinball machine. He was even able to add to his model collection. In the late 1950s, Mrs. Swarmi lived on the second floor and on the first floor she operated a ceramics studio. Norwood Girl Scouts may remember coming here to get their pottery badge.
Today the building is a private home.
The Suitcase House – 55 Savin Avenue
The Siivonen Family operated a boarding house here. Locals called the house, “setselitalo,” Finnish for Suitcase house, likely because those who rented here had very little possessions – things that could be packed in a suitcase. The house was also referred to as “poikamiehentalo,” Finnish for bachelor house, because the majority of the guests were unmarried men. Most of the guests were recent arrivals from Finland. The boarders tended to stay for a short time. Once they found jobs or married, they found other living arrangements, very often right in Swedeville.
Johnson Court and Johnson Place –
Karl Roth had an auto repair business at the end of the court. A 1924 Sanborn map shows he had two large garages at back of his property. Census records indicate Roth had moved onto the property in the 1910s, but he did not buy the property until the 1920s. Roth lived and worked out of this property for over forty years, his wife was the cook for Gov. Allen.
Johnson Place is a short dead end street that runs behind Savin Avenue. It provides access off of Johnson Court to five homes. Although one would think the street got its name because it runs off of Johnson Court, but the original residents of these homes on this street were, Johnsons; Josephina Johnson, Aind Johnson and Carl Johnson – it seems the street may have been named for all the Johnsons who lived here!
More About Swedeville:
Four family building on Savin Avenue. (photo LLKearney) The house lots in Swedeville, when originally sold, were empty lots, ready to have a house…
View of the tunnel looking towards South Norwood. (photo by LLKearney) At the junction of Cedar Street and Savin Avenue, the train tracks are visible.…