It Was Rumored That the Old Log House Was Haunted...

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...but the old couple living there were never bothered by it. The Swedish couple, Olof and Abigail Stromberg spent their lives contentedly in the old weathered frame over log house on South High Street.

When Stromberg’s old house was torn down in 1891, a wonderful article appeared in the Daily Local News on May 18, 1891 giving many details on the history of the house and the shoemaker who lived there.

The Stromberg house was part of a row of log and frame houses that extended along High Street from beside the old Black Bear Tavern down to Barnard Street on that site beginning in about 1812. They were all log structures except for a few stone structures. When the house was torn down in 1891, it was the last of those log structures to be replaced.

The old house was occupied by Joseph Duttenhoffer until William Atkin purchased it for the depot of the West Chester Street Railroad. People always referred to it as the Stromberg house, even after the couple was gone.

Olof Stromberg came to the United States in 1802 from Amsterdam as a redemption immigrant, who worked to repay his passage after he arrived. He was 26 years old and had lived under eight different governments of Scandinavian countries.  For Stromberg, the arrangement worked out well. He served for 2 years and 9 months as a journeyman shoemaker under Edward Miller, in West Chester. After his term was completed, he opened his own business. He is said to have been the first man in West Chester to make, sell and repair “gum shoes” which had soles made from the rubber produced by the India Rubber Tree.  

The first mention we find of Stromberg in local newspapers is in the 1810 American Watchman of January 20th in which he advertised a $10 reward for the return of a runaway apprentice who made off with some of Stromberg’s best clothes and a shoemaker’s tool kit. He did however, successfully mentor a number of shoemakers in West Chester, who later ran successful shops.

An early advertisement from the Village Record November 4, 1818 Stromberg promotes his shoe store which is stocked by his own adjoining shoe and boot manufactory. Stromberg built the workshop beside his house. You can see that display windows were added to show case his shoes and boots for sale.

He also supposedly had the “first” livery stable in West Chester, which had one horse and a gig which he would rent out. Stromberg did act as a driver for Judge Isaac Darlington when he needed to go to court in Chester.

When he retired, he sold his manufacturing business to former apprentices Francis Hickman and Robert Mercer, but kept a small shop in his home selling ladies shoes. He grew fruits and flowers in the rear yard which were admired by many passersby.

Although he did not write in English, Stromberg spoke very well and always extended a helping hand to fellow immigrants, no matter the country of origin. M. Auge recounted in a Daily Local News story of July 4, 1883 that Stromberg met John Walter in 1830, a Prussian immigrant, who was very poor with a large family. Stromberg built Walton a house and made sure his family was provided for.

Auge described the jovial Stromberg as being only five feet tall. He would always celebrate his birthday with the Swedish custom of inviting all his apprentices and friends in for cake and wine.

Stromberg admired the Swedish singer Jenny Lind and visited her in Philadelphia when she was touring for P.T. Barnum.

Stromberg died in 1871 at the age of 94 and was buried in Oaklands Cemetery beside his wife who passed away in 1862.

Pamela Powell, Photo Archivist

See the site of Olof Stromberg's house on the Chester County Time Machine walking tour. Look for the Time Machine QR code at Barnaby's on South High St., West Chester, PA

This program has been generously supported by AT & T foundation and Digital Exhibition Systems, Inc.