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Prouty Road, Johnson’s Grove and the Swedes

Swedes in Burlington MA
THE VIKING CLUB OF WOBURN was one of the many ethnic and civic groups to hold outings at Johnson’s Grove, located where Prouty Road runs now. Among those pictured in this photo are (1) Mrs. Fred Carlberg; (2) Fred Carlberg; (3) Mrs. Ann Carlberg; (4) Eric Carlberg; (5) Mrs. David Lundin; (6) Walter Johnson; (7) Simon Johnson; (8) and Mrs. Olga Johnson.

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, July 24, 1979

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg
(Article # 005)

Johnson’s Grove

Augustus Prouty was born here in Burlington in March of 1828, possibly in the old Alexander farmhouse. He grew up to be an influential man in Burlington politics, serving as Field Driver, Overseer of the Poor, Surveyor of Highways, Assessor and Library trustee. His greatest commitment, however, was to the School Committee during the bitterly argumentative 1890s. He believed in the old district school system and fought the move for consolidation with stubborn determination. He lost. That’s why we have the Union School.

According to Mrs. Dunham, a Burlington historian, Augustus Prouty built the house still standing on the westerly side of Prouty Road sometime around 1860. It may have been built on a previous foundation, for there is no record of where the Alexander house actually stood, just as there is no site known for the old Bennett swamphouse which stood across the road. That house was owned by James Bennett in the 1830s and that is where that gentleman grew his hops which he harvested each year and shipped out of town.

Augustus Prouty Burlington MA

A third well-known name associated with that property is that of Simon Johnson. Mr. Johnson, a Swede from the old country, bought the property shortly after Mr. Prouty died in 1911. The assessment at that time showed a farm of 17 acres of mowing and tillage, 5 acres of pasturage and 9 acres of unimproved land. With the house and barn, the whole assessment in 1910 was $2,350.00, and Prouty paid a tax that year of $33.17. Mr. Johnson did very little farming, for he worked as a dauber in the Peterson-Merrill patent leather shop on Webster Street in north Woburn. When that closed, he became the janitor (custodian is a later title) of Burlington’s first high school, now the central administration offices of the school department. He was very active in the Grange as was his son and daughter. He sold his farm here in 1959, and spent the last years of his life in Florida.

When Simon took over the old Prouty place, he opened up the farm during the summer season as a picnic area. It became known as Johnson’s Grove. A big wooden open-air dance floor was built in the back field near the woods, and part of the old farm area became a ballpark and playground. By the 1930s that grove was booked every weekend by some organization or group wishing to have a clambake, cookout, outdoor field day, or just a family gathering.  Greeks and Portuguese groups met there on occasion, but it was the Swedes who came consistently every year to Johnson’s Grove, and sometimes more often than that. The beer flowed freely, young and old danced the Polka, the Hambo or the Schotish, the men held tugs of war, and everyone enjoyed the bountiful and gastronomically delightful smorgasbord. And “Gamla” Stenquist played the accordion like a virtuoso.

Their organization, the independent order or Vikings, started its Woburn unit in 1929. At least four Burlington men helped to form that club: Fred Carlberg and his son Eric, and David Lundin and his son Eric. There were a number of other new Americans from Sweden in Burlington at that time who may or may not have become members, new families with names like Nelson, Peterson, Larson, Carlson, Stromberg, Ekwall, Gronquist, Stromberg, Thylander, Gustafson and Swanson. Many second and third generation Swedish Americans are still here.

Eric Carlberg became chief of the Woburn Vikings in 1947. Born June 18, 1910, he was brought up in Burlington and received his early education in the Burlington schools. Being a husky young man, he became an excellent wrestler. His military service sent him to Europe where he fought in the Army through Normandy, the Ardennes and the Rhine in World War II. He became, the sixth commander of the American Legion Post here in Burlington in 1948. He was appointed a special police officer in the 1930s and had served as a regular officer for 10 years before he suddenly died in April of 1964. His wife, Ann Balsewich Carlberg, survives him and still lives with her mother, a grand old lady of 95, in the family home on Sycamore Street.

Today the old Prouty farmhouse still stands, a rather forlorn oldster among many youngsters, and Johnson’s Grove is but a memory. The many houses on High Pine Avenue, Stephanie Street and Wilhelmina Avenue now stand and a power line crosses where once corn and potatoes grew and where hundreds of people at a time enjoyed Burlington hospitality.