Alfred Viren’s Carpentry

From the July 2013 Stereoscope: Alfred Viren’s Carpentry By Barbara Blackburn

In 1903, at the age of thirty, Alfred Mathias (Sundburg) Viren left Sunborn, Dalarna, Sweden to settle in Phelps County, Nebraska. Dalarna is a mountainous forest area, full of lakes, poets, musicians and skilled craftsmen. The land there did not lend itself to anything but subsistence farming. He worked in the lumber industry and so naturally found his way into wood working and carpentry, but there was little opportunity too improve himself. His elderly maternal grandfather, Anders Oleson, had already some to the Phelps and Harlan County area at some point after the Civil War. Anders wife had died in Sweden, but he encouraged two of his younger daughters to come to America. Eventually one of these daughters and her husband homesteaded east of Funk, Nebraska. Alfred came to this aunt’s home to begin his life in America. He had no experience as a farmer or a desire to own land, so found work in Holdrege which was by this time a thriving community needing his carpenter skills. He did some work at the brick factory. My thirty-three year old grandmother, Anna arrived here in 1904 and they married. Five sons were born to their family and all eventually were trained as carpenters and became part of his crew. I do not know if 916 Arthur Street was the first home built by my grandfather, but I assume it was. It was certainly the home his family lived in and I believe all five children were born in that small, square house. Their second home, and obviously a more elaborate house, was built in 1918 or 1919 on 820 Garfield and is presently owned by Gayle Clay. Something of a speculator, Alfred built the next two houses south at the same time and invested in and managed the Perry Lumber yard in Loomis. I believe the little stucco houses on Fourth and Morten were built sometime in the late 1920s. There is another set on the 600 block of Garfield near the library. The building design is interesting and certainly not typical. I remember seeing a postcard showing the group on Morten. He rented out these homes until he died in 1955. He also built a Sinclair Filling station on the corner of Fourth and Arthur in the same style. Some of the most beautiful homes on East Avenue were his work: 806, 902, 905 and 918. In downtown Holdrege, he built the original building housing Cheex restaurant, and what was once the Montgomery Ward building on West Avenue. I believe this construction was probably done in the late 1920s as all of my uncles worked the projects. It is possible they were not the original buildings on those sites. Alfred lost the bid to build the present Bethel Lutheran Church to a construction company out of Kansas City. He did win the bid for it’s parsonage now located on 510 Hancock street having had “insider” information making his bid 25 cents lower than anyone else’s. By 1932, he was taking his company on the road building J C Penney stores. The only one I know of for certain was built in St. Francis, Kansas, where my father met and married my mother. As economic times continued to be difficult, the Viren Construction Company came home and four of the five sons and their wives lived with Alfred and Anna at the Garfield house. By the Forties and World War II, Alfred had retired and three of his sons left Holdrege to help build military installations on the West Coast and in Colorado and Nebraska. At the end of the war, only my father returned to Holdrege and he took part in the building of badly needed housing west of Burlington Street. In his later years, Alfred retired from the construction business, but had an interest in the First Security Bank and the Holdrege Savings and Loan and was a partner in the Erickson Paint Store. He was a leader in the fund raising and building of Memorial Homes. He was an active Rotarian and member of the Masonic Lodge.~ End

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