How Pineapples Ruled before Citrus in Indian River County...a History of the Hallstrom House Farm & Homestead

Dated: October 5 2023

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Axel Hallström (later Americanized to Hallstrom), born in Sweden in 1870, was an immigrant, who in 1898 first gravitated to Minnesota, where he worked as a horticulturist for the J. Hill Estate. The need to move to a climate that would be more conducive to his wife, Emily’s, health which is what first brought him to Florida in 1909. 

Upon arrival, he purchased property in a town named Viking, (less than 2 miles from Fort Pierce), which had been established in 1892, earning its name from its many Nordic settlers, who came to work in the pineapple and citrus fruit farming industries.

For four years, Hallstrom ran a successful pineapple farm, but tragedy struck when his wife died. In mourning, Axel sold the farm and bought 49 acres near the town of Oslo, now incorporated within Vero Beach. The town was named after Norway’s capital by a Norwegian immigrant, Ole Olson Helseth, whose family had a large influence there.

Axel’s sister moved to Florida from Chicago to join him and care for his only child, Ruth (born 1901), who was only 4 at the time of her mother’s death. They resided in a temporary residence, while Hallstrom began the construction of his stately home, which was completed by 1918.

Hallstrom served as president of the county’s Citrus League. This made sense, as the area’s pineapple farms eventually changed over to citrus crops for several reasons, including two years of frost and the inability to get fertilizer during World War I. 

He also held a job as a banker and served as chairman of the board of the St. Lucie Bank, until his death. He seems to have been savvy at business, for it was the only local bank that survived the Great Depression. Other evidence of his business smarts was the fact that he built and sustained two successful farms.

The Hallstroms lived a plush life in a beautiful palatial home, built by craftsmen of Nordic heritage. They were a very cultured family. Ruth took art lessons from A. E. “Beanie” Backus. She spoke five languages and often traveled abroad with her father. Today, their home is filled with exotic treasures she collected on her travels, including exquisite china from Bohemia, what is now the Czech Republic.

Ruth also collected paintings of Floridian landscapes by a local artist, Alfred Hair of the Highwaymen. No, not the musical group, but a consortium of African-American artists, who, owing to racial discrimination during the times of segregation, sold their work from car trunks along the U.S. Highway 1 out of financial necessity.

Proud of the family’s Swedish roots, after she graduated from the local high school, Ruth attended finishing school in Sweden.

Hallstrom must have been delighted when King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden presented him with the Royal Order of Vasa in 1958 “for his contributions to the furtherance of good relationships between Hallstrom’s native Sweden and his adopted country, the United States.”

The Hallstrom residence serves as an encapsulation of a specific time and a specific experience, creating a luxurious intimacy that allows the visitor to look into the inner workings of the Hallstrom family. Even Ruth’s fancy black dress still lies on her sofa.

After her father’s passing in 1966, Ruth, who never married, took over the farm of 100 acres. Upon her passing, the house and 5 surrounding acres were willed to the Indian River Historical Society, with the purpose of preserving the house, its collections, and stately grounds and whose trustees serve as its custodian to this day.

The property is a living museum which documents and demonstrates a bygone way of life in southern Indian River County, Florida. The collections include artifacts, photographs, paper documents, furniture, and memorabilia. In June 2002, Hallstrom Farmstead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The surrounding 100+ acres were purchased by Indian River County and is being restored as a nature preserve and green space. The County expects the 93-acre conservation area around the Hallstrom House to be open to the public sometime in early 2023.

Located at 1723 Old Dixie Highway SW in Vero Beach, the Hallstrom House will be open for tours on Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and again on Sundays beginning at 1:00pm until 4:00 p.m. with the last tour beginning at 3:00pm.  Contact them at 772-778-3435.

Reprinted, in part,  from the article “A story both “sweet and sour” by Victoria Hofmo of Brooklyn, NY for The Norwegian American website.

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Kyle Von Kohorn

Born and raised in Vero Beach, FL, Kyle Von Kohorn is remarkably well-acquainted with this lovely coastal town and its satellite communities. After earning his degree in Business Administration at ....

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