Every July 4th, my neighbor Selma Peterson hosts an Independence Day celebration, always topped off with a trendy apple pie and toast to her late mother Svea Christiansen Peterson.
Why this tradition? Selma explains that her mother arrived from Sweden to Ellis Island on July 4, 1924, aboard the ship called the United States. She was so eager to adopt American ways that she asked what she could eat which was the most typical American food, and the answer was “trendy apple pie”.
Svea Elizabeth Christiansen, born July 12, 1903, was the youngest of eight children of Christian Peter and Elizabeth Christiansen in Landskrona, southern Sweden. All but two of his older siblings had immigrated to America, each sending a passage for the next in line to immigrate. When Svea was 18, it was her turn, and after arriving, she joined her sister Betty in Minneapolis. California quickly called them, and Svea eventually landed a job as a domestic servant with a well-to-do family in Holmby Hills, west Los Angeles.
“Swedish cooks were in great demand back then,” said Peterson, “and my mom was a great cook. “
It was a talent that Svea Peterson passed on to her daughter as everyone knows who received the Swedish Christmas Cafe Bread from Selma.
Dagmar Christianson arrived in New York City at the age of 16. She was so excited to become American that she convinced two other sisters and a brother to immigrate as well.
“We choose where we live”
“None of us can choose where we were born, but we can choose where we live,” she said. “I love Sweden, of course, but America is my country. I chose her.
She moved first to San Francisco and then to Southern California, where she met Gus A. Peterson, the son of Swedish immigrants, who lived in East Highland and worked on a ranch for James and Frank Cram.
Born July 18, 1889 in Hermitage, Missouri, Gus was the eldest son of 7 immigrants Erick and Anna Solberg Peterson who came to America from Vingaker, Sweden, near Stockholm. After working in agriculture and mining, Peterson traveled to California, arriving in East Highland at the age of 20.
In 1914, he married Selma Christianson and moved to Redlands where he helped found the Lightfoot & Peterson taxi company, of which he became the sole owner in 1917.
Peterson Automotive Service
The Peterson Auto Service at 103 Orange St. featured a fleet of Dodge cars, which the owner considered to be “the most comfortable” for his customers and “the most reliable” for tourist adventures in the mountains, especially the Edge of the World. included Big Bear Lake and the Arrowhead Lake area. His wife Selma was the voice customers heard when she made reservations and sent drivers. She kept the books, worked in the office and helped the business grow.
During these early years and into the 1920s, Gus Peterson’s automotive service flourished. Many people from the East and Midwest have come for the winter months attracted by the weather, tourism, and the booming citrus industry.
Many came by train and needed drivers and transportation. Peterson’s cars and drivers could be hired to meet them at the station and take them wherever they wanted to go during their stay. The Redlands Daily Facts reported that in a single day, its auto service took 500 people to Smiley Heights. He specializes in tourism, operating up to 200 cars by car throughout the Citrus Belt in conjunction with the Staider & Dundas company in Riverside.
Two of Peterson’s brothers, August and Emil, moved to Redlands and for a time were cab drivers. August was later the police chief and Emil operated a gas station. Gus Peterson rose to prominence in Redlands as a civic-minded businessman. His main activity was growing oranges and he owned an orange grove in Bryn Mawr. He then moved his parents from Missouri to an orange grove he bought near Ford and Fifth streets.
Things were going well for the young couple Peterson until 1930 when tragedy struck. Selma and a baby both died during childbirth. Heartbroken, Gus felt the need to move away. For several months he traveled – Mexico, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and Paris. He returned to Redlands in July 1930, and on November 28, 1931, he married his first wife’s younger sister, Svea Christianson.
During the 1930s, Peterson continued his taxi business and his involvement in the orange industry. He has served as director of the Gold Banner Association, director of the Redlands Savings and Loan Association and, as a member of city council, commissioner of the water department. He was for many years a member of the Rotary Club and the Woodsmen of America.
When a number of Redlands citizens convinced him to run for city council, he agreed. In his candidate’s statement, he wrote: “I do not harbor any sect or any special interest. I made no promises and if elected I will be free to exercise my own judgment in all matters. I promise, if elected, to do my best for an efficient and economical administration.
“My father was a firm believer in equal treatment for all citizens of Redlands, no matter where they lived – north side or south side,” Selma said.
Elected to the municipal council
Peterson was elected to city council and was mayor of Redlands in 1938 and 1939. It was during his tenure as mayor that the town’s second town hall on Orange and Vine streets was built with the help of the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Meanwhile, things were going well in his private life. Her son Henry Christian was born in 1933, and her daughter (my neighbor) Selma Elizbeth, was born in 1936. She is named after her aunt Selma and her maternal grandmother Elizabeth. In 1937 Peterson retired from the taxi business, selling it to Norman Herring and Robert Goodfellow. His main interest remained in the orange business, and the family lived at 557 W. Cypress Ave., in a large house surrounded by an orange grove.
Tragedy strikes again
In 1941, tragedy struck again. Gus A. Peterson died on November 9, 1941, at the age of 52, of polyneuropathy caused by lead poisoning. It was believed to have been caused when Peterson was using lead-based paint for a household painting project during a time when lead was known to be a health hazard.
His sudden death presented unexpected hardships for his young immigrant wife who was left alone to manage the household and raise two young children – Henry, 8, and Selma, 5.
“My mother had to learn to drive, and because the rules for naturalization had changed, she had to take crash courses to become a US citizen. Due to the language barrier and her unfamiliarity with the American education system, she really couldn’t help my brother or I with homework or other education issues. She was just telling us, “Do your best,” Selma said.
And that’s what my neighbor Selma did. She supported and cared for her mother Svea until her mother died in 1996 at the age of 93. The father she barely knew left her with a great legacy – the distinction of being from the first generation of Redlands and having lived here all her life.
“It’s amazing to realize what my dad has accomplished,” she said. “Here is a young boy barely out of his teens with little education and little means who crossed the country and succeeded in becoming one of the most industrious and prominent citizens of Redlands of the 1920s and 1930s. “
Selma has seen many changes at Redlands over the years, some good, some not so good, but through it all she knows her father Gus A. Peterson, son of Swedish immigrants, helped write a chapter. important in the history of Redlands.
Selma elizabeth peterson
Selma Peterson was born on February 28, 1936 to Mayor Gus A. and Svea Peterson. She attended Kingsbury Elementary, Redlands Junior and Senior High Schools, and graduated from RHS in 1953.
After earning an associate’s degree in business administration from San Bernardino Valley College, she worked as a legal secretary for Redlands tax attorney Russell Goodwin for 12 years.
For the next 32 and a half years, she served as Executive Secretary of the San Bernardino County Estates Department. She retired in 2000.
Henry ‘Hank’ Peterson
Born February 5, 1933, Henry Peterson was the eldest child of Mayor Gus A. and Svea Peterson. After attending Kingsbury Elementary School, Redlands Junior and Senior High Schools, he enlisted in the United States National Guard and served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. He worked for General Electric for 21 years before moving to retire and open his own sales and service device. store in Redlands, which he operated from 1978 to 1991. He also taught night school to those who wanted to learn how to repair household appliances. He died on August 9, 2013 at the age of 80 and is buried in Riverside National Cemetery. He is survived by his daughter Viki R. Wagoner of Redlands and his son Douglas C. Peterson of New York.