Alexander Robinson home, 216 Humboldt Ave. N.
Photo credit : : K. Marianne Wargelin, 'Hennepin History Magazine', Fall 1988 issue, article: "Finntown, Minneapolis - An American Neighborhood".
- - - - - Caption in magazine: ""The home of the Alexander Robinson family at 216 Humboldt Ave. N. was one of the first houses built in Finntown. The small girl on the right in front is Heide Robinson Eldred, who later became a prominent community volunteer and an inveterate campaign assistant to long-time state representative Mabeth Hurd Paige.""
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Following text credit: Article in the fall 1988 issue of 'Hennepin County History' magazine:
FINNTOWN, MINNEAPOLIS - AN AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOOD
. . . by: K. Marianne Wargelin
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Some Finns chose to relocate permanently in Minneapolis. Salomon Ilmonen, an early Finnish American historian, identified 21 men as pioneer settlers in Minneapolis; of this number, 12 had returned from working homesteads in Wright County. Several of these helped their parents to emigrate from Finland. The men worked in the brickyards or the sawmills; the women become domestics in the homes of "Yankees."
Businesses developed to serve them. First came Finnish-style restaurants and boardinghouses. A restaurant at 517 S. Washington Ave., owned by John Leppla, was both a tavern and a restaurant. in 1886, Victor Newman (in partnership with Peter Donnelly) opened a hotel at 218 Washington Ave. N. Then Newman ran a boardinghouse at 216 and finally at 214 Washington Ave. N. City directories from this period indicate that various Finns lived in and around these two businesses, but the Finnish presence at that time was largely invisible.
In these early days of Finnish immigration, Finnish cultural life throughout American usually began with boardinghouses and taverns. Businesses like steamship ticket offices, money exchanges, and real estate offices came next, along with temperance societies, newspapers, labor organizations, religious institutions, and cultural clubs. And so it was in Minneapolis. As the city grew, the Finnish population grew as well, and business and cultural activities began to develop as elsewhere where Finns congregated.
Thus, in 1880, a Finnish man named Kustaa Fredrick Bergstadius set up shop here, first selling farmland for the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul Railroad and later selling steamship tickets and exchanging currency for a national Finnish American business called Oldenburg-Jasberg, of which he was president. Likewise, in 1880, a Finnish Lutheran minister, Pastor A.E. Backman, came from Michigan to hold the first Finnish church services. In 1881, Uusi Kotimaa, a Finnish-language newspaper, began publication in Minneapolis. (It moved in 1884 to a larger Finnish community in New York Mills, Minnesota.)
The population remained transient, constantly moving from one rented room to another, constantly moving to where the work was, from rural homestead to city and back again. This transiency explains why Uusi Kotimaa could report in August, 1881 that there "were already about two hundred Finns living here and more arriving all the time" and then contradict itself in December, 1881, saying that Christmas Eve found "more than forty Finns living at present in Minneapolis, most of them single persons. There are both men and women, and every so often there is another wedding."
Nevertheless, the Finnish population grew as Finnish immigration to America expanded in the 1890s. The Minneapolis building explosion and the railroad yards provided good employment opportunities for both single and married men. Women continued to find work in middle- and upper-class homes. The Northwestern Knitting Company and other textile manufacturers offered tailoring work to both men and women.
During the 1880s and 1890s, new Finnish American businesses never strayed far from the area around Washington Ave. N., from 1st to 12th Streets. Isak Anderson's grocery store was located first at 903 N. 4th St., then moved to 423 Washington Ave. N. In 1893, Frederick Karinen tried to publish a Finnish newspaper entitled Amerikan Uutiset and a periodical called Kuvalehti at 1219 Washington Ave. N. A year later, the operation moved to Calumet, Michigan. Apparently, the ethnic base was still too weak to support such publications.
But evidence suggests that Finns were beginning to address longterm needs of life in an American setting. An independent temperance society called Vesa (a Finnish word meaning "sprout"), was formed in 1894. Although that organization soon floundered, the idea of organizing around social issues was established. A Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized that same year; its prospects for survival were unsure, partly because it competed with the Laestadians and partly because its pastors traveled a circuit encompassing hundreds of miles. both organizations barely survived into the twentieth century.
Minneapolis Finnish American women formed, in 1895, the most successful organization, the Finnish Women's Society, a branch of a feminist organization formed in Calumet, Michigan the year before. The organization had a clear agenda: "a women's society where we can with united strength labor in behalf of our common cause. Our purpose is to increase our knowledge (of issues of importance to women) ... and to help our impoverished." Within a year, this organization--mainly domestic workers and a few married women--had 41 members and an executive committee composed of Mrs. Ida Newman, chair; Miss Lilija Sampson, vice chair; Miss Sandra Kariniemi, secretary; Miss Anna Sakari; financial secretary; and Mrs. Hamara, treasurer. Among other things, the group developed a library of books from Finland's women's organizations.
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Alexander Robinsonfinn townfinntown minneapolis An American NeighborhoodMarianne Wargelinmabeth hurd paigeheide eldred