Hennepin History Magazine article on Minneapolis Finntown
Above image and following text credit: Article in the fall 1988 issue of "Hennepin History' magazine":
FINNTOWN, MINNEAPOLIS - AN AMERICAN NEIGHBORHOOD
by: K. Marianne Wargelin
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Plans for the official 1938 celebration of the 300th anniversary of the New Sweden Colony originally neglected the sizeable number of Finnish settlers in that colony. However, the Finnish American community lobbied successfully to add both the Finnish government and the Finnish Americans themselves to the official celebratory events. Finnish Americans also convinced Columbia University Press to publish a book devoted to the Delaware Finns and worked to assure that Finnish immigrant contributions to recent American history would not be erased.
Fifty years later, in honor of the 350th anniversary of the New Sweden Colony, it is appropriate to rescue an aspect of Finnish American history never before recorded, a history close to becoming as extinct as the history of the Delaware Finns. It is time to reconstruct what the remnants can yet tell us about the Minneapolis Finntown.
Today, the old Finntown neighborhood consists of bungalows, fourplexes, duplexes, small white cottages, and two-story clapboard houses - working-class homes dating from the turn of the century into the 1920's. The yards are small, and in the oldest sections, the front yards are almost nonexistant. While the neighborhood school, Harrison, and several neighborhood churches still stand, parts of the community have been demolished for industrial use and low-income housing.
Although urban renewal has strained the survival skills of this near-north neighborhood, a 1987 mural painted by local children in bright reds, yellows, oranges, greens and blues on the side of Milda's Cafe declares the continuing life of the old neighborhood. The mural attests to the neighborhood's will to remember that this neighborhood of Hmongs, blacks and whites remains one of Minneapolis's pioneer communities, the Minneapolis Finntown.
Finntown is located west of the old Munsingwear plant, between Girard and Penn Avenues on the east and west, and Glenwood (formerly Western) Avenue and Bassett Creek on the north and south. Unlike the Finnish pioneer farms located in northern Minnesota with their distinctive dovetail-cornered log buildings, this neighborhood like countless other sections of Minneapolis of the same vintage - except for the occasional summer kitchen attached to the back of the house or the sauna nestled in a corner of the basement. Yet, this Finnish community, like the farms in the North, was built by the Finns themselves: friends helping each other, father and son working together from purchased plans, small developers building for their countrymen on speculation, neighbors hauling small houses up the hill by horse and wagon. These American-style residences, originally located along dirt roads and wooden sidewalks have nurtured the Finnish language and Finnish culture in Minneapolis. This pioneer urban Finnish community began at the turn of the century and continued to thrive until the early 1960s.
Today, Finnish Americans still tell stories of that community and bring their out-of-town guests to look at the houses and churches. they laugh as they remember that streetcar conductor, John Hannu, always called out "Finnboldt Avenue" as the Western Avenue streetcar neared the Humboldt Avenue stop.
This way of life, remembered and still celebrated, developed in three stages. The first, the Pre-Finntown Period, began when the first Finnish immigrants arived in 1866. Over thirty years passed before the Finns started a neighborhood defined as Finntown. During this period, the Finnish presene in Minneapolis was invisible. the second stage, the Birth of Finntown Period, began in 1902 when the first Finnish Americans carved out a separate part of Minneapolis for themselves, and it continued for 11 years. During the third stage, the Finntown as an American Neighborhood Period, the community maintained or replaced enough of its Finnish population to continue as the center of Twin Cities Finnish American activity. Since 1962, the Finntown has declined, leaving few Finnish American residents living among the scattered physical remnants of Finnish American culture in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis was originally a "jumping off" point for Finnish immigrants headed for rural areas to the west and north. The first immigrants were groups of families who identified with a Finnish Lutheran Church revival movement started by Lars Levi Laestadius. Known as Laestadians (later in the United States also referred to as Finnish Apostolic Lutherans), these people put simple and plain living, ideally in a rural or separate setting, as a primary goal in the living out of their faith. Their strong tradition of lay preaching and public confession of sin to a fellow Christian had existed as a movement within the Church of Finnland; in America, the Laestadians separated from other Lutherans. After 1866, these families took their religion to homesteads on the prairies. On their way, they passed through Minneapolis.
In the late 1860s, some of the men returned to Minneapolis to work in the Minneapolis brickyards while their families cared for the homesteads. Over time, Laestadian settlers in Wright, Douglas, Meeker and Renville counties in Minnesota, and in Brown and Dickey counties in South Dakota established Minneapolis as a satellite community in a world revolving around rural seasonal cycles. These prairie homesteaders treated Minneapolis as an urban center where they could work to raise capital and then return to the farm. Their adult children gravitated to Minneapolis when they left home.
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FinntownFinn TownMarianne WargelinMinneapolis History