Finntown's Glenwood Ave. (aka Western Ave.) (aka Helsinki Blvd)
Image credit :: Photo of drawing by Jim Gilbert ::
- - Image posted at Facebook 'Old North Minneapolis' by Tom Schlee on Jan. 7, 2015 (accessed 2016.july.24)
- - https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=742386645856455
- - https://www.facebook.com/groups/OldNorthMinneapolis
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- - The following text by Tom Schlee accompanying the above image in Facebook :: ""Someone was asking about the business's on Glenwood Ave and Cedarlake Road I don't have any Photo's but here is an old Finnlanders(Jim Gilbert) Artistic concept of the area!""
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Following text credit: From 'Minnesota Finnish Pages' website ::
http://www.minnesotafinnish.org (accessed 2016.july.24)
(note: - - it appears that the above webpages are not longer available - 2018.jan.14)
Minneapolis Community: Historic perspective
Minneapolis is one of the earliest sites of Modern Finnish Immigration. Yes, Sailors settled earlier in the 19th C., in cities like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago. The San Francisco Finnish sailors, complete with gold rush lured Finns, created a Finnish American community earlier. But, unlike these American cities that attracted early arriving Finns, only Minneapolis’ Finnish community began with a handful of Northern Finns looking for land to farm. From these humble agrarian roots, the Minneapolis Finnish community grew into a central urban center for Finns in America.
Other Finnish communities in Minnesota…Duluth, the Iron Range cities, Brainerd, Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Moorhead…developed urban Finntowns where Finnish immigrants and their descendants lived and worked as miners, as laborers, as domestics. Each Finntown developed its own Finnish American merchants, professionals, and businesses. Each Finntown developed similar forms of Workers’ Halls, Churches, Co-operatives, social welfare and educational systems and social life. In many ways, the Minneapolis Finnish community is no different than the numerous other Finntowns throughout the State of Minnesota and across the nation.
However, the Minneapolis Finntown story stands out from the others in two important ways. First, as an early urban community, Minneapolis functioned as the urban center for Finnish farming regions formed to the West and North, in Wright, Meeker, Renville, Douglas, Ottertail, and Wadena Counties in Minnesota, and in Brown and Dickey Counties in the Dakotas. Second, after 1930, Minneapolis became the primary secondary migration destination for several thousand Finnish Americans who left the small Minnesota towns in the North and the Northwest parts of the state. Thus, today, while the Minneapolis Finntown no longer exists, Hennepin County’s Finnish American population has grown into the largest urban center of Finnish Americans in the country.
The story of the Minneapolis Finntown begins with the 1864 arrival of Finnish immigrants on their way to homestead land near Cokato, in Wright County, some fifty miles west. Minneapolis became their “big city.” Already in the late 1860’s, Finnish immigrant men returned to raise capitol for their homesteads, working in the Minneapolis brickyards. Their families came to expect regular migrations between the homesteads and Minneapolis. The pattern became the way the Finntown community formed and continued. Minneapolis became the workplace, and the rural areas became the homes.
After 1880, Finnish American farming children, now adults, migrated permanently into Minneapolis. They joined new Finnish immigrants to work in the Minneapolis brick yards, sawmills, and wealthy Yankee homes. The Minneapolis building explosion and the railroad yards provided work for carpenters. Northwestern Knitting (later known as Munsingwear) and other textile manufacturers attracted men and women to tailoring. Families and groups of singles began to congregate along Washington Avenue, west and north of downtown. Saloons, restaurants, and boarding houses were the most obvious evidence that Finns were present. Finnish immigrant, Victor Newman, operated a boarding house, Isak Anderson a grocery, John Leppla, a restaurant, Kustaa Bergstadius a steamship ticket and currency exchange.
In the 1890’s, the Finns began to create institutions, Vesa, a temperance society and Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1894, the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church and the Minneapolis Finnish Women’s Society in 1895. A major drug manufacturing business, “authentic Finnish drugs…(that Finns) have been accustomed to in Finland” opened in 1898, Sodergren’s, ultimately a large mail-order business with patrons throughout the country. Efforts to publish Finnish language newspapers here occurred.
Minneapolis, as the largest city in the midst of the rapidly increasing 1890’s Finnish immigration to Minnesota and Michigan, seemed a logical site for national Finnish activities. Thus, when the Suomi Synod was organized in 1890 and Suomi College began in 1896, Minneapolis was a serious contender for the location for both institutions. The Work Peoples’ College, later in Duluth, began first in 1903 in Minneapolis.
When Finnish immigration to the USA exploded in the early 20th C., Minneapolis functioned as a primary destination site. At this same time, a physically definable Finntown in Minneapolis blossomed. The origin time is quite specific: 1902, when the Finnish Apostolic (Laestadian) Lutheran Church constructed its own building at 237 Humboldt Avenue North. This section of unoccupied land within walking or streetcar distance of jobs spread during the next 20 years until block after block had Finnish Americans living adjacent to each other on the Minneapolis near northside.
The Finnish population drifted away from living on Washington Avenue. Only the bars remained, a place where Finnish conversations still could be heard in the 1960’s. The near Northside Finntown extended from Girard Avenue on the East and to Penn Avenue on the West. Its southern border lay at Bassett Creek, its first northern border at Western (later Glenwood) Avenue, its second border Olson Memorial Highway. Inside these borders, as many as 5,000 Finnish immigrants and descendants of immigrants lived with their families. The community consisted 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, most built by the Finns themselves.
Businesses, a shoemaker, a barber, a bakery, a druggist, medical and dental doctors, sprang up along Western Avenue. A co-operative credit union defined the spirit of the community, including its serving as the center for clothing collections for Winter War relief in 1940. The Finnish Workers Society, that emerged from Vesa Temperance, built a hall a half a block away from the Apostolic Church. The Suomi Synod built a church up the hill and about five blocks away on Morgan. Wells Memorial Settlement house provided a sauna, meetings rooms, and physical exercise opportunities. Today, Milda’s Café, still in the neighborhood, remains the last of those Finntown businesses.
The Minneapolis Finntown never lost its close connection to the Finnish farming communities. In the summers, the urban dwellers traveled to the Dakotas and Western Minnesota to work on harvesting crews. In the winters, they took in boarders from the Finnish Triangle, people whom they helped find jobs. Shared summer festivals meant that young people became acquainted and married. Moving families back and forth between the communities was common. After the war, the moves were mainly into Minneapolis.
Of course, during its history, the Minneapolis Finntown, like other communities, had a divisive history. The Apostolics split first in two. Today, at least seven separate Apostolic or Laestadian congregations continue to thrive, in the Western and Northern suburbs. The Socialists, on the other hand, split into an IWW segment and a Communist party segment. Later, the Communists, who had maintained title to the Finn Hall, split again, the more conservative Socialists moving to meetings at Wells Settlement House and losing the hall. The final owners failed to make the last mortgage payment on the largest building the Finns had built in Finntown. The building went to the creditors and was torn down.
The community did occasionally overlook the differences. Paavo Nurmi and Risto visited in the 1920’s to much acclaim. In the summer of 1938, a joint 300th Anniversary Festival for the Delaware Colony involved everyone, The next year, the Finntown residents, responding to the Winter War, created a Help Finland movement that even mobilized the non-Finns throughout Minneapolis. After the war, this unified spirit was channeled into a new organization, Finnish American Heritage Society.
When people first moved out of Finntown, they moved into Bryn Mawr, the next Minneapolis neighborhood over. Later, they moved to Golden Valley, Hopkins and Plymouth. Today, only a tiny remnant of Finnish Americans continues to reside in the old neighborhood. Fall, 2001, the last remaining institution, Morgan Avenue Lutheran Church, sold its building and disbanded the congregation.
Yet, Finntown remains an important memory of 20th C. Midwestern American life. During its heyday, the Finntown gave the Finnish language a Minneapolis home, to the extent that many non-Finns referred to Humboldt Avenue as “Helsinki Avenue.” City politicians learned to pay attention to the “Finnish vote.” Finns traveling across the country or moving into the city from rural and outstate Minnesota found their way to Finntown. Minneapolitans, wanting a link to Finland, turned to the Finntown to organize a Sister City connection with Kuopio, Finland. Today, this pioneering urban Finnish American community is honored with a monument in Theodore Wirth Park, a place where decades earlier Finnish families picnicked and “kesäjuhlat” filled the air.
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FinntownFinn townminneapolisGlenwood Avenuewestern avenue