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Immigrants in Iron River


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In 1847 the first white men entered the valley of the Iron River, then called Maple Creek. Two United States government surveyors, Harvey Mellon and Guy Cartell reported outcroppings of iron ore on the banks of a little stream. The soil, they noted, was good for agriculture and the white pine trees stood high and thick on hills and in the valleys. It wasn't until 1873 that J.C. Morse filed a claim on the land. Morse, was followed by another iron hunter, Richard L. Selden, who made a similar discovery on the Brule River in 1878. Selden returned for a second trip and brought along his son, William Selden and a friend Dan C. MacKinnon. They placed a claim, and returned in 1879, along with Dan MacKinnon's two brothers, Alexander and Archie MacKinnon. Each staked out homesteads on nearby land. Three years later, they platted the village of Iron River, then just a cluster of log homes, and some stables. In 1882, the Selden's laid out the village of Stambaugh on a high wooded plateau a mile from Iron River.

The Beta and Nancaimo Mines were opened on the MacKinnon's property and the three brothers opened a sawmill on the river bank to supply lumber for building homes, and timber to support mine walls. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad extended its tracks from Florence to Iron River and the first train arrived in 1882. Up to that time, the miners and their families lived in crude log cabins on the river.

Mansville B. Waite, who later served as sheriff, erected the first large dwelling home with timber cut from the new mill. Other homes sprung up soon after by miners and lumbermen who came from Southern Michigan, and Wisconsin. Denny Haggerty, an engineer, came to Iron River on October 15,1879 and worked at the Riverton Mine. Haggerty, the son of a Civil War veteran said he had shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln. He later went into the logging business and served as the engineer for MacKinnon's Mill.

During the depression of 1893, almost all the mills and mines were closed. Families left the area to places where they could find work. Gradually, the demand for lumber and ore revived, and slowly business trickled back into the area.

Andrew J. Boynton built the first hotel, which was later burned down, but Boynton rebuilt bigger and better. A Presbyterian Church was built and soon a Catholic Church. Father Dowser was first, followed by: Father Cleary, Father Zimmerman, Father !VanStratton, Father Manning and finally, Father Lenhart. A log school-house was built and Thomas H. Flanagan was the first school teacher.

In 1884, Marquette County was split and Iron County was established. There were no county buildings for official records, so all records were held in a town 15 miles outside of Iron River called Crystal Falls. It wasn't until 1894 that Crystal Falls was chosen as county seat.

Crews of lumberjacks arrived from Saginaw and Bay City, Michigan and as far as Maine, to work the lumber mills now located on the Brule, Paint, and Iron Rivers, as well as some smaller streams. Paul Minckler built another big saw mill that sent millions of pine boards and timbers that helped build Chicago, Milwaukee, and other young midwestern cities.

The first newspaper was published in 1885 and was called "The Iron County Reporter" under the ownership of Pat O'Brien, a member of the Methodist Church and later State Representative in Lansing. At the turn of the century a few telephones were installed. The population had reached 2,380. The first automobile was driven into Iron River in 1905, by Circuit Judge Flanagan of Norway, Michigan. The Iron Inn, a modern hotel was built in 1906 by Ed Sensiba. A bank established by E.S. Coe , churches, homes, and industry multiplied the population.

During the time that lumber was being cut and milled in the Iron River District, the iron ore lying under the entire region was discovered. Most of the underground miners were recruited from among recent immigrants from Europe and the British Isles. "Cousin Jacks", from the copper mines of Cornwell, England came first, and since they were natural miners, industrious, and dependable, they held most of the official positions. Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Polish, and Finnish were the backbone of the labor supply. The Slavic immigrants who worked the iron mines were alike in many ways. They were generally hardworking, thrifty, and home-loving. Serbians could understand Croatians; Poles spoke some Austrian; and all seemed to understand Russian. But although they acted and looked much alike, each would never let you forget that their nationality was superior to all others.

It took great courage for the European immigrants to leave their stable life of the "old country" for the wilderness of Northern Michigan. It was still a land known for Native American troubles, a few adventureous settlers, no roads, and pine, hemlock, and maple trees stood tall and thick, blocking their way.

August Krans, his wife and two children left their native Sweden to seek a home in the new land of the Great Lakes. Krans had the promise of work in the recently opened Vulcan Mines in the Upper Peninsula. He found, however, low wages, lay-off, and a life much harder then they had expected. One day Krans heard of new government lands opened to homesteaders to the North. In May 1881, he gathered three other miners to his home and told them of the great opportunity awaiting them. They were Charles Gustafson, Gottfried Norden, and Ole Benson, also immigrants from Sweden and having difficulties as well with their income from Vulcan Mine. They pooled their cash, engaged a goverment surveyor, and set off on foot to explore the new land. They traveled 35 miles from Vulcan to Chicaugon Lake in Bates Township, then still part of Marquette County. With the assistance of the surveyor, they staked out a section of 640 acres of timberland, each taking 160 acres to clear and build their homes. This was section 23, later to become known as "Little Sweden". As new neighbors took up claims, roads were built and a Swedish Lutheran Church was erected. Almost all the inhabitants of Bates were Swedish immigrants. Most of the early homesteaders worked farms in the summer and in the lumber camps or mines during the winter. Each European group brought with them its own culture, recipes, and customs.

The Finnish came from their homeland near the Arctic Circle. They were placed in two seperate catagories by the rest of the population. The Iron River - Swedish Finns and the Iron River - Russian Finns. The Swedish-Finns were known for their devotion to their church and religion. They were friendly, with their doors always opened to friends. Finnish sweet-cakes were always piled high on the tables and the coffee pot never empty. The Russian-Finns were often referred to as violent, drunken, savage people. Eno Huttennen, a Russian-Finn, worked at one of the mines. He married Emma Heikkila and they lived a rather happy life for a few months.

Emma became acquainted with a Swedish-Finn, Illmori Nurmi, a man she met at a skiing tournament. They later had a chance meeting at a tavern owned by Toivo Sarrkennen, and from that time on, Emma was seen in the company of Illmori. When Eno learned of his wife's absences from the home, he tried to persuade his wife to stay home.

One day, Eno came home to an empty house and learned his wife had left with her lover, Nurmi. When Eno eventually learned of Emma's whereabouts, he demanded she return home. When Emma refused, a fight broke out and Eno dragged his wife down a trail leading into the woods. He then took a stick of dynamite from his pocket and placed it under Emma and sat on top of her. The dynamite blew them both to bits. The Finnish did excel in lumberjacking, foot races, and were avid skiers. Some of our National champion ski jumpers were Finns from the Upper Peninsula.

Irrespective of their language and their native customs which the immigrants brought from their homelands, the townspeople gained a consciousness of who their neighbors were, and where they had come from.

From the Internet

June Pelo

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