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Northern Michigan

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By: Anders Myhrman

Northern Michigan - The Upper Peninsula, as it is often called – lies to a large part between Lake Michigan in the south and Lake Superior in the north and bordered in the west to the State of Wisconsin. Natural resources here were especially the great forests and the abundant iron ore. These began to be exploited increasingly in the ‘80s - and ‘90s, and there was work in the mines, sawmills and lumbercamps that attracted immigrants en masse there. Our countrymen's numbers were particularly high there in the first two decades of this century.

The range of locations where our people lived in great numbers, started with Thompson and Manistique in Schoolcraft County on the north shore of Lake Michigan, then goes west to the Delta County (Escanaba and Gladstone), Dickinson County (Iron Mountain and Felch-Metropolitan ), Iron County (Crystal Falls) and the Gogebic County (Ironwood and Bessemer) in the far west, then east along the southern shore of Lake Superior, with a variety of places, among them Ontonagon, Dollar Bay, Negaunee and further along the main peninsula to the city in the east, Sault Ste. Marie (or simply "Soo").

Thompson, Michigan

About 50 mies south of Escanaba and Gladstone are Thompson and Manistique on the coast of Lake Michigan. For several decades around the 1800s this place had an important lumber industry. It’s not known where the first settlers came from, but Matts Wägar from Pörtom and August Näsman from Solv arrived in 1883, followed by Anders Frans and his son Anders Wilhelm Frans from Närpes in the 1894. Many others followed during the 1880s and 1890s, among them were their wives and children from Pörtom. Many years later John Häggblom wrote: “Thompson was a sawmill community called New Pörtom because so many Pörtom residents lived there.”

Among these fellowmen came a Lutheran congregation with their own church in 1895. They had their own history that will be told.

Matts Wägar’s wife and two sons came from Finland to Thompson in 1889 and his children grew up together with the other children. There were many pubs and they were frequently visited by the people. It was seven miles to the nearest Swedish Lutheran Church in Manistique. Wägar began to dread their drunkenness and the lack of spiritual education for the children. If only they had a church! He began to talk about it to others. John Häggblom from Manistique happened to visit the Wägars one Sunday at their boarding house. They began to discuss the lack of a church. After the evening meal Häggblom asked for a sheet of paper and began to write: List of voluntary contributions to building a church in Thompson. He wrote his name as No. 1 together with an amount of money, and Wägar became No. 2. None of Wägar’s boarders entered less than $5, so that in his house over $100 was donated. The list went from this house to the others until over $200 was subscribed and most of it was paid in cash.

They received a building site free from the lumber company, as well as a lot of the construction lumber. And what was not found there was sent for from Manistique. The work soon began with Abraham Smith, a Pörtom resident, as construction manager. And it proceeded so that the church was finished and could be consecrated in Midsummer 1895. The church and congregation became a chapel under the Swedish Zion congreation in Manistique, and its pastor came to Thompson for divine service on Sunday afternoon [1]. So reads the history of the first church built to their own edification in America by a group of countrymen – mostly Pörtom residents. Matts Wägar became Sunday School Superintendent and teacher as well as a member of the church council. In his old age he was caretaker. He died in 1927, 79 years old, and the following year the church burned down [2].


On April 15, 1906 a temperance society was organized in Thompson, “Lilla Hoppet”, as Nr. 44 in SFNF. The initiative for the society was undertaken by Abraham Sidbeck, also from Pörtom, a teacher in Sunday School. In the beginning the number of members was 10, because many felt that temperance was better than total abstinence. Pastor Nelson expressed himself of the opinion that anyone not a Christian required some temperance [3]. After some years the society began to grow so that in 1911 there were 27 members and some years later there were 37. It was 28 at the close of 1916.

Lilla Hoppet’s members became Runeberg Lodge No. 27 when it was formed in Manistique Jan. 1921. Some years later the sawmill in Thompson closed. Many of our countrymen there moved to Manistique or became farmers in the area.

Manistique, Michigan

Manistique was a more important city than Thompson, although it didn’t acquire 5,000 residents until the latter part of the 1920s. A large number of Swedish-Finnish immigrants came to Manistique during the 1890s and the following decades. Other people moved there from Thompson after the sawmill closed. Most of them lived in South Manistique where a sawmill was located several miles from the central city [4]. Among those who arrived in the beginning of the ‘90s were John Häggblom from Molpe in Korsnäs, John Frans from Korsnäs, and Johan Jakobsson Hermans from Forsby in Pedersöre. A couple decades later when there were a larger number of our countrymen, nearly half of them were Pörtom residents; the parishes of Korsnäs, Pedersöre and Vörå were also well represented. [5].

As usual in this wooded area most of the people in the earlier decades worked in the lumber camps in the winter and in the sawmill during the summer. Some came into the lumber business as small entrepreneurs. John Häggblom’s biography illustrates the lumberjack and sawmill operations of that time period. Later some of them were carpenters or had positions with other industries. Many of the oldest of the native generation followed in their father’s footsteps, but the younger ones went to high school and continued on to business college and became clerks or teachers.

The first organization among our countrymen in Manistique was the temperance society “Vänners Borg”, Nr. 72 in SFNF. It was established by Abraham Sidbeck and John Söderback from Thompson on Jan. 1, 1911 in John Häggblom’s home and had 13 members. The first chairman was Mrs. John Näsman and vice chairman was Mrs. Vilhelm Mattlin [6]. In July the same year the number of members was 21 and at the end of 1916 it was 53.

The other organization was a sick benefit society Bethesda, Nr. 42 in SFNF. The initiative to set it up was taken by Sidbeck and Häggblom, who called John S. Back of Escanaba to be secretary of the society, and it was established 28 Sep. in John Häggblom’s home. The chairman was John Sidbeck. They began with only 9 members, all men. But in 1920 the number had grown to 56. [7].

Lilla Hoppet in Thompson and Vänners Borg and Bethesda in Manistique were merged on 1 Jan 1921 and became Lodge Nr. 27 in the Runeberg Order with 70 members. Later membership numbers follow: 1929-60; 1935-49; 1940-51; 1950-45, and 1960-30. A total of 20 new members joined in 1965.

The following was written about the history of the Lodge in 1958:

Lodge 27 during the year has had good and bad fortune but is now in a good and sound financial footing. We have our regular meetings with about half of our members present. All the employees except the chairman and the undersigned belong to the second generation. They ought to be complimented that they took the job and led the lodge forward. Since 1926 (to the close of 1957) the Lodge has paid out to its members $10,474. Socially and financially the Lodge has been a good friend to our people. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Involved in the work of the society in Thompson and Manistique, these names often appear: Wägar, Häggblom, Sidbeck, Söderback, Branfors, Lindström, Carlson, Mattlin, Mattson, Frans, etc. Entire families with these names were active in many of the activities of the society from the beginning.

John Häggblom also had the vision and perception for a more extensive effort and intellectual interest. As a delegate he attended several society conventions in the midwest, and wrote reports, poems and articles of interest for The Leading Star and Finska Amerikanaren. Mrs. Lydia Mattson, nee Rosenberg of Kaskö, came to America after training to be a midwife in Helsingfors. For many years she wrote interesting articles in Finska Amerikanaren.

A considerable number of our countrymen in Manistique became members in the Swedish Lutheran Sion Congregation in the city, and also the Swedish-Finnish Lutheran congregation in the Thompson Chapel congregation under Sion with the same pastor. When the church in Thompson burned all the members became members of Sion, now Sion Lutheran Church. Our countrymen have made a significant achievement in this congregation as well as in various activities.

Many of the second generation of our people in Thompson and Manistique have studied and have been successful in various jobs. Some can be mentioned here: Lawyer ASA Heggblom, son of John Häggblom and now (1965) President of the International Runeberg Order. For many years he has had an attorney’s office in Detroit. His wife Saima (nee Söderback) was also educated as a teacher. Hilda Ahlström (nee Branfors) studied music with Augustana College and has been organist for Zion Lutheran Church for 50 years. Edwin Lång studied banking and law and became comptroller for National Bank of Toledo. Nina Orr (daughter of Lydia Mattson) is a teacher and her brother Kurt Mattson is an engineer. Alina Wager (name was changed from Wägar to Wager), daughter of Matts Wägar, became a teacher and she is an author and is thankful for the pictures of the church and Sunday School in Thompson and other information about our people there.

Escanaba, Michigan

The city of Escanaba is at the north end of Green Bay on the west side of Lake Michigan. The white buildings there originated from the beginning of the 1850s. In 1863 they received a railroad connection and the same year an ore loading spur was built. Three years later the first bank and first school opened. A newspaper started in 1869. Because of the railroad and the good harbor, Escanaba became a center for lumber camps, small sawmills and for shipping of iron ore from nearby mines. At the turn of the century the city had about 10,000 residents and about 300 of them were Swedish-Finns. In 1930 the population of the city was 14,500.

Early Settlers in Escanaba

It is not known who the first of our countrymen was, but in 1880 there was a Peter Gullans, called “Finn-Pete” from Övermark. He worked as a railroad smith. That year Charles Groop came directly from Övermark, Finland to Escanaba. He had previously heard of Gullans in his home parish. Groop first worked in a lumber camp but after a few years he became a brakeman on the railroad. After a visit to the old country he returned to Escanaba and for the rest of his life worked in various jobs for the railroad. He died in 1940. [8] Andrew Erickson from Mariedahl in Munsala came to Escanaba by 1884 or 1885 and worked there about ten years, and after a short visit to Finland he lived in Gladstone.

E. M. Johnson (originally Erik Hellgren) who lived his life in Gladstone after 1896, said that he was born in Vörå, raised in Oravais and in mind was a Munsala resident. As a 14-year-old he came to Escanaba when his father had sent for him, and he lived at the Swedish Sandberg’s saloon and boarding house. Two or three years later he began to work at the ore dock where he became acquainted with many of his countrymen. Among them were Andrew Oakman, Pete Perjus, Gustav Sand, Charles Nyström and Karl Joss. He had heard of the two Groop brothers, also of Finn-Pete and Finn-John. The Erik Jonas family from Solv was the first family among the countrymen he became acquainted with. [9]

Some of those who came here in earlier years were married and had wives and children in Finland. Most immigrants were young, unmarried men. Still, at the turn of the century the number of countrymen in the city was calculated to be over 200; the number of women was only about half of that.

Work and Saloons

During the ‘90s and even later the majority of people worked in the many surrounding lumber camps during the winter. Working hours were from daylight to evening and wages were around $30 a month. In the summer they worked in the sawmills or ore mines. For many the money went as fast as they earned it. Johnson said: At the time temperance was an unusual virtue. The majority of the countrymen squandered away their hard earned money at the saloons and there were a great many saloons in Escanaba. A report in Finska Amerikanaren estimated the number to be about 100 at the beginning of the century. Saloon-keepers among our countrymen were Henry Norman from Övermark, Matt Dahl from Pörtom, Alfred Hellman and later Alfred Carlson from Petalax, also John Freeman from Korsnäs. [10] Various parish residents could then visit and squander their money at the parish saloons. At that time the boarding houses, saloons and bordellos were all together and there was no other recreation or entertainment.

During the ‘90s many countrymen lived in Ford River, a little sawmill place on the coast seven miles south of Escanaba. Further into the country they stacked the logs in the winter and floated them in the spring down the river to the sawmill and converted them to planks and boards in the summer. When the sawmill shut down, many moved to Escanaba. Many worked also in Wells, another small sawmill place, until the sawmill closed. [11]

John S. Beck from Övermark told about the state of affairs during which newcomers began their lives in Escanaba – as well as many other places:

“In October 1902, one frosty morning, I took the train to Escanaba. I ended up at a boarding house that was part of a saloon. There were many countrymen there and I had a room upstairs without heat of any kind. The windows were poor and when the men awakened there was driven snow on the pillows. In the morning the men had to punch a hole in the ice in the water cask to have water to wash away the sleep. After that they had some small pancakes for breakfast, and then the men had to walk about two miles along the road to the job. [12]

The Association has its Beginning

The first attempt by our countrymen to have an association in Escanaba was made by Charles Franzén from Petalax as early as 1893. He organized the Good Templar Lodge the, Vasa Star with 14 members. It was dissolved before the end of the year “due to the poor labor market which caused many members to leave the place.” [13] A long succession of years followed during which the saloons continued to play their destructive role.

But the temperance movement had begun to gain a footing among the Swedish-Finn immigrants in other places and on 1 June 1902 John Carlson from Amasa formed a temperance society, Home of Unity Nr. 13 SFNF in Escanaba with 16 members. John Carlson became chairman of the board. After two years the number of members grew to 56. A sewing circle was soon formed to help with the economy of the society. [14]

The largest event in the history of this society undoubtedly was the annual meeting of the temperance society which was held in Escanaba at the end of July 1907 and was written about in another chapter. The organization had nearly 80 members of which 11 were minors. Three of them in the Good Ttemplar Lodge in 1893 were members of the Home of Unity 1907: Charles Franzén; C. J. Nyström and A. Wallin.

Many years later E. M. Johnson wrote about the importance of the organization’s work: “The effects of temperance were soon perceptible in a more well-mannered and decent conduct among the people. Love also became more active at this time because there was one wedding after another. The former saloon members began to build homes.” [15]

Community Hall and Meeting

In the autumn of 1907 the temperance society began to build its own meeting place. The chairman at that time, C. J. Nyström, was the building contractor. John S. Back spoke about the construction:

“All of the society members helped with the work. We had only two people who were paid while the outer walls and roof were put up. The men worked ten hours during the week (6 days) but on Sundays we were in full swing with our construction. One after another came with their tools and did what he could. One Sunday we nailed the roof and on another we put down the floor. The women were always there helping and served coffee and lunch.” [16]

When the building was finished it was valued at $4,000. It was 72 feet long and 30 feet wide. The basement, which was built of cement blocks, housed a kitchen, dining room and closet. The community hall also had a stage.

Back continued: “ When the place was finished we had two regular meetings a month and often had celebrations in between. It was not unusual to have to 5 to 10 baby carriages at the end of the hall while their parents took part in meetings and festivities.” The highest number of members they had was 108, and at the close of 1916 there were 67.

In 1904 a sick benefit society, Frihet Nr. 9 in SFSF was formed in Escanaba by the Swedish-Finns. The number of members was not large in the beginning, but it grew over the years. For their meetings the temperance society hired a hall and the two associations toured often at public appearances. They went together to many major festivals. For many years John S. Back was the association chairman as well as secretary of SFSF. At the end of the year they had 1,920 members.

At the end of 1920 the two organizations became Runeberg Lodge Nr. 10. The new Lodge began with 178 members, the third largest in the central district after Ironwood and Crystal Falls. At the end of June 1929 the figure was 327, next to the Lodge in Ironwood that had 434 members. From Back’s report in Finska Amerikanaren and Norden it is clear that for many years the Lodge was very active, not only with sick help but also with regular meetings and frequent festivals. In 1935 the number of members was 230; 1940, 198; 1950, 142; and 1960, 101.

But it happened in Escanaba as well as in many other places: temperance work gradually tapered down; the lodge programs could not compete with radio, “taverns” and TV; and employees received routine care for sick help. It became difficult to recruit people for yearly Runeberg festivals. Dagni Beck, who was the financial secretary of the lodges for many years has, as a leader of the younger generation in later years, sought to waken interest among them for the Runeberg Order. Unity Hall, as the lodge’s community hall was called, was sold to another organization for $6,500 and the right without charge to hold monthly meetings as long as the Lodge existed. [17]

The Business

As previously mentioned, the first businesses among our countrymen were the boarding houses/saloons in Escanaba. Others came later. In 1906 or 1907 Alex Anderson from Närpes opened a food shop. This lasted only until a larger business, Scandia Cooperative Association, came along. We have a report from 1934:

In the winter of March and April 1910 our countrymen in Escanaba talked about a company, a cooperative business. F. O. Beck, who studied bookkeeping and business methods, sold shares in the company and in May had successfully put together around $15,000 for which sum he then bought out another company. But there was an almost equally large debt attached to the property. The other members of the company were against it and the bank would not lend the working capital even though they had a good guarantor. The first two managers were not equal to the task and the company was expected to fail eventually. At a meeting the question of finances was discussed with shareholders. Things went slowly but finally the now deceased Charles Franzén hit the nail on the head. They were promised a loan for $1,000. F. O. Beck was chosen to be director and the business did well later. The capital was repaid in the form of dividends several times over. A branch opened in North Escanaba and another later on Ludington Street which wasn’t open very long. Some years later the company opened a 4-story concrete building in the center of the city and Scandia Coop. Association was now the city’s largest food shop. About half of the shareholders are Swedish-Finns; the other half consist of other Scandinavians. [18]

The main business in the center of the city was sold during the depression in the mid-‘30s to F. O. Beck who continued with it until 1956. Then it was taken over by his sons who expanded it with Western Auto. The branch in North Escanaba continued a while but was liquidated when it became difficult to find trustworthy managers.

A report from 1927 mentions other countrymen who had their own business or had supervisory positions with large companies. Arthur Anderson, whose parents came from Åland, had a large furniture store and an undertaking office in the city. John S. Back had an insurance agency in 1917 and a small printing shop. Charles H. Beck was a foreman for a bridge building company for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Victor Holm from Dagmark in Lappfjärd was foreman for a cabinet maker, and Erik Anderson (Pörtfors) from Övermark was foreman for a painter with Escanaba Paper Companoy. All of these foremen had many countrymen in their workforce. Oskar Sandman from Kaskö was a building contractor for building wooden houses and cement work. Charles Nyström from Övermark was also a building contractor but had jobs in other places in later years, such as Iron Mountain. [19]

Leaders in the Society

Charles F. Franzén from Träskback in Korsnäs was an eager and self-sacrificing leader in the early organizations, especiallly the temperance society. He returned to his home district and died there in 1926. Among those who have been prominent in the society work are: John Bosk from Petalax, John Ström from Bergö, J. E. Carlson from Lappfjärd and John Finström from Purmo. During the years they held various positions of trust in the society. John Ström (Högback in Bergö) was probably the most active and versatile of these; not only in the Swedish-Finn organizations but he held positions of trust also in the Vasa Order and Scandia Coop. Assn.

Among the leaders, mention should be made of three brothers with original name of Söderback from Bodbacka in Övermark. John S. Back was an official in the society in Escanaba but also a secretary in the sick help benefit society for 13 years and in the Runeberg Order for the first two years. He died 27 August 1959. F. O. Beck, who was previously mentioned as a businessman, was a member of the city board of education for several years and its chairman when the new “High School” building was erected. Charles H. Beck, mentioned as foreman above, also held various positions in the Runeberg Order, the last (1963) as its chairman.[20]

In 1910, when Pastor Carl J. Silfversten served the Swedish Lutheran congregation in Gladstone, he visited and held meetings among the Swedish-Finns in Escanaba, and also formed among them the Lutheran Vasa congregation. A women’s society also became active. But when Silfversten left Gladstone sometime later, the congregation was dissolved. [21] A large number of our countrymen later belonged to the Swedish Lutheran congregation (now Bethany Lutheran Church), a smaller number to either the Swedish Baptist- or Methodist congregation.

Members of the second generation have also through studies and personal talents been successful in the American society. Here shall mention only three names. A son (name not given) of William Hellman from Molpe in Korsnäs, after graduation from Augustana College, continued with medical studies and became an eminent specialist in brain diseases. Gunnar Back, son of John S. Back, after completing university studies, was a teacher of English literature for a time and later became a radio and TV commentator in Washington, D. C. Since 1958 he has been news chief for the American Broadcasting Company in Philadelphia. Jack Beck, son of Frank O. Beck, who took over his father’s business in Escanaba in 1956, opened a “super market” in Gladstone in July 1957 – the largest and most modern business of its kind in the entire Delta county. [22]

It should be mentioned that some of the female members of the younger generation trained for office work. Some became teachers or nurses.

Gladstone, Michigan

Twelve miles north of Escanaba on the western side of Little Bay de-Noc lies the city of Gladstone. The economic support here as well as in neighboring cities was the felling of the surrounding woods and as a port for shipment of iron ore. In the ‘90s there was also a coal dock and a corn elevator. Later a chemical plant (for Ford Motor Co.), a large veneer factory and a paper mill. The city seems to have been founded in 1887. When the century began the city had over 3,000 residents, and in 1930 about 5,000.

Life had two phases for the early male immigrants: work in the woods in the winter and a job in industry in the city during the summer. Gradually employment in the latter became the main source of income. A great many of our countrymen were entrepreneurs in lumbering. Some became farmers in nearby cities.

John Udell wrote about the early countrymen in Gladstone as follows: “John Thors and Charles Ryss, from Solv, have been here since the establishment of the city. John Bergman from Oravais, Andrew Erikson from Munsala and Gustaf Oman from Korsholm are among the oldest in the place and have been here about 16 years.”[23]

During the ‘90s and even later a fairly large number of our countrymen settled in Gladstone. Many of them had visited other places in the U.S. before they moved to Gladstone. In the middle of 1904 a census was taken amoung our countrymen in the city. The number then was 391, of which 184 were men, 93 women and 115 children. Number of families, 65. These statistics reveal two facts: [24] There were still a fair and disproportionally large number of men – a common ratio in most places during the great immigration period.

These immigrants first lived mostly on the shore of the river and built themselves a small house or hovel. With good employment in the city during a number of years and with an increasing number of marriages and families, they began to buy lots and build better houses in the so-called Buckeye Addition. At the time of the first world war there were several districts that were nearly excusively occupied by Swedish-Finn families.[25]

The first association among them in Gladstone was the temperance society, “Sons of Vasa”, Nr. 7 in SFNF. It was established on 14 May 1899 with 29 members. In 1904 there were 47. “Primarily youth” according to Udell. The same year a women’s sewing society was formed whose purpose was – as well as in so many other places – through work and auctions to earn the means for a community hall. A male choir named “Eko” was active 1906-07, but lost their leader when he left Gladstone. Among those who were effective in the society at that time were Gust Carlson, Isaac Jackson, Chas. Anderson, C. Holm, and August Grönlund. [26]

About the society’s hall we read in Ord and Bild: The crown of the society is the neat hall that was initiated 28 July 1907. Practical and centrally located it is a credit for the society as well as for the Swedish-Finns. The length of the building is 112 feet (about 34 meters). It accommodates, besides a meeting room, a kitchen and serving room. The hall is modernly furnished and the first thing that meets the eye at the entrance is the fine painting, whose motif is taken from Orisberg in Storkyro. The painting is by Aug. Klagstad from Marinette, Wiwconsin. The cost of the building is $3,000. [27]

After the society obtained its own hall, the temperance work made headway. Many big festivals were reported during the following year and the number of members reached a high point with 120 members. In 1911 it was 112. The yearly temperance convention was held in Gladstone in 1917, but at the time the number of members had sunk to about 80. The prohibition law was passed and temperance work gradually began to lose its effect.

The sick benefit society, “Bothnia”, Nr. 8 in SFSF, was organized in 1904 with 34 members. By the end of the year it was 58. [28] The society stood the entire time in the shade, so to speak, of the older and larger temperance societies. The competed with each other until the first world war’s evil day. Bothnia had 43 members at the end of 1920.

Both of the societies were dissolved and Runeberg Order Nr. 7 was established in the beginning of 1921 with 112 members. Thereafter the figure went downward. In 1929 the number of members was 82; 1935, 33; 1940, 30; 1950, 18; and 1960, 8 – barely existing. Here it was probably lack of leadership, inability to keep the older members and in particular, failure to engage the younger generation in the works of the Lodge.

Our countrymen in Gladstone never established their own Lutheran congregation. Later a number of them became members in the Swedish Lutheran congregation. Many of them held positions such as deacons and trustees. Charles Holm from Närpes was the treasurer for 25 years and honorary member of the church council. [29] An example of our countrymen’s connection to this congregation can be mentioned here. When Erik Gabrielson (Tuva) from ÖsterÖvermark and his wife Lina Malmberg from Övermark celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in 1929, they had 14 living children: 7 boys and 7 girls. About 400 people gathered at the Swedish Lutheran Church to participate in the Gabrielson celebration. [30]

A little Baptist mission was established by some of our countrymen in Gladstone in 1904 and then as a congregation in August 1904 by Edward Fleming. The 6 charter members were Mr. and Mrs. John Hult, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Sigfrids, John Johnson and John Anderson. By June of the same year they had begun to build a church and many of our countrymen voluntarily helped so they could consecrate it in October. A year later the number of members was 15; 1916 it was 31 with 93 in Sunday School. A parsonage was built in 1910 and a decade later the church was renovated at a cost of about $5,000. The name was changed in the 1930s to First Baptist Church. The language spoken was English. John S. Back wrote that one could write an obituary for the Swedish-Finns and their work in Gladstone in 1950; this step led to the reorganization of the activities of the congregation.

The following pastors have served the congregation: Axel Edwards, John Hugo (Herrgård), John Söderman and John A. Kallman. Others who served at a later time: N. W. Nelson, Nils Hedström and Dana A. Austin. Dentist Herman Kasén was a leading laymen in the congregation for many years and acted also once as its pastor. [31]


Some of our countrymen have managed businesses in Gladstone. Owning a restaurant was the first business. In 1904 “public houses”, as Udell always referred to a restaurant, were managed by Erik Österberg from Närpes, Gust Lillquist from Nykarleby, Matt Haga from Pörtom and Charles Mattson from Petalax. Thus many parish residents could go to their own parish restaurant. Two of the butcher shops were owned by Swedish-Finns, Andrew Erikson from Munsala and Charles Anderson from Munsala. They had the largest butcher shop in the city, which was named Erikson and Anderson and was located on the main street. John Bergman from Oravais, who had first been a partner with Erikson for eight years, opened his own butcher shop in 1903. [32]

In November 1934 – 30 years later – Andrew Ostrand wrote that “our” countrymen in Gladstone are better off than many in other places in northern Michigan. Most of them have their own tidy homes and many have worked so they became prosperous. He mentioned that Charles Anderson and Charles Holm had a meat and food business for 30 years. E. M. Johnson had a little food shop and at the same time managed a tree farm and shipped Christmas trees to Milwaukee. Andrew Erikson and his wife owned a Rexal drug store that was managed by their son Walter and daughter Helen. Charles Green owned and managed a hardware store. John Mattson, son of C. A. Mattson, lived a little outside the city and was a farmer and a businessman – he operated a strawberry field on a large scale. [33]

Two countrymen in the medical field in Gladstone were highly appreciated by our people there. Herman Kasén graduated from Brush Medical College in Chicago in 1911, moved to Gladstone in the beginning of the ‘20s and practiced dentristry there for the rest of his active life. Otto Selim Hult, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Hult, studied and took his medical exam at the University of Michigan and began his practice as a doctor and surgeon in his home town in 1928.

E. M. Johnson (mentioned above) came as a 14-year-old to Escanaba before 1887 and moved to Gladstone in 1896 where he then was a resident. Through self-education he became more than usually capable in many areas. He was a city clerk in Gladstone for eight years and later supervisor for ten years. His other primary occupation on a minor scale was a lumber company. He often wrote in Finska Amerikanaren. Another Swedish-Finn John A. Mattson was also a supervisor of the Delta County Board a number of years.

A last comment: Isaac Jackson (Södergård) from Vassor in Kvevlax came to America 1889 and moved to Gladstone 1892. He married in 1903 to Hanna Erickson (Johanna Storthors from Övermark) and they lived in Gladstone. He declared in 1934 that there was not one Swede-Finn remaining in the city who was there when he arrived. The Grim Reaper and mobility!

Several decades later we had a crowd of people who came from the Ostrobothnian Swedish villages and built their own homes near each other. In this part of the city, called Buckeye Addition, there were several areas that were occupied almost exclusively by our countrymen. Here one could hear the Ostrobothnian dialect. On warm summer evenings when people sat on their porches, they could chat with their neighbors because the houses were close to each other. Two active organizations existed – sick benefit and temperance societies, and people gathered at Vasa Hall for regular meetings once a week. Often there were interesting programs – all in Swedish. The natives spoke their father’s language. Now there are only a few of them left. No regular meetings are held now and the old fighters have laid down their wandering spell and the younger generation has scattered as chaff before the wind. Hardly anyone can be found who can or will speak the Swedish language. [34]

Cornell, Michigan

Cornell is a small gathering of farmers about 15 miles northwest of the city of Escanaba. During the high period of logging in the ‘90s there was a sawmill by the railroad and many large lumber camps around where several hundred men worked. When the best trees were cleared, the area’s economy changed.

It was during the years 1904 and 1905 that 12-15 countrymen who had previouslly worked in the area, bought 40 scattered acres of land, began to build primitive houses and moved their families there. There were no roads, no crops to harvest, only wild land to clear. Among those who came there that year with their families were John Matson from Munsala, Alexander Carlson from (Forsby) Nykarleby, Anders Backund from Purmo, John Forsman from Nykarleby, Andrew Anderson and Axel Carlson.

In 1941 Axel Carlson related that only a track led to a corner of his land when they moved there. Mrs. Mattson said they used to go barefoot over a plank over a swamp to get to the station. Anders Backlund said that he had to carry his family’s meager household goods together with food in a wheel barrow from the station to the new house. [35]

Some of them could ony afford to buy land on the instalment plan, a certain sum per year. All at the same time a man had to build the necessary house, clear land and learn a living for his family. This was done by cutting trees to sell from his own woods and by working in a lumber camp in the winter and on road building in the summer. It was a laborious life. John S. Back wrote in 1940 about Cornell: Now they have built beautiful houses and outhouses where their log houses were first built. Fields and meadows with the scent of clover and fertile cornfields flutter in the wind. The road crosses here and there and people ride in expensive automobiles where once before they walked through one mud puddle after another. [36]

A notable event with our countrymen in Cornell is that the only Methodist congregation among the Swedish-Finn immigrants in America was started there. Since 1904 Pastor C. H. Sundström with the Swedish Methodist congregation in Escanaba began to hold meetings for the new settlers. Meetings were then held in homes or the school. In the beginning of the ‘30s a Methodist congregation was establlished in Cornell under the leaderhip of Karl J. Hammar, pastor of the above mentioned congregation in Escanaba. According to information from Pastor Hammar, the congregation in Cornell consisted of 12-15 famillies. In addition to the previously mentioned families, he mentioned the families of Alfred Anderson and John Carlson. They set out to build a chapel church and they timbered it with cedar logs. John Mattson was the contractor. Later it was covered with boards and painted. Sunday School and the women’s society have been busy for many years. There was a confirmation class in 1962. Church service was held in the chapel each Sunday afternoon.

The congregation in Cornell is part of the Methodist congregation (now Central Methodist Church) in the Escanaba parish. It now consists (1962) partly of the pioneer’s descendants and partly of those who moved to Cornell. Some of the pioneer’s children have moved to Escanaba and belong to the Methodist congregation there. In 1962 only Alfred Anderson and his wife, and Mrs. Forsman, of the Swedish-Finn newcomers, still lived there in Cornell. [37]

Felch-Metropolitan, Michigan[38]

The place and the immigrants

In the 1800s and the beginning of this century one often heard the name “Metropalt’n” (Metropolitan) in the parishes of Jeppo and Purmo. The place is located about 15 miles northeast of Iron Mountain and 35 miles northwest of the port of Escanaba. Iron ore was discovered there in the beginning of the 1800s, a railroad spur was added from Escanaba in 1882 and mining began. At the same time logging began in the area and a sawmill was erected 1885. But mining was not very profitable and it shut down at the end of the ‘90s. At the same time the logging operation also logged out the best trees (mostly tall) and ceased operation there a few years later.

The first Swedish-Finn family that lived there was Erik Skog and his wife Brita from Jeppo (Bild). They came from Quinnisec where they had lived for some time. Others followed and the stream of immigrants that was probably the greatest in 1888-1893, continued during the ‘90s and ended up around 1910. Most of the immigrants came from Jeppo and Purmo, but several other parishes were also represented. Erik Skog came from Jeppo, and to mention a few: Erik Johnson and John Davidson (from Lussi), John E. Isaacson (from Finskas), William Isaacson, Matt Wikman, Matt Johnson and Matt Sandström. From Purmo came the brothers Johan, Matt, Jonas and Jacob Blomquist (from Pass), brothers John, Gustav, Matts and Alfred Backlund (from Sisbacka), also Andrew and Matt Willman (from Villbacka). Some had their wives and children who they had sent for. But most of them were single young men. Later single young women came here and marriages happened, one after the other.

Here’s a little more about the Skog family. A short time after arrival in Metropolitan Erik built a large house. Wood and other building materials were used with the aid of a horse and sled from Norway – about 35 miles away. When newcomers arrived from Finland it was natural that they went to Skog’s who had a fairly nice boarding house. When lumber camps closed in the summer, the men went to stay there. Some people stayed a longer time on credit until new work was available. A lot of fun took place there. So wrote Ida Blomquist, the qualified chronicler.

During the time of mining and the sawmill, Metropolitan had a population of more than 1,000. These people were of many nationalities. They built a Catholic church. When when the two industries shut down, the other nationalities moved away. But Finland’s Swedes stayed there, or returned if they had previously moved away. There were two or three native Swedish families, as well as many Norwegians and some other nationalities. But for a generation the community became the most Finland-Swedish community in America.

Even before the turn of the century different parts of the community had separate names. There was Felch (lower city) with the railway station, Rians hotel and shops and a school; higher up was Felchbacken with a dozen families, and a little further west was the true Metropolican where company stores were located; then the farm area where the large farms were located and at the end Park City.

When the mining and logging ended, some of the Swedish-Finns began to start a logging business on their own. They logged maple and cedar, had their own camp, horses and other equipment for logging the trees. When it turned cold and snowy, they made an ice road so the big loads of logs could be hauled out with horses. Others worked for them either on a daily basis or piecework. This lumber camp housed 10-20 men. A couple of women were often cooks in the camp. At the same time some began to farm and the number increased as time went on.

In 1904 Udell wrote: The first who began farming here about 15 years ago was Erik Skog who owned 80 acres of cultivated land. Matt Wikman, also from Jeppo, began farming directly after and during the last five years others have showed an interest in farming and bought land. The farmers had a good harvest. When they got land it was difficult to develop because of the stumps found there. It was costly to break up the stumps. They could only clear the land between the stumps and then plow it or let the grass grow until the stumps became rotten in time, and then they were easily cleared away. Such is the American way to clear the land where trees were found. Erik Skog now has about 20 cows and 4-6 horses. Matt Wikman owns his own threshing team.

For a while farming went slowly and the lumber camps in the winter probably remained the main source of income. But a good many farmers cultivated 60, 80 and up to 100 acres. Then Metropolitan became a more typical farming community. One who became most successful of loggers and farmers was John Blomquist. He began logging in 1896 and continued each winter for about 50 years. In 1942 he owned 2 sections (about 520 hectares) of wooded land. He had a farm of 470 acres, of which 170 was cultivated. On the farm he sold 30 animals and about 100 tons of hay each year. [39]

Lutheran Congregation

The oldest existing organization among our countrymen in Felch-Metropolitan is the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran congregation. The founder was Carl P. Edblom, pastor of the Swedish Lutheran congregation in Escanaba. He had begun to make regular visits to Metropolitan in 1894 and the interest that grew from these visits led to the founding of a congregation on 21 August 1895 with 34 members. Alfred Anderson (from Gamlakarleby) was secretary of the congregation. Deacons were Matt Wikman, Matt Backund, John Anderson, John Davidson, Erik Skog and Andrew Willman. Chosen as trustees were Erik Skog, Andrew Willman, Alfred Anderson, Andrew Backlund and Jakob Nyman. Alfred Anderson was parish clerk and secretary. [40]

A small church was built in 1900. But it soon became too small and a larger church was built in 1907. The old church was moved to become an annex to the new church. Funds were collected and the free work for the building of the church amounted to $2,442, and the total cost was $3,578. Two years later a parsonage was built at a cost of over $2,600. A large renovation was done in the summer of 1920 when a lower floor was built under the church. The church was painted inside and stained glass windows installed. The cost of the entire renovation was over $5,000, plus volunteer work by the congregation members was worth about $1,500. A 25-year anniversary was held 10-12 July 1921. A new parsonage was built near the church in 1956. A 50-year annivrsary was held in 1945, followed by a 60-year celebration in 1955. The church was improved for these celebrations.

The church was served by theology students and vicars until 1909. K. M. Holmberg became the pastor and stayed until 1912. B. E. Walters was the congregation’s pastor from 1915-1922; Frank E. Peterson from 1927-1937, and Carl P. Peterson began his pastorate in 1942, the longest in the congregation’s history. Henry E. Palm was called as pastor in 1956.

A Sunday School began soon after the congregation was founded. It was held in homes until the first church was built. Thereafter Sunday School was held both in the church in Metropolitan and the school house in Felch. Nearly 15 children took part in a children’s program in 1920. In 1921 there were 188 enrolled students. The number of teachers was 22 and the instruction took place mainly in Swedish. In 1945 the number of students varied from 40-42.

Other organizations then came to the congregation. The women’s sewing circle began in 1896 and has been active since them. Willing Workers society was started in 1907 by young teenagers. The Luther League was established the following year and consisted of some of the older young people. Then came two organizations for foreign missions – one for women and another for the men, as well as a confirmation class and a bible class, and last the Lutheran Brotherhood for men.

The number of members grew slowly the first years but increased rapidly the following ten years. In 1909 the number of communicants was about 100; 1916 they had grown to 180 and in 1921 to over 300. With the children included, the total membership was 610. During the following three decades the number of members decreased by nearly half because so many grew up and left the area and the number of children decreased also.

The names of members occuring most frequently in 1945 were Blomquist – 43, Wickman (Wikman)- 32, Johnson – 29, Anderson – 26, Isaacson- 26 and Mattson – 18. The name of the congregation was changed to Zion Lutheran Church some time before the 50th Jubilee.

Some names to mention: Alfred Anderson was deacon and secretary of the congregation for 51 years, Sunday School superintendent for 30 years and leader of the male choir about 50 years. John V. Sundström headed Sunday School in Felch for many years. Besides Anderson, John and Matt Blomquist belonged to the church council about 50 years. John Blomquist was also the congregation’s treasurer for many years. Others who belonged to the church board from the beginning were Matt Wikman, John Anderson, Matt Johnson, Matt Willman, Jonas Blomquist, Alec Mattson and John Quist. The church also had a nice park which was useful for picnics and social gatherings, as well as a camp with a lake located some miles from Metropolitan.

Societies

A temperance society has been based in Felch-Metropolitan since 1892, but it gained little support and was short-lived. About seven years later student Gustav Oberg (from Purmo) began to agitate for temperance and the result was the establishment on 21 October 1900 of a temperance society, “Liljan på Fjällen”, Nr. 11 in SFNF with 24 members. Alfred Anderson was chairman. A. G. Wikman, secretary and correspondent, and Matt Johnson was treasurer. Others on the board the next two years were John J. Quist, Jonas Blomquist, Eric Nyman, Eric J. Johnson. They complained persistently about the 6 saloons in the community. Drinking then was very common there and people made fun of those who wanted to close the saloons. Finally the saloons were taken to court because they sold liquor on Sunday which was against the state law and they were required to pay a fine. The tempeprance movement won more attention and after several years there was only one saloon left in the community. [41]

In 1904 the society had 58 members and several years later the number was up to 82, but it soon dropped to 18 in 1911. The society members built their own community hall in Felch. After 1904 there was also a mixed choir named “Lärken”. Later a brass band “Metropolitan Band” that participated in programs at the temperance and society yearly meetings in Ashland in 1906 and in Escanaba 1907. It’s not known how long Lärkan and the band existed. Of membership numbers at the end of 1916 there are two figures, 25 and 48.

The Sick Benefit Society “Nordens Bröder”, Nr. 23 in SFSF, was organized in 1908. Nordens Bröder built its own community hall on land next to the temperance society’s hall in Felch. The two organizations worked together with great festivity. The Sick Benefit society’s yearly convention was held in Metropolitan in 1916. Nordens Bröder was the larger society.

The two organizations were merged to Lodge Nr. 14 in the Runeberg Order with 86 members, of which 13 were minors. The number of members since that time has never been large. In 1929 it was 94; 1935, 104; 1940, 99; 1950, 83; and 1960, 107, of which 51 were minors. But in 1967 the number had gone down to 34. Earlier the Lodge was noted for the central district’s conventions and picnics, but activities declined with time. During later years the Lodge served lunch to the many former Felch residents who returned for “Memoria Day” at the end of May.

Baptist Congregation

A Baptist congregation with 9 members was founded in Felch on 14 October 1900. [42] Those 9 were: Mrs. John Backlund, Mrs. John Sundquist, Mr. and Mrs. Matt Backlund, Mr. and Mrs. Gust Backlund, John Kasén, John Mattson and Victor Sjöblom. A little later Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Kasén and Mr. and Mrs. Eric Johnson joined. Some of them were Baptists from Finland, most from Purmo; others accepted the Baptist belief through Matts Esselström’s or John O. Blixt’s meetings in the area. A women’s society and Sunday School were earlier activites. A young people’s organization came later. A string band entertained the congregation’s meetings for many years.

This congregation was served mostly by students and vicars. Andrew Kasén and later Erik Winquist led the meetings during intervals. These pastors served: Axel Edwards 1914-1917 and 1925-1925, Herman Myhrman 1919-20 and 1917-28, also P. Ockerström during the years 1937-1939 and 1947-48. At later times the pastor at the Baptist congregation in Iron Mountain or Crystal Falls has also served the congregation at Felch.

The number of members has seldom been large. In 1916 it was 36, with 60 children entered in Sunday School; 1921 numbers were 46 and 50; 1939 numbers 42 and 20. Since then the number of members has gradually decreased to only 8 (1962), because most of the older members died and the younger ones moved because of economic conditions, mostly to Chicago, but also to other industrial places in Michigan and California. About 100 people have belonged to the congregation from its beginning until 1962.

In 1909 a small church was built at Felchbacken, where most of the members lived. In 1920 when the economical outlook of the place was fairly bright a large auditorium was built as well as a basement for social gatherings. With only one religious service a month, the church is presently a monument to the old immigrants’ work and spiritual aspirations.

From “Finlandssvenskar i America” – 1972, kapitel II Orts-och lokalhistoria, s. 165-184.

Notes

  1. John Häggblom’s comments in shortened form
  2. Information by Alina Wager
  3. Stenius, p. 98.
  4. John Anderson from Pedersöre, who worked at a smelting works in Manistique in 1891-1893, wrote in his essay Till Främmande Land: The number of members (in Swedish Baptist congregation) .. a half a hundred, mostly native Swedes but also Norse and Finlands-Swedes. Of the last named are some families found at the place who lived a long time there and lived in some wooden huts in the outskirts of the city, a place that is probably called Indiantown.
  5. Häggblom’s information.
  6. History of Runeberg Lodge Nr. 27 of Manistique, Mich. In Leading Star, April 1958. This history, written by Charles Nelson of Manistique, looks at the organizations in Thompson and Manistique. Remaining in the organization were Alina Häggblom, John Lindström, Isaac Mickelsen, Mrs. Edla Carlson, John Häggbom, Andrew Carlson, Hanna Berglund and Victor Carlson.
  7. Ibid. Other names in the organization: John Carlson, Abraham Sidbeck, Wihelm Mattlin, John Mattson, Josef Johnson and Alfred Söderman.
  8. Nord. 11.1.1940.
  9. Ibid. 13.4.1939.
  10. Written information by John S. Back, well-known countryman in Escanaba.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Nord. 26.9.1935.
  13. Stenius, p. 56.
  14. Ibid. p. 58-59.
  15. Nord. 13.4.1939. Remaining in leadership: Charles F. Franzén, John Bosk, A. J. Anderson, Gust Johnson, J. S. Anderson, John Ström, Gust. West, Oscar Johnson, Lydia Kivimäki, Anna Ström, Annie A. Ström and Hanna Mattson.
  16. Ibid. 21.11.1957.
  17. Information by C. H. Beck of Escanaba.
  18. FA 25.10.1934; jfr. Nord. 3.12.1953.
  19. FA 24.3.1927.
  20. Information by John S. Back.
  21. Silfversten, Finlands Swedes, p. 278.
  22. Information by John S. Back.
  23. Hals, p. 103.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Nord. 1.4.1948.
  26. Stenius, p. 40.
  27. Ibid, p. 42. In 1907 belonging to the organization Henry Martinson, John Styris, John Carlson, Ida Ström, Edla Söderman, Isaac Jackson, Charlles Holm, Chares Ström, Mrs. Hanna Jackson and August Anderson.
  28. Häls, p. 105.
  29. Nord. 8.12.1949.
  30. Ibid. 16.5.1935.
  31. 50 years of Christian Service, pp. 37-39; 60 Years of Christian Service, pp. 33-35.
  32. Häls, p. 105.
  33. FA 22.11.1934.
  34. Nord. 28.9.1950
  35. Oral information to author in July 1941.
  36. Nord. 28.8.1940.
  37. Information in author’s material.
  38. Author started and was teacher in high school in Felch 1921-11, took part in the church’s work and led the last folk festival 1921. Personal knowledge of the place and the countrymen there included in some of this article. Mrs. Ida Blomquist (nee Siilund from Sisbacka in Purmo) had written biographical information of some people and families; also information about the life and circumstances among the counntrymen. Everything is in author’s material. Not room here for this information. But history is based on it.
  39. Written information by John Blomquist; longer and more detailed information of J. B. and his family by Andrew Ostrand in FA 27.9.1934.
  40. Source for information here about this congregation: Silfversten, Finlands Swedes, pp. 256-285; Minnesalbum 1895-1921, Swedish Ev. Lutheran Metropolitan congregation; and “60th Year Memories” Zion Lutheran Church, Metropolitan, Mich., 1895-1955.
  41. Sten. pp. 50, 52 (picture p. 51.).
  42. Printed source: 50 Years of Christian Stewardship (1951), pp. 24-25; 60 Years of Christian Stewardship (1961), pp. 35-36.

1. John Häggblom from Molpe in Korsnäs has written biographical information of most of our countrymen and their families in Thompson and Manistique. There is not room to include the material here.


Translation by June Pelo


Reference material


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