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They Gave Their Home Village a New Look

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– Terjärv House Became an American Copy

When Emil Granqvist came home to Högnabba from America, he stood outside his own house. He had money and the knowledge that he acquired in America and wanted to build a new house after spending several years in America. He said “Build a house for me like you had built in America.”

Hannes Byström house at Nabba
And Skalloback-Josef did as Emil requested. He built it from memory and it stands there today as a memorial to the style that returning emigrants brought home with them. Josef was one of the many who changed the appearance of their home village. At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, many of them went to the land in the west with the thought that after a few years they would return home.

They went to the Bronx in New York where most Terjärv emigrants settled. Times in the Bronx were good for them and most of them worked in the construction trade. There were so many of them there that they had their own church and had their own people in the labor union. Ede Björk, son of Alfred Ericsson Djupsund, born at Timmerbacka in Terjärv, was chairman of the carpenter local in New York in 1900. Before him, his father Alfred held a prominent position in the same union.

When a young man from Terjärv came to the Bronx he was taken in hand by his countrymen. He lived with them for a while and was placed with a work team. There was always a place for willing workers and the men were not slow to recommend a “greenhand” to a vacant job. The older experienced construction workers imparted their knowledge to the new arrivals so that they could learn the trade.

There was a tough lesson to learn at the building site. The bosses didn’t want bunglers and would not tolerate half-done work. It was best to take a little more time and the results were perfect. Terjärv people had a reputation of being first-class interior carpenters and masons. They also had to learn the language. About 20-30 of the bosses from Terjärv were familiar with English terminology – or to be more exact, American-Terjärv dialect.

Although the emigrants learned new trades, they also came in contact with a new style of building, construction methods and material. And when they returned to their home village they used that knowledge to begin a strong American influence in their construction work. Terjärv received a lot of new, well-trained workers. One could say that in the 1920s and 1930s, four or five years in America was the best trade school for Terjärv people. During those years they had learned the construction methods and interior carpentry work, and acquired the best craftsmanship. Many went over to America and stayed there, and a great many of them created a secure future there.

Those who returned to Terjärv also had their future secured. Their professional skills served them well when they returned. They brought with them an entirely new style of construction. In olden days a house was built of logs and timber using the basic building methods that were established long ago. When the new wind blew over the Atlantic it became clear there was a confict between the traditional building methods and modernity.

Carpenters had the knowledge to rapidly do a first-class job. The new houses needed to be built with planed boards that were nailed on the outside and inside of 2x4 unplaned wood. Houses went from log houses to houses with insulation in the outer walls. The outer walls were filled with dry sawdust that was pounded to form a uniform filling.

The slope of the roof was changed. The pitch or angle was 4x12 inches normally, but in order to have a better runoff, the angle was increased to 5x12 inches – a considerably steeper roof than was normally found on a wooden farm house.

At the front exterior of the house there would be a handrail on the stairs leading to the entry door, which should be a double-glass door with a roof over it and often a balcony. There was an entrance hall with a kitchen to the right and a bedroom to the left. Straight ahead there was a sitting room and to the left of that was a stairway to the upper floor with a finished interior.

In the living room, as it is called, one can see that the owner had been in America and learned how it should look when the house is finished. There are several houses in Terjärv that have the American style, and Terjärv carpenters built them.

The walls are panels that are painted either with stamped colors or the panels are of hardwood that has been painted and framed with beautiful moldings. The interior ceilings are covered with pasteboard that is whitewashed. Around the windows and doors are wooden moldings.

When the emigrants returned from America they had shipped interior details and furniture to Finland. That meant the houses they would build for themselves were identical to the American houses inside and out. They had ornamental dining tables and buffets, kitchen fittings and a bedroom suite in the new style. And one remarkable thing: entrance to the living room was through two doors with panes of glass “made in USA”.

These interiors were found only in the houses that the returning emigrants built for themselves. This new construction during the entire first half of the century came to characterize the American inspired house. It was a house built with a steeper roof. The house was very striking and colorful. Now houses are painted in light colors with moderate decorative carving, often with a veranda and a balcony.

One effect that the American style house brought with it was the increased need for planed wood. Kortjärvi mentioned that Djupsjöbacka, which was owned by Kortjärvi farmers, understood this and in 1907 they obtained the first planer machine. They hired Mats Leander Forsén who some years later started a new industry.

Max H. Furu

From “Emigrantvägar” by Hilding Vidjeskog and Ole Granholm

English translation by June Pelo


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