Not Quite a City
New Book About a Place Called Esko
About the Project
“The historian,” said novelist E.L. Doctorow, “can tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” This new book will do both, fusing well-documented history with stories and recollections of the people who lived through good times and bad in a small northeastern Minnesota community.
While this web site provides brief descriptions of the book and the project, it is also an invitation to the reader to become involved.
What To Call It?
For a long time, the book’s working title was “A Place Called Esko,” subtitled “A History of Thomson Township.”
For awhile, the committee was leaning toward “The Valley of the Midway.” It has a nice ring, but the reality is that nearly half of the township’s watershed is outside of the Midway River’s influence and there was concern about some residents feeling excluded.
“Esko: The Sauna Suburb” had some early advocates, but it, too, was deemed exclusionary because even though the community was developed mainly by Finns and Finnish-Americans, the majority of today’s residents are not of Finnish heritage.
Another temporary front-runner: “Let’s Go, Esko!" The battle cry of the high school athletic teams, it was also an expression used years ago by Finnish-accented rural residents when proposing a trip into “town.” But for some committee members, it was either too limited by its connection with sports or too frivolous.
Now, finally, we've agreed on a title. It was probably too obvious to see it immediately. We're going to call it by the name the community was originally known: "Esko's Corner." The subtitle, "A History of Esko and Thomson Township" will not change. So there you have it: "Esko's Corner."
How It Began:
The Esko Historical Society held its first Esko Heritage Day in 2007. Presenters offered a wealth of interesting material, prompting some attendees to urge the society to capture the community’s story in book form.
There had been one book, “History of the Thomson Farming Area” by John A. Mattinen, in 1935, but it existed only in Finnish until translated and republished in 2000. Another, Francis Carroll’s “Crossroads in Time: A History of Carlton County,” published in 1987, provides an excellent, but limited, history of Esko and Thomson Township.
So in 2008, interested parties were convened by the society and a steering committee was organized to shepherd a book project to completion.
Committee members have sifted through government records, historical society archives, regional libraries (including, it seems, miles of old newspaper microfilm) and numerous family journals and letters. More than 100 interviews have been conducted with past and present area residents.
The writing process is nearly completed. By the spring of 2013, the first definitive history of Esko and Thomson Township should become a reality.
Most of the edited manuscript is now in the hands our designer and production coordinator, award-winning author and publisher Tony Dierckins of Duluth. Meanwhile, we're finishing preliminary proofreading and tying up loose ends. We'll let you know when we have an anticipated publication date. We appreciate your patience.
A Living History
The history of Esko and Thomson Township is not a mere recitation of cold facts and dates lifted from musty tomes in area libraries. It is, first and foremost, a people’s history, a social history—recollections of folks who lived, worked and played here.
Although it is not a history of families per se, there are family tales handed down through generations as well as stories of colorful characters (“Housu Maija,” or “Pants Mary,” among them) and unusual events (the day the notorious John Dillinger is said to have stopped for repairs at Moses Service Station).
There are features sure to surprise even longtime residents: The locations of pathways used by Native Americans and Voyageurs, the existence of an ancient volcano (known in geologic circles as “the Esko Magnetic Anomaly”), the fact that the first industry was not logging or milling but mining (there were slate mines on the St. Louis River).
Descendants of survivors of the Great Fire of 1918 recall the trauma and terror of that disaster, while people who endured the Great Depression describe its impact on daily life—or, as someone also said, “What Depression? We were so poor we didn’t notice.”
As there must be, there is a big section on farming, especially dairy farming. Not that long ago the township was noted statewide as a dairy center, and farms, large and small, dominated the landscape.
Esko’s schools and scholars have been the pride of the community for generations. Emerging from the ashes of the 1918 Fire, the independent school district became a model for others, and it continues to reap state and regional awards for academic and extracurricular excellence. A major section of the book is devoted to the schools.
The chapter on Esko's businesses will stir many memories as we revisit the Arrowhead Co-Op Creamery, Mattinen's Barber Shop (and post office), Juntti's stores (including the one in Harney), Hank's Cafe, Moses Chevrolet, the Co-Op Store, Smith's Hatchery, S.R. Bergstedt's various enterprises, Kinnunen Lumber and many more...plus, in more recent years, Widdes Feed and Farm Supply, Townsend's Sugar Camp, and Quartermaster Buffalo.
And there is sports coverage, to be sure. Recognition of Esko’s name throughout the state and region is often tied directly to the perennial success of its teams and athletes: the Eskomos.
Esko’s evolution into today’s lively little suburb is addressed in full, as is so much more (early logging and sawmill operations, the township's roads and how they got their names, Jay Cooke State Park,the FFA, the impact of two world wars plus Korea and Vietnam, the Locker Plant, the impact of I-35), but for now, suffice to say the book also will be lavishly illustrated with photos, maps and artwork.
The producers are hopeful it will become another of Esko’s many treasures.
We invite you to get a little sampling of what's to come by checking out this website's Photos and Excerpts pages.
And we also invite you to help us enhance the physical quality of this work by making a donation, either in your own name or in memory of an individual or a family. The Esko Historical Society is a registered non-profit corporation, so all donations are tax-deductible.
But enough for the commercial message. Thank you for visiting our website...and check it out from time to time because we'll be posting an anticipated publication date in the near future.