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.
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 a while, 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.
But then we finally hit on a title. It was probably too obvious to see it immediately. We're calling it the name by which the community was originally known: "Esko's Corner." The subtitle, "An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township," did 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 and a steering committee was organized to shepherd a book project to completion.
Committee members 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 were conducted with past and present area residents.
The writing process was finally done in the spring of 2013, followed by the design and then a few months of final editing, proofreading and, ultimately, indexing. The manuscript and images, some 160 of them, were shipped to the printer in early November 2013. By the end of the year, the first definitive history of Esko and Thomson Township should become a reality.
Finally (and mercifully, for those directly involved), Esko’s Corner, An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township, is at the printers. The long-awaited book—replete with 160 photos and nine maps—spans 400 pages between hard covers and a dust jacket. It was designed by award-winning Duluth historian Tony Dierckins and is being printed in Brainerd, Minnesota, by Bang Printing, a quality book manufacturer since 1899. The book is expected to be in our hands in late December. An order form will be posted on this website in the next few days, and we’ll also be announcing a book-launching event, probably in late December at the Thomson Town Hall. Stay tuned. And thank you for 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 stopped for repairs at Moses Service Station and the night some local farm boys beat the fabled Harlem Globetrotters in basketball).
There are features sure to surprise even longtime residents: The locations of pathways used by American Indians and Voyageurs, the existence of an ancient volcano, the fact that the first industry was not logging or milling but mining (there were slate mines on the St. Louis River) and, in what promises to be a well-thumbed chapter, a history of local road names.
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's a big chapter 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 chapter is devoted to the schools, including sidebars on horse-drawn schoolbuses, the Esko Cannery and the state's first Future Farmers of America program.
The chapter on Esko's businesses will stir many memories as we revisit the founding of RAM Insurance, Arrowhead Creamery, Mattinen's Barbershop (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, Meadowbrook Dairy and many more...plus, in more recent years, Widdes Feed and Farm Supply, Hammarlund Landscaping, Townsend's Sugar Camp and Quarter Master Buffalo.
And there is a lot of 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, a trip down the Midway River, Jay Cooke State Park, the impact of two world wars, the Esko Locker Plant, the founding of the Esko Volunteer Fire Department.
But for now, suffice to say the book is also 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.
But enough for the commercial message. Thank you for visiting our website. And check it out from time to time as we post the date for the book-launching and, for nonresidents, how to place your orders.