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Esko's Corner

An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township


Esko Historical Society desires to construct a building on their current museum site allowing persons to view or listen to their vast collection of the area's history. 

The building to be heated and cooled for year around use. Please watch for additional information to come shortly.

Questions and Comments may be sent to eskohistadm@centurylink.net or Esko Historical Society, P.O Box 83, Esko, MN. 55733

Donations will be thankfully received send to P.O box 83. Esko. MN. 55733

Esko's Corner
An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township 

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 does 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 book project 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 immediately. We called it "Esko's Corner,"  the name by which the community was originally known. 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, and some of them urged 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 into print.

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 were shipped to the printer in early November 2013. The books arrived on January 8 and now, finally, the first definitive history of Esko and Thomson Township is a reality. 



"Thomson Township's Night of Terror," subtitled "The Great 1918 Fire," was published in August 2018.  The book unveils new or long-forgotten information about the impact of the Fire on the township and includes several previously unpublished memoirs and family stories, plus about 25 photos. It expands on the story in the "Esko's Corner" history published in 2014.  It sells for $16 (or $20 if mailed.  Local sales outlets are Esko Self-Service, Finn and Feathers Salon, Hair Designs by Sherri, Widdes Feed & Farm, Esko Liquors and Wirtz 66, and in Cloquet, the Family Tradition restaurant and Carlton County Historical Society. In Scanlon Trapper Pete's Steakhouse, in Wrenchall The Brickyard, in Duluth The Art Dock, Lake Superior Magazine, Zenith Bookstore. Also at the Jay Cooke State Park Gift Shop and in Carlton, Gateway Goods Gift Shop. Or send a note to Esko Historical Society, P.O. Box 83, Esko, MN 55733. 


By August 2018, some 2,100 copies of "Esko's Corner, An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township" were in circulation through sales, promotions and vendor consignments.

Reader feedback has been highly gratifying.  Comments ranged from "We were quite blown away" (by a former Esko resident) to "It feeds the intellect and the soul" (by a lifetime member of the community).

Designed by award-winning Duluth historian Tony Dierckins and printed in Minnesota by Bang Printing of Brainerd, the book won second place in Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards general non-fiction for 2013. 

 Books may be ordered by mail (see “Order Info” page) or by visiting the area vendors listed below.


ESKO: Esko Liquors, Esko Self Service, Eskomo Pizza Pies, Finn & Feather Hair Designs, Hair Designs by Sherri, Widdes Feed & Farm Supply, Wirtz Service.

CLOQUET: Bearaboo Coffee Shop, Bergquist Import & Gift Shop, Carlton County Historical Museum, Creative Colors, Family Tradition, Kamari Gift Shop. 

SCANLON: Trapper Pete's Steakhouse. 

JAY COOKE STATE PARK: Park Headquarters gift shop.

DULUTH: The Bookstore at Fitger’s, Lake Superior Magazine, Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, The Art Dock at DeWitt-Seitz. 

E-mail questions should be directed to dwhelberg@aol.com.

A Living History

Esko's Corner 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.

There are family tales that have been 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.”

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, Hank's Cafe, Moses Chevrolet, the Co-op, 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, Quarter Master Buffalo and Barnes Care Assisted Living. 

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 camps and sawmills, 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.

The book is also lavishly illustrated with about 160 photos, many in color, and nine topical maps. The producers are hopeful that Esko's Corner will become another of Thomson Township's many treasures.


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