The Esko Historical Museum
SHOWCASE OF THE ESKO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
There’s more to the Esko Historical Society than the cluster of old buildings west of the town’s lone traffic light, but the museum complex is indeed the society’s image, its signature—in a real sense, its heart and soul.
Open on Sunday afternoons in the summer (except for group appointments), the museum is a must-see for anyone interested in or curious about the origins of rural northern Minnesota.
The museum is open June-August, Sundays, 2-5pm, or by calling for an appointment: 218-879-9450, 218-393-1589, or 218-879-4878. Museum entry is free. There are eight buildings to explore.
On visiting the site, one may park to the east of the post office (see sign). From the street side, the most prominent features will be a granite monument and a red schoolhouse—provided you can ignore (but you can’t, if it’s springtime) the ornamental crab trees.
The stately monument was the first tangible tribute to the community’s heritage by the historical society’s ancestor organization, the Finnish American Memorial Foundation. The FAMF was incorporated in December 1952. Its first officers and directors (see * below) were elected in June 1953.
Edgar Olson, artist, farmer and descendant of a pioneer family, designed the monument. Unveiled at a dedication ceremony in 1956, its artwork features tall pines alongside a river, a log cabin and, in the foreground, a man laboring behind ox and plow. Between the man and the cabin there’s a stump, imbedded with an ax.
There are two inscriptions, one in English, one in Finnish. The English version: “In memory of the early pioneers who arrived here at the head of the lakes in 1872, and thereafter, and through many a hardship and sacrifice, established a solid and firm foundation in our communities so that we who are here today would have something solid to stand on.”
· The 1897 Schoolhouse, among of the first of the township’s one-room schools, was moved to the site in the late 1950s. In the belfry is an old school bell preserved for many years by the Esko Mutual Insurance Company (now the RAM Mutual Insurance Company) and donated in 1960 by the Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society.
The old school, filled with historic documents and artifacts, is one of seven buildings on the site. The others are:
· The Palkie Grist Mill, built in 1878 on the Midway River for grinding rye into flour. The mill was donated first by the Palki Mill Committee in 1948 to the Minnesota Finnish-American Society and then to the FAMF in 1962. (The mill’s namesake was township pioneer Simeon Palki, whose family name was later Americanized to Palkie.)
· The Kangas Log Farm House, also known as the Pioneer Log Home, built in 1898 and donated in 1965 by Waino and Pearl (Kangas) Liimatainen. Additional land was required for the building and was donated by Otto Juntunen Jr.
· The “Riihi,” or grain-drying shed, built by John Sorila (originally Sariala), a Finnish immigrant who in 1887 purchased land for a farm on what today is the Sorila Road. When family descendants sold the farm in 1984, the granary was donated to the museum.
· The “Savu Sauna,” or smoke sauna, so-named because smoke from a rock-enclosed fire pit could escape only through a small opening near the peak of the roof. (See description in “Excerpts.”)
· The “Liiteri,” or storage shed, which houses a horse-drawn schoolbus, a sleigh, buggies and early farm machinery and tools.
· The Open Shelter, constructed in 2001 to protect a 1938 D-8 Caterpillar snowplow donated by the Thomson Township Board of Supervisors. It took three years and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor in contractor Gene Puline’s shop to restore the giant machine, which may be viewed at any time.
The Esko Historical Society owns and, through its dedicated volunteers, operates the museum while also striving to help educate and inform the public about the community’s rich heritage.