Following are some randomly selected stories as well as other items that may be used in the forthcoming history of Esko and Thomson Township. As of November 2012, the manuscript is being edited. Watch this space for additional samplers as the project moves towards completion.
ESKO’S CORNER: A ONE-MINUTE HISTORY
On May 7, 1926, “The Spotlight,” the student newspaper that served the community for 60 years, ran a story headlined “Growth of Esko’s Corner.” Published the day after the Arrowhead Co-Op Creamery opened, it exuded pride in the fledgling community.
“Fifty years ago when our forefathers and parents came to live here this was one mass of wilderness. Gradually, the forest was cleared, homes built, land tilled, cattle raised and roads built.
“A school was needed for teaching the children, so a one-room school was built. To support the needs of the community, Esko’s store and then Hjalmer Mattinen’s store was erected.
"After the fire of 1918, the Lincoln School was erected to replace the one-room school. The children did not have to walk anymore for horse-driven buses hauled them to school. Horses needed shoeing, therefore a blacksmith shop was built.
“The people were not contented with gravel roads, thus the pavement was made. People of the community are successful farmers and cattle raisers. Therefore the creamery was built which opened for business Thursday, May 6, 1926.
“Within the last few weeks we find a garage, a shoemakers’s shop and two homes being completed to add further to the growth of Esko’s Corner.”
EARLY SETTLERS’ SHOPPING CENTER
The Midsummer’s Day Flood of 2012 caused enormous damage in the City of Thomson, the tiny community south of Thomson Township. When the Thomson Reservoir spilled over its embankments on the city’s north side, one of the buildings that took a direct hit was the 1891 Ruikka Store. Whether it sees another summer remains questionable. The following is excerpted from a story about the store in the business chapter:
In the 1890s and early 20th century, local settlers went to the Ruikka Store in Thomson about once a month to get “dry goods, clothing, furnishings, hats and caps, shoes, groceries, hardware, farm implements, patent medicines and many miscellaneous articles.” It was a day’s roundtrip by horse and wagon, but they went because the township did not have a store of its own until after the first decade of the 1900s.
The store opened in 1891 and was owned by Henry Ruikka, a Finn who came to the U.S. as a 20-year-old in 1881. He had a stint as a railroad worker, presumably with the Lake Superior & Mississippi, and then spent nearly 10 years as a sawmill worker, most likely at Thomson’s big A.M. Miller mill. While there he “accumulated a small capital and [became] familiar with the language and customs of the country.”
In 1908, the Carlton Country Vidette described the store as “always prosperous,” saying it required the services of several clerks. Ruikka, father of 14 children (eight were alive in 1908), was said to be Thomson’s “leading merchant citizen.”
‘MARBLE SEASON,’ 1926
The following was printed in “The Spotlight,” Lincoln High School’s student newspaper, on April 9, 1926, in the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade Section:
“The marble season is beginning and the marbles are flying fast. All round the school a ring and a line is seen. At noontime, sixth grade boys play marbles with the eighth grade boys. The champion in the sixth grade is Walter Himango, and in the eighth grade is Roy Ropponen. I think marbles will be played for the rest of the school days this year.”
The paper was published every two weeks, and the next item appeared to have been inserted at deadline as breaking news: “(Roy Ropponen had tough luck in marble playing Tuesday because he was ‘skinned all day’ by Walter Himango.)”
HAY CREEK, A MIDWAY TRIBUTARY
Midway River is described in the book as “the dominant geographic feature within Thomson Township.” In a chapter that follows the river’s northeast-southwest course almost mile by mile, Rodney Ikola stops along the way to discuss natural and historical features. Below is part of his description of Hay Creek, one of the river’s tributaries.
Hay Creek flows into Midway River halfway between Canosia and Marks Roads. The creek has been known by several names. John A. Mattinen in his book,“History of the Thomson Farming Area,” refers to it in Finnish as Heinäpuro; Hay Creek is a direct English translation. Older Finns usually called it Majavanoja, which translates as Beaver ditch or Beaver creek.
Hay Creek apparently derived its name from the large amount of hay cut along it during the township’s early years. An area surrounding the mouth of Hay Creek provided hay for many of the settlers. Farther upstream, where the creek crosses the Stark Road, extensive meadows also produced large supplies of hay. At one time, 14 hay sheds dotted the creek banks in this area.
The creek enters the Midway at a place called “Deep Hole”. This was a favorite fishing spot, together with another hole where the Brooks-Scanlon Railroad crossed the creek. Deep Hole was also used for swimming but was not easily accessible so it never became as popular as other swimming holes along the river.
WHY IS THAT ROAD CALLED…?
In what promises to be one of the books’ unique contributions to local lore, Rodney Ikola, a 1957 Esko graduate, writes about the origins of township’s road names. More than a recital of namesakes, the chapter unearths long-forgotten tales and anecdotes about families who once lived on the roads and how the roads got the names they have today. Two samplings:
This road was originally a long driveway leading east from Church Road, terminating at property owned by Erick Raatikka, an immigrant from Oulu, Finland. In 1884 Raatikka sold the property to Tuomas Holm (Holmi) and returned to Finland. Tuomas Holm was born in Vähäkyrö, Finland and immigrated to Thomson village in 1881. In 1888 he moved to his property on the road with his wife, Elizabeth Poutu. Tuomas and Elizabeth’s son, Jack, was born on the farm and took over operation of the farm after his father’s death. Jack married Annie Kivimaki who had immigrated to the Cloquet-Esko area from Turtola, Finland.
Early documents refer to this road as the Gustafson Road. The Charles Gustafson family, immigrants from Finland, purchased property along this road and established a dairy farm with especially impressive stone barns. Gustafson died a tragic death when he fell from atop a hay load onto a concrete highway.
Victor Maki was born in Kauhajoki, Finland, and moved to the U.S. where he met his wife, Fanni Kortesniemi, from Pello, Finland. They lived in Middle River, Minnesota, prior to purchasing the former Gustafson farm and becoming the namesake for the road. Expanding the farm, they established the Clover Hill Dairy, which supplied milk to numerous customers in Scanlon and Cloquet.
____________________ FIRST THERE WAS A STORE...
Robert D. Esko, a 1952 Esko graduate, is a retired educator residing in South St. Paul. A member of the book project’s steering committee, Bob has written extensively about the township’s early days. The following is condensed from a biographical piece about his grandfather, Alex Esko, who built a farm on the Midway River in 1895:
An announcement in the December 26, 1919, Cloquet Pine Knot proclaimed that “Fritz Esko, one of the sons of Alex Esko, of the Town of Thomson, has opened up a general store at the junction of the Scanlon Road with the Duluth-Twin City highway. He expects to carry a complete line of merchandise and will deal in country produce.” With this brief announcement, the stage was set for a chain of events that eventually led to the naming of the community.
The location of this store, built by Fritz’s father, was important. The Scanlon Road, later to become part of U.S. Highway 61, ran east from Scanlon about three miles to the Duluth-Twin City Highway. The latter came north from Thomson and then, at its junction with the Scanlon Road, swung east toward Duluth.
By 1920, the first full year of the store’s operation, automobiles were rapidly replacing ox carts and horse-drawn wagons. Travelers from Duluth proceeding to the Twin Cities along the Duluth-Twin City Highway were often advised to turn south at “Esko’s Corner Store.” Or, if they were going to Cloquet, they were told to take Scanlon Road past “Esko’s Corner.”
The junction of the two routes soon began to develop into a busy crossroads with one business after another setting up shop at the junction, especially along the east-west road.
POND MONKEYS & BULL SLIDES
POND MONKEYS & BULL SLIDES POND MONKEYS & BULL SLIDES POND MONKEYS & BULL SLIDES
Danish-born lumberman Andreas M. Miller completed construction of a large sawmill alongside the Midway River near Thomson in 1871, a year after the opening of the Lake Superior & Mississippi River Railroad. The mill was just upstream of where the Midway flows into the St. Louis River at a site now below the waters of the Thomson Reservoir. The following is taken from a chapter on the township’s logging history.
[A. M.] Miller’s sawmill was described as “modern in every way and was one of the largest of that period.” It consisted of the sawmill and a large planning mill and had the capability of producing shingles and lath. A dam just downstream backed up the river to form a mill pond (also called a hot pond). Logs driven down the river would collect in this pond, awaiting movement into the mill. Normally a ramp called a “bull-slide” would lead from the pond into the mill. Two men known as “pond-monkeys” would maneuver logs from the pond onto a continuous chain called a “bull-chain” which moved along the bull-slide and took the logs to the saws. Power was provided by burning sawdust and slabs. Exhaust steam from the engine was run into the hot pond to prevent it from freezing in the winter. A high smokestack dispersed smoke and sparks from the burning process, but the threat of hot embers falling on the mill was always present. To prevent a catastrophic fire, barrels filled with water were placed on top of the wide crown of the sawmill roof. If fire broke out, workers would scramble to the roof and tip the barrels to try to put out the blaze.
GIRLS IN SPORTS: A DIFFERENT WORLD
Consider these recent feats by Esko High School girls: In the spring of 2010, Kate Shelerud won the state Class A 800-meter run. In the fall, Marissa Shady won the state Class A cross country championship. In February 2011, Keely Deadrick scored 39 points in a basketball game, the most ever by an Esko girl, and in the next game she scored 41. In March, Savanna Trapp broke the state’s single-season record for blocked shots. In November 2012, Esko's girls won the State Class A cross country championship. For stark contrast, here are the Girls' Athletic Association (GAA) highlights for the 1947-48 school year from “The Lincoln Log” of 1948:
“The organization’s major activities included selling magazines, soliciting funds for the Red Cross, and honoring the basketball boys at a banquet.
“Other activities have been the purchasing of a large mirror and helping the cheerleaders by acting as a pep club.
“The girls have had their activity period twice a month. During these periods they have played a volley-ball tournament with the Women’s Physical Fitness Class. They have also had a badminton and ping pong tournament.
“In addition the girls have also had time for fun and have had a number of parties including an initiation and bowling party. The final activities for the year will be the annual GAA banquet and the seniors’ cabin party.”
MIDWAY RIVER MEMORIES
For many years, Gloria Murto wrote a “Memories” column for a community newspaper, Esko Corner. When her health declined, she asked others to fill in. Following are two vignettes from an April 2003 column by Dottie (Juntunen) Liimatainen. She called it “The Four Seasons of the Midway River” and remembered her childhood on the family farm at Meadowbrook Dairy. The dairy closed in 1989, but as Mrs. Liimatainen poetically observed in her preface, the Midway still “meanders through the meadow below the farmhouse.”
‘Bet You Don't Dare…’
“Haymaking started in early July. Ray [Juntunen] remembers a time when a horse-drawn hay load was rumbling over the bridge. Oscar Juntunen [eventual Carlton County sheriff], no family relation, worked as a hired hand on our farm as a young man. Uncle Henry offered Oscar 50 cents if he dared to jump off the load into the river fully clothed. Fifty cents was a lot of money then…so he did. Brother Ray followed for a quarter.”
‘Don't Call Me 'Til Spring’
“The tomcat mysteriously disappeared one fall. To our surprise and joy he returned in the spring, fat, sassy and well-rested. He again took over his lordship over the other cats. But came the fall and again he was gone. That winter, my Grandfather Joseph [Juntunen], on his usual cross-country ski trip across the river to visit his neighbor Matt Pykkonen, spotted a familiar cat lounging behind Matt’s kitchen stove. We determined our tomcat smartly chose to spend his winters leisurely and luxuriously pampered and catnapping in the warmth of a neighbor’s home. He continued his winter vacations during the remainder of his years, coming back to our farm for summers.”
WHEN PUMPING GAS MEANT…JUST THAT
Dick Smith, a 1955 Esko graduate, spent much of his younger days working in the Smith Hatchery, owned by his parents from the early 1930s to 1948 on the site of today’s RAM Mutual Insurance Company parking lot. Dick's father, A.D. Smith, had been an Esko teacher, basketball coach and principal while his mother, Alice, also was a teacher in Esko and, later, at other area schools. More on the hatchery in the book, but for now, here are some of Dick Smith’s boyhood memories from the World War II years:
"I remember people buying gas at the pumps out in front of the small store we ran in conjunction with the chicken hatchery. We had to collect the ration stamps for each purchase and match them to the gallons they purchased. The pumps did not have electric power and the gas was pumped up into the glass bowls by a hand pump, and then ran into the tank or gas can by gravity feed.
"Secondly I remember my Dad ordering a new Chevrolet from Liupakka Chevrolet sometime around 1942 or 1943. The car was either delivered or was in stock at Liupakka’s but due to the War, we could not take ownership of it as it may have to be taken back and melted down for steel to support the War. I would go down to the garage and look at the car through the windows and wish it could be ours. Finally we were able to take possession of it because my parents ran a business and needed the car to support the business. It was then re-titled as a 1946 Chevrolet."
GEORGE JOHNSON: ‘WILD SMOKE’
They called the game “town ball” when nearly every summer men and boys came off the farms to play amateur baseball. Oldtimers especially remember the seven ball-playing sons of Matt Johnson, but George is the one whose name comes up first. Born in 1916, George played in the 1930s and '40s, first for a team in Harney and then in Esko. Some say he could throw harder and hit farther than anyone they ever saw. Jim Klobuchar, a giant in Minnesota journalism for 30 years and the author of 22 books, once included an anecdote about George in a Minneapolis Star Tribune column, excerpted here:
“I decided that all things were possible when I was 17. I played shortstop for the community team in Ely. George Johnson was pitching for Esko.
“George threw smoke. He was tall and big-boned. He looked impassive and judgmental, like an executioner. Everybody gulped watching George in the warmups. He might have been have been a potato farmer six days a week. On Sundays he threw wild smoke. If they had radar guns, he would have clocked past 90 miles an hour, but it was hard to tell, because sometimes he hit the catcher’s mitt and sometimes the grandstand.
“The first time, I stuck my bat out and hit the ball 350 feet into the glove of the surprised left fielder. The next time I struck out. The bases were loaded and I had a 3-2 count in the sixth. I vowed I would not strike out. I dug in and George threw, and I never saw it. I was lying on the ground and my right arm was ringing and twitching. George’s ball streaked over my left arm and hit the right biceps, and I never saw it. The stitch marks were there for six months afterward.
“If George’s wild smoke didn’t kill me, all things were possible.”
Duane Arntson, an Esko resident since 1946 who played ball in his native Cloquet from the late 1930s to 1960, says George pitched briefly for St. Cloud in the professional Northern League. In one game, he struck out 15 batters—and walked 18.
BIG BOULDERS, LOWLY STONE BOATS
Dairy farming was the life’s work for many residents from the earliest days until the last quarter of the 20th century. After committee members recorded several meetings with long-time farmers, and following extensive research, Phil Johnson wrote a colorful chapter that included this tidbit about the rigors of clearing the land. Johnson, a 1966 Esko graduate, is a retired Proctor English and journalism teacher.
An enduring testament to the back-breaking work of earlier generations is still visible where the township’s old hayfields and pastures have not yet been replaced by housing developments and returning woodlands.
Rock piles, usually 20 to 30 feet in diameter and 3 to 4 feet high, dot the remaining open landscape. Their placement was often dictated by a huge unmovable boulder. Before backhoes and modern hydraulics, farmers would often dig by hand around and partially under such a boulder, coaxing it deeper into the soil. Rather than struggling against such a barrier, they would simply leave it in place, covering it with smaller rocks.
Every spring before planting, farmers would hitch an ox or a horse to a “stone boat” and haul it through their fields, picking up rocks pushed up by the winter’s frost and depositing them on piles in the fields or around the perimeters. The stone boat, or kivireki in Finnish, was either a low wooden platform fastened to naturally shaped timbers, somewhat like a toboggan, or a slightly round-bottomed sheet of metal.
The rocks also had multiple practical uses. One of the most common was as as foundation material for houses, saunas, sheds and barns. Nothing went to waste in the pioneer era. _____________________________________________________________________________________
LAUREN HIUKKA’S IMPACT ON JOHN GLENN
Family stories have a way of improving as time goes by—this one, you might say, grew astronomically.
Lauren Hiukka, a 1940 Esko High School graduate, was on the Duluth Junior College boxing team before becoming a naval aviation cadet during World War II. While in flight training, he continued to box and once squared off against John Glenn, the future U.S. senator who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the earth when he piloted a spacecraft around the globe three times.
“The fight didn’t last long,” Hiukka recalled in the summer of 2010, “ but I had a fast left hand and got in some pretty good jabs.”
It was one of many memorable moments for Hiukka, a widely known accordionist who also had a 33-year career with U.S. Steel in Morgan Park and Mountain Iron. Hiukka was the featured performer in a local band when only 12 years old, organized his own band (“Lauren and the Rhythm Rascals”) when he was 15, and was a Marine pilot aboard the same aircraft carrier as baseball legend Ted Williams when World War II ended.
But back to John Glenn: As the years have passed, Hiukka said, one of his sons has given the boxing story a slight twist: “Son John has been known to tell his friends that ‘My dad hit John Glenn with a hard left hook…and he went around the world three times.’ ” ___________________________________________________________________________________
MILKING TIME, TWICE A DAY
Each day on a dairy farm followed a certain rhythm. A normal milking schedule was 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Before the introduction of milking machines, all milking was done by hand. As was also customary in Finland, the women, having a gentler touch and smoother hands than the men, did most of the milking.
With the advent of the REA (Rural Electric Association) and the introduction of milking machines on larger farms, it became common for electric power to drop slightly during milking time because so many were drawing energy at the same time. Housewives with electric ranges knew that dinner (or supper, as it was known locally) would just take a little longer.
Every family member had specific chores during milking time and other farm duties as well. There could be no slackers if the farm was to run smoothly and profitably. Children could play ball, swim in the Midway River or Hay Creek, or engage in other childhood pastimes --- but only if their chores were done.
1928: TRYING TO STUDY IN A HORSE-DRAWN BUS
Thirteen girls and one boy, Robert Guss, graduated from Lincoln High School in 1928. The valedictorian was Jane Lindholm, the salutatorian Vieno Oak. One of the school’s first yearbooks, “The Echo” (Maley Huikka, editor-in-chief), was published that year. Included in the Literature Section was this, by senior Mamie Jarvi:
“Bus is coming!” called a youngster.
“Oh, I can’t find my gloves! Where’s a pencil? Get me a handkerchief!” from a high school girl as she runs off to meet the school bus.
“Have you studied American history? I just have to study now.” A horse bus in the winter would be a fairly good place to study if there were no one else in it but yourself. There being others in the bus, you are tempted to talk of other things besides lessons.
“Here we are at the Washington School already and I’ve read only two pages,” remarks one girl who has made an attempt to study.
At the Washington School all the students are transferred to another bus which carries them to Lincoln, and such fun as they have on this journey! First there is such a scrambling for desirable seats, that by the time they are all settled, everyone is almost out of breath.
Then comes the loud call of the bus driver, “Everybody here?” and off they go.
“Now for some studying,” proposes some of the girls, but their attempt is useless, for throughout the bus there is such a bustling of conversation, and down in one corner an exciting game of “If and Then” is going on. Such statements as, “If I had one ear, then I’d be a swell society leader,” provokes the interest of everyone, until the whole bus roars with laughter.
Then suddenly amidst the merry laughter, the bus comes to a standstill. The merriment ceases as each one piles out to push the bus out of the snowdrift.
This done, they all pile in and the fun begins again and remains undisturbed the rest of the way. And how the time does fly!
Before they know it, the bus finally comes to a halt in front of Lincoln, and one by one they hop out of the “old horse bus.”
MR. WINTERQUIST’S FIRST 20 YEARS
Superintendent A. L. Winterquist, who came to Esko in 1919, wrote “A Reminiscence” for “The Lincoln Log,” the school’s biennial yearbook, in 1939. It is condensed for space purposes:
This yearbook will remind the people of Thomson Township of [our] educational progress since 1919 when children attended school at the Town Hall, the National Lutheran Church and the old rural schools. Miss Louise Swenson, Mrs. A. L. Winterquist, Mr. Thomas Harney and Miss Pearl Kuitu were teaching in the district that year, the last of the old rural school days. Four hundred and twelve grade children were enrolled but no high school pupils.
In the fall of 1920, 29 high school pupils were enrolled. Of these, one, Miss Hilda Esko, was a senior. She was graduated in the spring of 1921, the first graduating class of the Thomson Township Public Schools. Since then 259 boys and girls have been graduated.
Some older graduates remember the slow-moving horse-drawn buses. They recall how they left home before seven in the morning and arrived at Lincoln School sometimes as late as ten o’clock, and then left for home about two in the afternoon. There was no extra-curricular transportation. There were few automobiles. Boys and girls walked home from basketball games, parties and programs. Some will recall how we went to basketball games at Cromwell, Barnum, and Moose Lake in the old Model T Ford truck. Sometimes we were sick from carbon monoxide gas, and sometimes we were stuck in the snow drifts. Roads were not snow-plowed.
Now 12 modern motor buses bring pupils to and from school. Motor buses also bring children home from extra-curricular activities, programs and parties. Traditional high school courses have been enriched with practical courses in home economics, industrial training, agriculture and the commercial subjects of shorthand, typewriting and bookkeeping. Throughout this time, beginning in 1920, the extra-curricular activities of 4-H, basketball, band, orchestra, dramatics and glee club have been offered, but since the school began providing transportation, they have grown to be much larger factors than when students had to provide their own means of returning home in the evenings.
This [yearbook] should be a happy reminder to us who have had some part in this progress, that we have but done our duty…
Note: In 1929, after his first 10 years, Mr. Winterquist wrote that the school "is no longer a little school that teaches little children little things, but a people's college with its doors of service open to all—old and young, rich or poor…”
A POST OFFICE—AND A NEW NAME
Following is an article from a May 1935 Carlton County Vidette:
Esko’s Corner Is
To Have Its Own
Esko’s Corner, Minn., May 9 ---Approval of an application for the establishment of a postoffice here has been received from Washington. It will be known as “Esko,” instead of the present name.
H. J. Mattinen circulated a petition for the establishment of the mail station here and forwarded the same, with nearly 200 signatures, to Postmaster General James A. Farley. A copy of the petition was also sent to Congressman W.A. Pittenger, who assisted in getting the postoffice located here.
More than 200 persons will be served by the new mail distribution center, which will be located in the Mattinen building here. Applications for the postmastership will be received until May 14. Mr. Mattinen is the only one who had filed up to the first of this week.
AN EARLY ESSENTIAL: THE SAUNA
Clifford Johnson, Esko Class of 1941, contributed a story about one of Finland’s most revered institutions, the sauna. Part of that story follows:
Early saunas were simple and, by modern standards, crude buildings. Most were built of logs harvested on site. The logs were hewn flat on two sides and were typically five or six inches thick. On average, early saunas were 12 feet by 12 feet, and were “savu saunas” or “smoke saunas,” named for the thick smoke which filled the building after a fire was started since these saunas had no chimneys.
The savu sauna was heated by a fire pit. Walls made out of flat rock, approximately 12 to 18 inches high, surrounded the pit on three sides, and a large flat rock was placed on top of the walls. This simple rock oven was about four feet wide, offering enough room to build a substantial fire. A fire would be lit in the pit and the smoke would fill the building, escaping through a small opening near the peak of the roof.
A Finnish settler would feed the fire for three or four hours, resulting in red hot rocks which would retain their heat for hours. Old timers still remember how hot a savu sauna could get and how black and sooty the walls were.
MATTI KONU’S FIRST COW
[Excerpted from a first-person recollection by the late Arvid Konu, son of early settlers Matti and Laura Konu, the “mother” and “dad” of this story.]
"Just 30 days after their marriage, my mother said, 'We need a cow if we are to survive as a family.' So one day in 1900, my dad took a piece of rope and began his walk before daybreak to the Heikkila farm west of Cromwell --- some 35 miles away. That very day he purchased his first cow for the sum of $40. The black and white cow was named Blacky, or in Finnish, Musti.
"Mrs. Heikkila served Dad a big breakfast and then packed a hearty lunch for his 35-mile walk back home with the cow. The return trip proved to be much more difficult than the day before --- and, in fact, along the way the cow became lame. When they got to the east side of Wild Rice Lake, Dad took the cow into the woods so it could lie down and rest. Although it was a good place to stay, when the sun went down the mosquitoes almost ate him alive.
"The next day they arrived home, and Mother was quite happy with Dad’s purchase. That first cow would be the foundation of a herd that came to be known as 'Matt Konu Dairy, Harney Minnesota, Pure, Unpasteurized Milk'."
THE TOWNSHIP’S FIRST SURVEY
The first portion of Thomson Township surveyed under the jurisdiction of the General Land Office was the east boundary line. This line was surveyed as part of the effort to survey Ts. 48 & 49N, R 15W immediately to the east. The contract was awarded to William Burt on May 21, 1856, and the line was surveyed during July of the same year.
Burt and his crew were among the first white people, outside of travelers on the Grand Portage, to see what is now Thomson Township. The contract stated he was to receive either $10 or $13 per mile surveyed (the records are not clear on this). Out of this sum, Burt had to pay his assistants and purchase the food.
Lest anyone doubt the resiliency of these early surveyors, the next time you travel on the North Cloquet Road observe the swampy quagmire (called Pärren Swampi, or Pärri’s Swamp, among the older Finns) along the Thomson Township/Midway Township boundary and imagine running a survey line through this area in July.
THE ESKO CANNERY
In 1943 Esko women were busily preparing produce, fruits, meats, fish and candy to be processed at a new processing plant called, simply, the Cannery. Its director and principal founder, Esko High School agriculture teacher Seth R. Fisher, had seemed somewhat skeptical in the beginning.
“There are doubts,” he said, “whether these Finns of Esko and Thomson Township would support such a program, as they are considered to be meat and potatoes people”. But by the end of 1943, the Esko Cannery led the state in production and was the largest operation of its kind in Minnesota.
The program's great success made it quickly apparent that more space was needed, so Mr. Fisher approached the school board to erect a multi-purpose building on the south side of the high school vocational agriculture and shop departments. At a special election on February 18, 1944, township voters approved $10,000 for the new building. When it was completed—at a cost of $15,000—the project grew even further with 150 families using the facility.
LITERAL HORSE POWER
The first horses arrived in the township in 1880. A good team was essential for the prosperity of any farm. During the winter horses would be used in the woods for logging or hauling firewood. Spring was the time for plowing, disking and planting. During the summer, before haymaking, the horses were used to haul gravel on township roads.
A farmer could work off his real estate tax obligation by spending time hauling gravel. After shoveling a yard and a half of gravel by hand into a wagon, the early settler would pull it down the road to the area being worked on. Many early gravel pits were near the Midway River. A typical gravel deposit was just southeast of the present Harney Road bridge. Since the hill north of the bridge is steep, an additional horse was stationed at the bottom of the hill to assist the team.
Once haymaking started the horses were worked every day. In the fall it was back to field work.
THE 1918 FIRE: 'NO MONEY? FIND A TRAIN!'
Commonly called both “the 1918 Fire” and “the Cloquet Fire,” the multiple fires that ravaged Carlton County in October 1918 took more than 450 lives and destroyed the homes of more than 11,000 families. The toll in Thomson Township, where at least nine and perhaps a dozen people died, was not well-documented, but the story has been pulled together via extensive research and numerous recorded interviews of survivors and their descendants. The following, from an interview with Mamie Juntunen Hjulberg, is one of many first-person narratives in a story by Phil Johnson:
“I was in Cloquet working for my board and room while going to high school. My employers decided to load their car and go to Carlton. I helped them load it and fed the baby his bottle. Then they told me there wasn’t room for me in the car and I should go to my sisters. As they lived out in the west end (of Cloquet) I had a long walk to 15th street.
“I met people on the sidewalk going toward the depot but I expected to get to Johnsons [her sister’s family] before they left. When I got there everyone was gone. I saw a man I knew who was in his car. I told him about my predicament. He asked if I had any money and I told him I only had a nickel. He said to go back to the depot and get on a train.
“A woman came out of the Crescent Hotel and together we faced the strong winds and the smoke. When we were up to the fire hall a police car picked us up. He had us go under a fence to a box car as the depot was on fire. When we got into the box car I heard a man say the Masonic Temple walls had fallen down. We were taken to Carlton and put on a train to Duluth…
“[The next morning]…one woman was telling that she had come on the Canadian Northern Railroad and all of the town of Thomson was on fire and the only people who survived were a small group who took the train from Harney. I said, 'That’s where my folks live.' Another woman put her arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry, if you lost your family, I’ll adopt you.’ ”
GROWING VEGETABLES IN THE ‘40s
[Some selected recollections of Gerald Reponen, who spent most of his boyhood on an 80-acre farm on the Sorila Road and graduated from Esko High School in 1947. Also see Photos page.]
"We used to grow a lot of rutabagas, cabbage, potatoes and carrots for home consumption and also for sale in Duluth. The rutabagas and potatoes were stored in the root house built into the hillside. The cabbage, carrots and some potatoes were stored under the house in that cellar. During the winter months the smell of cabbage was quite strong in the house. All of this produce was consumed by the family. Cabbage and rutabagas were cut up and fed to the cows during the confined winter months. Some potatoes were saved to be used as seed for the following year. The rest were sold throughout the winter and spring. The temperature in the dark cellars was just above freezing so things kept well. At times we worried that produce might freeze, and especially had to watch the carrots and potatoes. If the rutabagas or cabbage froze on the top, they were chopped up for the cattle.
"It is hard to remember the size of the fields, but they were large. The garden and root crops took up several acres. These various crops were rotated with oats and hay to enrich the fields. Corn was especially bad about using the nitrogen in the ground. We normally transplanted cabbage around 1 July, probably one or two acres, with plants we acquired in Wrenshall. Potatoes were about one acre, rutabagas from one to three. Near the house was the normal smaller garden extending to the top of the hill as you headed towards Sorila Road. In it were normal vegetables like carrots, peas, beans, squash, lettuce, radishes and some exotic plants like kohlrabi. The cabbages and rutabagas were large --- cabbages often 12 inches and larger in diameter, rutabagas around 10 inches.
"We also kept a cold frame next to the barn and had pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelon, etc., in there, along with any plant that required a longer growing season. The cows were bad about the corn and we usually had a couple of good fence-jumpers that got to it."