Holding On To History: Finnish heritage lives on at Wirtanen Farm

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 10:20 PM CDT
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MARKHAM, MN. (Northern News Now) - Horse drawn wagons still roll across the fertile fields of Wirtanen farm 119 years after it was founded. Eli Wirtanen emigrated from the Grand Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire to homestead forty acres in Markham in 1904. Markham residents still have memories of the old bachelor today.

“He was busy all the time and he had established this farmstead all on his own and he was pretty much a loner.” said Marham native Darlene Saumer.

Wirtanen died in 1957 at the age of 87. His property went to Saint Louis County. By the year 2000, the farm was in shambles and about to be sold off. Finns, fans and friends banded together to keep the place open to the public.

“I’m not Finnish but my bride is and our children are half Finn so it’s just important to keep this heritage alive.” said St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson.

The Friends of Wirtanen Farm organization has now been taking care of the place for 23 years and they’ve restored a lot the classic Finn square hewn log buildings.

“The savusauna (smoke sauna) down below the hill was all restored and that tool shed and the well house and the main house and the barn.” said Darlene Saumer who is also a member of Friends of Wirtanen Farm.

Every September, the farm floods with folks for an annual fund-raising festival. There are still parts of the place that need restoration.

“As you can see if you look behind you the pig-pen they put the baby animals in is falling apart and we’ve got to get that restored.”

The great era of Finnish immigration ran from 1870 to 1918 as Finns fled the Russification attempts of the Czar. Wirtanen Farm is aimed at showing new generations how the older lived in the United States.

“You know, if we don’t remember where we came from, we don’t have any idea where we are going.” said Keith Nelson who is also a volunteer with Friends of Wirtanen Farm.

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