By Sharon Ojanpa Mackey
In Fairport Harbor, Ohio, and down the hill from the Finnish Heritage Museum on High Street, and east-wards from the Grand River, is natural depression (a gully, really) called Finn Hollow. In 1880, there were no Finnish people in town; this land was owned by the P&LE ore company which also had ore docks on the river. By 1900, there were reportedly 689 foreign born Finns in Fairport Harbor. Several families from Finland were allowed to build houses on company land because the men found jobs on the ore docks, unloading the ore from the lake freighters, shovelful by shovelful. In all, ten houses were built in Finn Hollow between 1889 and 1912.
These houses had six rooms, but no basements; they were built on posts. When the dock company needed the land occupied by the houses, the houses could be moved. Typically, the house to be moved was pulled to its new location by horses, and it sometimes took several days to move. At the new address, the house was put on a permanent foundation.
Today, there is one original house remaining in Finn Hollow. This house could not be moved because the original owner either defied the ruling on not having a basement, or was unaware that one was not allowed. This house stands today in the place where it was built.
On April 11, 2016, the program at the Finnish Heritage Museum highlighted four of the Finn Hollow houses and the families that called them home.
The information about the first house on our agenda was presented by Anne Pohto. The Humppi house is today the most authentic of the remaining Finn Hollow homes. Over the years, it has had only minimal changes. It was originally built in Finn Hollow; later it was moved to New Fourth Street. Heikki (Henry) and Wilhelmiina (Miina, Minnie) Humppi lived in this house with their 13 children. Heikki and Miina were married in Finland and arrived in the USA at different times. Heikki came over in 1891 to work on the docks. He was able to build his house, then send for his wife and two children, who joined him in 1892. Apparently, his young son Victor died soon after, because there is no mention of him in the family history. A later son was also named Victor, in honor of the child who had died. Heikki suffered a skull fracture while working on the docks, and died in 1920. Miina lived to be 83 years old, and died of influenza in 1953. The photograph shows Miina and Mary.
The next house on our list is the Hirvi house, presented by Ken Quiggle. This home was built by Wilhelm Heikinpoikka Hirvi. Wilhelm was born in Ylistaro, Finland, in 1866, and emigrated to the United States at age seventeen. His first stop was Burton, Ohio, but he soon made his way to Fairport Harbor, where he found work unloading ore, shovelful by shovelful, into hoisting buckets for the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Dock Company. Wilhelm’s wife, Wilhelmina was also born in 1866 in Ylistaro. When she came to the U.S., her first stop was Ashtabula Harbor; but she traveled on to Fairport Harbor in 1887. Wilhelm and Wilhelmina. were married on March 15, 1888.
The Herveys (note the change in spelling) had seven children, one of whom died very early. The family lived in one of the Finn Hollow houses, but found they needed more room. It is unclear whether their Finn Hollow house was moved, or if it was taken down and the family moved to another house. Either way, by 1920, they had moved to a blue house on New Fourth Street. The Herveys celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1939. Mrs. Hervey died in 1945, and Mr. Hervey died in 1949. They are buried together in Evergreen Cemetery in Painesville, Ohio.
Donna Lesiacsek talked about the Kupari (Cooper) house. Jacob Kupari, born in 1866 in Finland, came to the U.S. in 1884 to work on the P&LE docks. Anna Leppala was also born in 1866 in Finland. She arrived in Fairport in June of 1887; three months later, she and Jacob were married. By 1990, the Kuparis were renting a place on Fourth Street, where they lived with six of their eventual ten children. Then Jacob had the opportunity to purchase one of the Finn Hollow houses because the original owners were moving back to Finland. It is not clear whether the Kuparis actually lived in the house before moving it to Fifth street. The house was pulled to its new location by a team of horses, which took several days. The family managed to stay in the house as it was being moved. All ten of the Kupari children later went by the name Cooper, but Jacob and Anna held fast to their original Finnish name, Kupari. They were married for 48 years, and lived in their Finn Hollow house, after moving it to Fifth Street, for over 30 years.
Our last presenter, Dan Smith (in character), told the story of Gustav and Wilhelmina Rantilla.
With their daughter, Sanna Maija, the couple left Kauhava, Finland, in 1886, to settle in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. They lived in the fifth house south of what is now the Finnish Heritage Museum, in Finn Hollow. This home was later moved to Eagle Street. Gustav worked on the docks to support his growing family. Their Finn Hollow home also served as a boarding house for other Finnish immigrants. An interesting side note is that the Ranttilas were not shown as the owners of the house on deeds filed at the courthouse. After Gustav died in 1899, ownership of the home may have transferred to his son Jacob, or stayed with Wilhelmina until her death in 1924. This original Finn Hollow house is now located on Eagle Street, and was once known for having a candy and bread and butter shop in the front of the house.
Most of the information about these and other Finn Hollow houses comes from two books written by long-time Finnish Heritage Museum member ElaineTikka Lillback, who has since passed away. The titles of the books are Finn Hollow and Lempi of Finn Hollow. The Lempi referred to in the title was Mrs. Lillback’s mother, Lempi Sironen Juuti Tikka. She told her history, and that of Finn Hollow, to Elaine when she was 90 years old. We are very grateful that Elaine took the time to write it down.
By the way, both books are available in the gift shop at the Finnish Heritage Museum. Please visit our website at finnishheritagemuseum.org for more information on how to contact us.
After the program, refreshments were provided by Virpi buck, Shirley Northcott, Bill Luoma, Ken Quiggle, and Anne Pohto. FHM President Lasse Hiltunen then called the business meeting to order.
Editor's note: the model houses shown here were designed and built by Eugene Cofield and Marcus Merritt and were used in the play "Sisu is in the Heart."