Sharon OJanpa Mackey, FHM Staff Reporter

HitesTenonThe regularly scheduled meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum was held on Monday, May 14, 2018. After the call to order by FHM President Lasse Hiltunen and the reading of the invocation by Jeff Werronen, our first guests were introduced.

Susan Tenon and Jerry Hites, both teachers at Fairport Harbor Harding High School, shared with us exciting news about a grant awarded to the school by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Four teachers from the high school will visit Finland this summer to study Finland’s history, culture, and educational system. Susan Tenon, Jerry Hites, Paul Conn, and Russ Messer will leave August 6, 2018, on the first leg of their journey. They will visit Iceland, then go on to Helsinki and other areas in Finland. Three nights will be spent in Vaasa, two nights in Turku, then on to a school in Espoo. The last leg of the trip will find them on a ferry to Estonia before returning home, again through Iceland.

When they return to Fairport Harbor, they will participate in a year-long project with students writing narratives that will include the following: 1. The study of the history and geography of Fairport Harbor, and writing short stories and poems about what has been learned; 2. Research into local people, and recording of oral histories; 3. Self-analysis, and writing their own narratives on how Fairport Harbor influences who they are today.

The teachers wanted to visit Finland specifically because it has a very distinctive culture with unique people. According to them, whatever the Finns do is done well. The Finnish people stay true to themselves, while working to stay current.

A main question these teachers are asking is why kids who grew up in Fairport Harbor, nearly always eager to leave after their years of school, consistently seem to want to come back home. Maybe these teachers will have the answer for us at our September FHM meeting, when they are scheduled to come back to tell us about their adventure.

After this presentation, Anne Pohto and Mike Webster spoke to us about the history of boarding houses in Fairport Harbor. First up were the Hilston, Somppi, and Sironen boarding houses.

anneMikeBetween 1880 and 1912, many Finnish men came to the U.S. to work on the docks or the railroads. Since Fairport Harbor had the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Railroad and docks along the Grand River, it was an important Lake Erie port. Many immigrants settled in this area. Anne’s paappa was one of these men. Three times, he came to Fairport Harbor from Finland to work on the railroad. Three times he returned to Finland. He would stay here for a year or two, then return to Finland where his wife and children lived. Finally he was able to purchase a home in Fairport Harbor and move his family to the U.S.

It was not typical for a married man with a family to leave Finland and settle in the United States. Usually the men who came here to work were young and single and needed a place to sleep, eat and get their laundry done. To meet this need, some Finnish couples and families opened boarding houses in the area. Thus the men received room and board at a good rate, usually $3.50 a week, which came out of the $10.50 earned on the docks or railroads.

The first boarding house in Fairport Harbor was owned by Charles Hilston. This house was located on Second Street, just down the hill from the lighthouse. The names of some of the men who lived in this house are familiar Fairport names: Gus Honkala, John Ollila, John Katila, Mikko Tantre, John Tuuri, Matt and Jacob Kulberg, and Charles Hilston.

This house was destroyed by fire, forcing the Hilston family to move to the Sironens’ “big house” at 528 High Street. This house was three stories tall and had a basement. There were four large rooms which could be rented out, a kitchen, dining room, and living room. The Sironens had five cows, which supplied all the milk for the family’s needs with some left over to sell. They also had four horses, which would take them to the large garden in Grand River (across the river from Fairport) that supplied the majority of the food for the family and boarders.

SompidisplayMike Webster shared with us a short history of the Somppi family, who moved to Fairport Harbor in 1889. At first they lived in rented rooms at the corner of Fourth and High Streets. Later they moved into a house off High Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. John Gustaf Somppi did not work full time, so the family took in borders, sometimes as many as twenty during the summer months. At times the family had to hire help because they had so many boarders to provide for. Later the family moved to a permanent home in the second house on the north side of Fourth Street.

The Somppi family’s days were very full, especially for the women. They had to be up by 4 A.M. to get the cooking fire started; then prepare and serve breakfast. Beds had to be made; clothes soaked in boiling water, washed on washboards, and hung to dry. They prepared and served lunch; starched and ironed the clothes after heating the heavy flat irons on the stove. Pies were baked almost daily; nisu, once a week. Finally, the stove had to be fired up again around 4 P.M. to prepare dinner, which was usually a pot roast.

The children also had their chores – tending the cows in the pasture, weeding the gardens, and washing out the lunch pails. It took the whole family to make the boarding house a success.

After these presentations, there was a question and answer period for all presenters, followed by cake and coffee. FHM President Lasse Hiltunen then called the business meeting to order.

Text © Sharon Mackey, Photos © Jane Hiltunen 2017









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