Finland Minnesota is nestled in the Baptism River Valley, surrounded by rugged hills and cliffs from the same ancient geological process that forged the beautiful Sawtooth Mountains, which form the barrier separating Finland from the north shore of the world's largest lake, Lake Superior.
Although Finland is now a completely modern community, its rugged isolation made it one of the last areas of Minnesota to be settled. It wasn't until the late 1890's that the first Finns and other Scandinavians began to file for homesteads in this remote section of Lake County. These first settlers, who found the area strongly reminiscent of their rugged homelands, endured great hardships in order to claim their land. All supplies came by ship or were carried on the backs of the settlers to their homesteads.
The first homes were one-room log cabins which housed the family and provided shelter for anyone else that had need of a place to stay. Mail came by sailboat or steamship in summer and dogsled in winter.
In 1907 the Alger Smith Company built a railroad to the community in order to facilitate its logging operations there. They took on passengers at the rate of 1-1/2 cents per mile.
Logging was a major industry in Finland, producing great quantities of white pine, cedar, balsam and spruce, and providing jobs for the homesteaders who found great difficulty providing for their families without supplemental income. Logging debris fueled the many uncontrolled fires that swept in the area in 1908 -10, and again in the mid l920's.
Schools were a priority with the early settlers, and there were several schools scattered about the area. Five children were necessary to start a school; some families started their own school with an older child teaching the younger children.
Progress came quickly to Finland. Roads were built, and the mail came by open coach. A Co-op was organized in 1913 and a truck was purchased to procure groceries each week in Duluth. Greyhound Bus Lines began service in 1920. Electricity came in 1939, and the first appliance many people bought was a refrigerator, eliminating the task of cutting and storing ice for the summer months. By 1935 there were 179 Finnish families with about 500 acres of cleared land. The farms produced grains, vegetables, berries, apples, cows and pigs; but cream was the only product shipped out.
After the timber had been logged off, families found it difficult to subsist without the extra income that logging had provided. This economic stress, coupled with that of the Great Depression, cut into Finland's population and changed its manner of livelihood.
There are no farms in modern Finland (the primary means of livelihood are timber, taconite, and tourism) but one need only close ones eyes and imagine these majestic hills, before the days of highways, to appreciate the incredible strength, perseverance and devotion of those first dauntless settlers that blazed the trail over the Sawtooth Mountains to dedicate their hope and their hearts to a community that they would call home - Finland, Minnesota.