Landmarks have different meanings for local residents

By Tucker Henderson

Special to the Dispatch

Have you ever asked for directions and someone told you to turn at “Jaaska’s Corner” or maybe that their house is near “Tim’s Pond?” 

Depending on how long you have lived in this community, you may know more of these local names than others. Some names are called different things by different generations. This most often happens when we use houses and land as waypoints. I am most familiar with the country south of New York Mills, so most of these names will be coming from that area.

I drive down 490th Street (Big Hill Road) around the east end of Rush Lake all the time. Both sets of my grandparents live on that road. Depending on which way I come from, I drive past a few houses that we use as waypoints. Never called “the blue house on the corner,” I often pass by “Weber’s” while on 490th Street or 360th Avenue. My grandma calls this home “Niskala’s” as that was who lived there while she was growing up nearby. Another generation removed would say that this house was “Piippo’s” which was obvious in those days as it was the first or last house on your trip down the Piippo Arola Road.

Some names are not always known even to locals, often because they are so antiquated. The immigrant Finns of 150 years ago decided the area south of New York Mills should be called “Etelä-kontri’’ which cleverly means “South Country.” 

The Apostolic Church, having been built in this area was once called the “South Country Finnish Church” for that very reason. To the west of the South Country was called Prairie Country (the Finns had various spellings for it). Prairie Cemetery is situated in the Prairie Country, hence the name.

If you travel south of town on Highway 67 and continue past Heinola for two miles, you will reach both Jaaska’s Corner and the Ottertail Cutoff. Other corners in the area are Wilson’s Corner, Olsen’s Corner, and Keskitalo’s Corner. Landmarks like these and those such as Salo’s Hill and The Sinkhole southeast of town are mainstays of local transportation.

Lakes and ponds are great waypoints as they are so numerous in our county. Once labeled as Moss Lake in our county’s earliest plat book, Tim’s Pond is directly north of Keskitalo’s Corner. Piippo Pond and Tim’s Pond are two and three miles west of Heinola respectively. Koljonen’s Pond is one mile east and a short walk to the south of Heinola. If you stand at the crossroads of Heinola and walk north until you reach a road going through a weedy pond, that is Kela Lake.

Businesses are similar to homes in this usage of waypoints. Depending on who you ask, you can be at the Creamery, Dairy Bar, Backwoods, or the Bakery all at the same time. If you walk across the street and a block to the east, you will be at the Cooperative Store, “Coop”, and the “Red Square” all at the same time (and these are all names for the samebusiness). 

I drive by the “Old Trinity” in NY Mills all the time, but I don’t often actually pass by Trinity Church while in town.

Why do we use these waypoints and landmarks? It’s simple, really. Locals know who, what, and where things happen and maps aren’t detailed enough to tell you exactly where something might be. 

If I told you to “drive four miles south of New York Mills on Highway 135 and turn left, then drive a half mile” some of you might not have any idea where you are going. If I say “drive south on 135 until you are a mile south of Wilson’s Corner, then turn left and drive a few minutes and Finn Creek is on the right” might be a bit easier to visualize.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you should be able to get around the “South Country” pretty well. Next time someone asks you how to get to Rush Lake, make sure to tell them “Oh, it’s a few minutes north of Keskitalo’s Corner.” If they don’t know where that is then: “Take the Piippo Arola road directly east and you’ll hit it.” Now if that doesn’t help, a final effort can be explained: “Turn south when you reach Perala’s Corner and you can’t miss it.” If not to make things easier for locals, then these waypoints can surely be used to confuse tourists!