Grant to help make repairs to 1888 schoolhouse

By Rebecca Komppa

Special to the Dispatch

For nearly a year, the Sebeka Area Historical Society (SAHS) has worked to repair the 1888 Finnish log schoolhouse located in Sebeka City Park. According to Finnish historian and preservationist Frank Eld, there is only one other log schoolhouse of this early construction known to still be standing in the nation today. 

Contributed photo
The Schoolhouse Project in Sebeka has been an effort of both young and old, working side by side. Betty (Maunumaki) Warren, a Sebeka Area Historical Society member, worked alongside student volunteers last summer in the preservation efforts at the historic building.

Its history dates back to 1887 when early settlers petitioned Wadena County Board of Commissioners to form a school. The petition was granted and on July 25, 1887, District 26 was officially formed. The  school was built before Red Eye Township was officially organized in 1889, and it predates the school built in Sebeka.  District 36 was not formed until January 8, 1895.

Education of their children was one of the pioneers’ first priorities. A contract was signed with Finnish immigrant August Mattila in November, 1887, to build the school. The specifications were carefully detailed in the written agreement:

“…August Mattila shall cut and bring in the logs and build the school house 10×28 ft. wide and 10 ft. high from the lower joist and cut hools for door and windows and put in upper joist stock and dowell and boor hools and put in pins between every log on each side of doors and windows and cut the walls six inches thick from outside and inside. 

“For which work the district also agrees to pay the said August Mattila the sum of one hundred fifteen (115) dollars in partly payments and full pay when the work is finished.”

The labor was done by August and his brother Fred who had immigranted from Kuusamo, Finland to America in 1882. The Mattila family history written in Sebeka’s history book, Pages of Time, states a third brother, Herman, also helped with construction. 

The log structure served as a school from 1888 to 1906, when the steady influx of new families made it too small to meet the need. Because it had also served as a public hall for meetings and elections, Red Eye Town Board purchased the building on July 7, 1906, for $29. It was moved a mile north and served an additional 52 years as town hall. 

The last town meeting was held in old log schoolhouse on March 10, 1959. The Town Board sold the building to the Sebeka Finnish-American Historical Society for $5. That summer it was relocated to its present location in Sebeka City Park to preserve it as part of the area’s cultural heritage.

With the encouragement of preservationist Eld, SAHS began renovation on the 133-year-old building in 2021. The Schoolhouse Project was and is a community effort, as many hands have volunteered to help. Sebeka school students removed the old chinking and replaced it with oakum. Both student and community volunteers removed the plaster put on the walls by the township board. Countless hours were spent by volunteers to keep the building site clear and safe as work continued throughout the summer and autumn.

Sebeka student Michaela Plautz inserts oakum between the logs. Preservation efforts at the 1888 log schoolhouse Park began in May 2021 and with the financial of Finlandia Foundation National will be finished in this summer.

The old schoolhouse now has a new roof and a new wooden floor. Log decay was removed and resurfaced. White pine windows built by hand by an Amish woodworker replaces those decayed by time. Step-by-step the renovation has moved forward with the help of many hands and the financial donations of many people, some from the New York Mills area. SAHS says “thank you” to all for helping us in the effort to preserve this historic building.

Recently, SAHS received notification from Finlandia Foundation National that FFN is awarding the Schoolhouse Project a $5,000 grant. The grant will enable SAHS to finish the repairs on the schoolhouse this summer.

Work does not stop there as SAHS takes on new tasks to repair the roofs on the log barn built by Finnish immigrant Jacob Salmela in 1909 and the log sauna. It is SAHS’s hope to have all three historic Finnish buildings in good condition by the end of July when Sebeka hosts an All-Class Reunion. 

Sebeka is one of the four points of the Finnish Triangle: New York Mills, Menahga, Wolf Lake, and Sebeka.