By Tucker Henderson
Special to the Dispatch
After attending the Finn Creek annual meeting on the 13th, having purple doughnuts for St. Urho’s Day on the 16th, and speaking with Finns all week long, I thought it was appropriate to write about the story behind the Finn Creek Open Air Museum south of town.
The Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society Chapter 13 (MFAHS Ch. 13) dates back to about 1938 and was the group behind the Monument to the Pioneers in Central Park which was placed there in the 1940s. The group seems to have had many years of inactivity and the largest and most recent project it undertook was the Finn Creek Museum.
The idea of restoring an old Finnish farmstead into a cultural museum was first discussed in 1967. After four years of searching for the perfect spot, the Siffert and Wilhelmiina Tapio home was chosen for its ease of access, yet its distance from any town. In 1975, the Society purchased just shy of ten acres of land from Arnold Tumberg, who was farming the plot of land at the time. Over time, Finn Creek’s ten acres has grown into forty.
Emma Tikkanen, president of Chapter 13 at the time, helped solicit matching funds from the community to receive a grant for $5,000 to change the idea into a reality. $1,500 was made from selling Finnish American calendars and additional $1,000 was donated by the MFAHS. When the Tapio house was first purchased by the society, its windows were boarded up and grain still littered the floors. It had last been used as a makeshift grainery.
Another early supporter of Finn Creek was Darrel Nicholson who was the first project director. He spent his summers living at the Tapio farm restoring the house and sauna as well as reintroducing a garden to the grounds. Darrel was not shy when it came to volunteers. He was able to persuade much-needed help to witch and dig a well, reroof the sauna with birch bark shingles, and tend to the garden.
Some of the original goals for Finn Creek other than maintaining an open air museum were to host a Finnish language camp during the summer in cooperation with the University of Minnesota, to be “a Finnish experimental farm which would act as a backdrop to modern farming techniques which would allow FFA students to keep comparative cost records for food production,” to host an annual Finnish folk festival, and to provide an environmental education and open air classroom.
“Käsityö näyttelys’’ or handcraft fairs, were first held at Finn Creek in 1977. A successful black-powder shoot was held on the property in 1975 and consisted of 120 people. These fairs have since evolved into the annual Finn Creek Folk Festival held in August. Today the Finn Creek board of directors are still maintaining the grounds and buildings as well as hosting the annual festival and other events throughout the year.