Scandinavians in Idaho
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2007-05-03 23:28

Scandinavians in Idaho


Like the Mormon Scandinavians, their fellow nationals of other faiths also adapted well to the Idaho settlement process.

In 1900 Scandinavians constituted approximately one-fourth of the total foreign-born in Idaho. They included not only Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes but Finns as well. Finnish immigrants came in smaller numbers than the other three but were nevertheless an important segment.

Most non-Mormon Scandinavians had migrated first to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, where they worked in the forests, before moving on to north Idaho to become loggers. Some worked in north Idaho mines during World War I, settling in Coeur d'Alene, Wallace, Potlatch, Moscow, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint, and Troy. Maintaining cultural ties for many years, they sponsored group excursions, held midsummer festivals, and organized ethnic clubs. Norwegians celebrated Norwegian Independence Day (May 17); Swedes celebrated Walpurgis Night or Spring Festival (April 30) with singing, folk dancing, bonfires, and Swedish-style refreshments. Some communities included both of the two denominational Lutheran churches.

New Sweden, west of Idaho Falls, was a result of the formation of the Great Western Land Company, which constructed the Great Western and Porter irrigation canals in 1895. The settlers built a Lutheran church and large barns even before they finished their houses. By 1919 about 12,000 acres had been cleared and a system of dams and reservoirs established, and settlers filled up the area. The New Sweden Pioneer Association was formed to "keep alive the old memories of pioneer days" and to operate the New Sweden School." Residents celebrated occasionally with potluck picnics, Swedish accordion music, square dances, horse-drawn wagon rides for children, a midsummer pole raising, and folk music.

Other communities of non-Mormon Swedes were in Firth, Minidoka County, and Nampa. Swedish children in Minidoka sometimes complained that other children laughed at their Swedish dialect, clothing, and food; their parents laughed right back at the Missouri dialect, Ozark dress, and cornpone and chittlins of their southern neighbors. Among the traditional foods of the Minidoka Swedes were clobbered milk; "valling," a dish made from potato starch with nuts and raisins; fruit cornpotes; "sill" or salt herring; head cheese; "kalvost" or milk pudding; and "skorpor," a rusk (sweet raised bread dried and cooked again in the oven). The large Swedish community around Nampa had gone first to Illinois and then moved to Canyon County. They also had an active Scandinavian Society.

Most Finnish immigrants came to Idaho between 1890 and 1920, the majority of them settling in Silver Valley in north Idaho and in Long Valley in central Idaho; most of those in north Idaho were miners from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Because Finnish is not a Germanic-based language, as is English, the Finns had difficulty learning English. Politically active, the north Idaho Finns constructed six workers' halls within a forty-mile radius of each other but built no church. In Enaville, their chief center, they held workers' meetings and performed monthly amateur plays sometimes infiltrated with socialist doctrine. Many of them sympathized with the Industrial Workers of the World. There were dances at the halls, weddings, basket socials, and dramas. They organized athletic teams and held track meets in which only Finns participated. Once, when loggers were moving logs down the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River, a group of Finnish women came to loudly protest their use of dynamite-it scared the setting hens off their nests and killed the embryos in the eggs.

The Long Valley Finns, primarily at Elo and Roseberry in present-day Valley County near McCall, were farmers and loggers. The first Finnish immigrants arrived in Long Valley in the 1890's. They came from eastern Oregon where they had tried homesteading. Long Valley with its forests, mountains and green meadows appealed to them more than the Oregon desert country. Most of the Finns came to Long Valley between 1900 and 1925. Many came directly from the coal mines in Wyoming and by 1905 about 40% of Long Valley's population was Finnish. Most of the later wave of Finnish settlers took up homesteads in upper Long Valley on the east side.

The Finnish men were noted for their skills in woodworking and log construction. They built many sturdy log houses, saunas and farm buildings in Long Valley. Some of these buildings are 70 - 80 years old and still in use today. Many Finnish women wove rag rugs for their houses on homemade looms. Some of their other homestead chores included baking their famous Finn bread and raising a garden. Before doctors came to the Valley some of the Finnish women were the area's only midwives.

A well-known Finnish cultural artifact was the sauna, which contained two rooms, a dressing room, and a steam room with a wood-burning stove. Several apple-sized rocks were heated on the top of the stove with a water barrel nearby. Tiered benches were built around the wall, and the hardiest bathers sat on the highest bench where the temperature was hottest. The men often hit themselves with branches to stimulate their circulation. After sufficient steaming, they raced out and dove into a nearby lake or river to cool off. Saunas were heated Saturday nights. When the men had finished and the temperature had cooled somewhat, women used the sauna. Another Finnish custom was celebrating "Juhannus", or St. John's Day, on June 24 (the equivalent of the midsummer festival), commemorating the return of summer. An all-day picnic included music, footraces, speeches, and food and drink. The community band played, a church choir sang, and the children recited verses. The Finns in north and central Idaho knew or soon learned how to ski. They fashioned their skis from red pine and old leather harness straps.

The largest Finnish community, Elo, was on the Elo Road southeast of present-day McCall. Named for its religious leader and teacher, Rev. John Eloheimo, Elo had a store, post office, school and a meeting hall. Many of Elo's Finns were Lutherans. In 1917 they built the Finn Church located on the Farm-To-Market Road about five miles north of Roseberry and the Valley County Museum. It is one of the best preserved buildings erected in that early pioneer era.

In the late 1880's, settlers, most from Missouri, began arriving in Long Valley, lured by the lush and fertile grasslands which were being offered free to homesteaders by the U. S. Government. By 1890 a small community began to grow up around a post office-store near the center of the valley. It was named after the first postmaster, Lewis R. Roseberry. The post office was soon acquired by H.T. Boydstun who, with a group of investors, platted out the town site and began selling lots. By 1905 Roseberry flourished as the trading center of the area and boasted several businesses.

Officially incorporated in 1907, Roseberry was vigorously promoted by its founders through its energetic Commercial Club. By 1910 the town had two churches, a grade and high school, a telephone exchange, bank, hotel, livery stable, newspaper office, a dry-goods store, and other businesses along with several residences. The town had become the largest community in the valley and was considered the obvious site for the county seat of the soon to be created Valley County. But Roseberry's fame and fortunes were soon to change.

In 1914 disaster struck. A long and hard fought battle to bring the proposed Long Valley Railroad spur through Roseberry was lost. The Railroad decided to locate its line one and a half miles to the west, and establish a new town site called Donnelly. Investors soon turned their attention to the railway and the new town. Many buildings and businesses that were once the backbone of Roseberry were literally picked up in whole or in pieces and moved via horse and wagon or sledges to Donnelly. The last commercial establishment closed when the McDougal store held a public auction in 1939. A few people still lived in Roseberry at that time. The grade school and high school were moved to new buildings in Donnelly. The last school class held in Roseberry was 1959 when the grade school reopened briefly for 7th-8th grades, but then its bells fell silent and in a few short years the white pine boards were removed to build yet another Donnelly structure.

The vision to revive Roseberry as a historic site began in earnest when the Long Valley Preservation Society was organized in 1973. One of the goals of the Society is to acquire and preserve as many early Long Valley buildings as possible in a town setting located on the original Rose-berry town site. Some of the buildings you will see on the walking tour were part of the original town. Others have been brought in from other locations in the valley.

The Long Valley Preservation Society members are working hard to restore and preserve the buildings in the museum complex. The Society plans to acquire additional buildings and create the atmosphere of early Roseberry.

Senast uppdaterad 2007-05-03 23:31
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