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The Problem of Scientific Settlement as Illustrated by the Finns

Eugene Van Cleef

Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

In 1926, Dr. Isaiah Bowman1 propounded a number of questions associated with the problem of a "Scientific Study of Settlement". He asked among other things: "What conditions set a natural economic limit to man's pace as he moves into the pioneer belts? What is the ratio between the power that he can exercise in such communities and the power that he exercises in settled communities? What shifting of population might occur in the future if man were fully aware of the possibilities of his powers when applied to pioneering conditions in given areas?" Bowman implies the hope that we may some day "establish index numbers that will show the measure of man's power in the pioneer belts".

These problems present a challenge which it seems must be successfully met if ever an equilibrium is to be reached between man's assured maintenance at what we may assume to be a high standard of living and the earth's natural obstacles to his continued existence. During the last half century we have made such progress in the means of transportation, in aerial communication both by plane and by radio and in making available mechanical facilities in remote areas that the struggles of the pioneer have been vastly alleviated. We may justifiably expect further technical advances which will reduce the hazards accompanying the occupance of new lands, although undoubtedly as long as there remain lands to be settled, man must face a severe struggle if he is to gain supremacy over them.

To anticipate successfully the future we must know the past. Out of man's experiences we may hope to derive some principles which should have at least partial if not total applicability to his future movements. Naturally, the greatest obstacle to the derivation of such principles lies in the variable character of man himself. He is elusive and not subject to laboratory control. He seems to behave differently in a given environment as time changes. Accordingly, the problem of settlement is beset with obstacles whose removal appears almost hopeless. Nevertheless, certain possibilities suggest themselves to which the discussion which follows is directed.

If we study the succession of movements of a migrant people representative of modern civilization, whose characteristics approach stability, we may hope to uncover some of the principles which govern settlement, more particularly those associated with the interactions between man and his physical environment. Naturally, generalizations cannot be set up from an investigation of the behavior of a single group. We may, however, begin with one group and let our observations lead us where they will. As in the pure sciences where controls are established as bases for both comparisons and the determination of deviations from standards, so in a geographic study of human responses some form of control is desirable. Investigations of migrant groups of Finns, a people whose characteristics in many respects may be considered stabilized, seem to shed some light upon both a mode of procedure and results that may be expected.

Since 19152, I have studied Finnish settlements in the United States to learn the extent to which they show responses to their natural environment. The first investigation was made among groups located in the Lake Superior District, followed by inquiries among those in New England. Two visits were then made to Finland to observe the activities of the Finns in their native land. Recently the investigation has been focussed upon settlements in northeastern Ohio. These direct observations were supplemented by indirect data relative to a few small colonies, some temporary and others permanent, which I have had no opportunity to see.

Summarizing the interpretation of Finnish reactions to environment as recorded up to the beginning of the Ohio field work begun early in 1930, the statement may be made that Finns occupy regions physically similar to those in their native country and in general tend to engage in similar occupations. They respond most favorably to such elements as climate, particularly a cool continental type, to poorly drained soils and to forested or partially cut-over lands. In urban centers they are attracted by activities which involve the distribution of agricultural commodities such as dairy and truck garden products. The industries attract some, particularly those industries such as lumber and furniture production and others in which skilled hand work is demanded. A small number of persons pursue the practice of law or medicine or engage in the publication of newspapers, magazines and books printed in the Finnish language. Inherent in most of the urban settlers is a desire to possess a cabin or more pretentious residence in the rural areas or to own a farm. Life in the out-of-doors seems to constitute a fundamental objective of practically all Finns regardless of their attainments in the business or political world.

The fear, inconvenience or discomfort of isolation do not oppose Finnish settlement. In spite of their highly gregarious characteristics, Finns prefer wide spaces between their respective farms or home sites. This psychological attitude has greatly contributed toward their success in developing virgin areas and in itself appears to be the consequence of the experience of generations in a physical environment which has challenged their endurance, patience and ingenuity. Again and again they have demonstrated their superiority over many other nationalities with respect to ready adaptability to discouraging agricultural and industrial conditions3.

On the other hand, in certain interesting circumstances the Finn's quality of persistence disappears entirely. About ten years ago experiments in land settlement in a few of the southern states, Georgia and Louisiana in particular, failed. The lure of harvesting eventually more than one crop per season in contrast with probable crop failures in northern lands made no appeal. The return trek to the North followed quickly after initial attempts to locate Finns permanently in the South, owing to the absence of phenomena without which the Finn declares himself unhappy. Cold, snow, boulder strewn areas, lakes typical of a glaciated terrain, seem to be indispensable concomitants of settlement. These circumstances are a most significant factor in the problem of scientific settlement. They point to the importance of the psychological and even esthetic element inherent in different types of peoples. They may be as critical as the means of communication with the outside world, as the availability of medical aid, of educational facilities and in general the presence of conveniences marking well settled regions.

Scientific settlement involves something more than solving the problem of the immediate occupance of new lands. It demands such occupance as will lead eventually to the establishment of permanent communities with high standards of living. It demands that the occupied land be put to that use to which it is best adapted and that those people settle it who are best fitted to develop the land in a manner which will accomplish certain specified ends. We need to view occupance of the land in the light of the German Raum concept. That is, scientific distribution of population calls for the integration of every natural and psychological element which is likely to play a part in the permanent successful establishment of a community upon a limited area of the earth. The size of the area is immaterial. Its delimitation is a factor of the inter-relation and perhaps even the integration, of the various elements and tends to be set without predetermination by man.

The success of individual Finnish settlements in many localities of Canada, Sweden and the United States where geographic conditions are similar to those in Finland lends some support to the theory just advanced. The Finns appear to be best adapted to that type of environment characterized by the natural conditions of Finland. However, their attainments in various parts of the United States differ and give rise to a number of questions bearing upon the stage of development of the regions which they occupy. We cannot be certain as yet whether their communities have reached their final stage of evolution. Will the Finns of the Lake Superior District or those who have located upon abandoned farm lands of New England or upon the frontier of northern Sweden, continue as farmers? Will they develop urban centers? Will they leave the farm lands to engage in industrial pursuits? Will they remain passive agents with respect to bringing the region of settlement into complete development allowing others to assume active control in the perfection of such matters as commercial and industrial facilities and civic direction?

Some light may be thrown upon these questions by reviewing the sequence of events in Finnish communities of northeastern Ohio and comparing them with those in the settlements cited above. Here the Finns have concentrated in proximity to Lake Erie. Many have come direct from Finland and some from other sections of the United States, more especially western Pennsylvania. A considerable number is native to the local districts.

The history of the settlement of Finns in Ohio shows the early stages to have coincided in most particulars with the sequence of events now in progress in the Lake Superior District and parts of New England. The Finns came to Lake Erie ports probably as early as 1870. About 1890, the records show they found employment upon the ore docks and lake vessels in the summer period and hired out as lumberjacks in the woods of northeastern Ohio during the winters. Thereby they accumulated some ready cash and shortly entered upon the acquisition of nearby lands for ultimate agricultural development. A scattered few practiced an intercontinental trans-humance, arriving from Finland in spring ready for the opening of navigation and returning to the home land at the end of the shipping season.

As industries developed in the towns and the business of the railroads increased, the Finns found numerous opportunities for natural and psychological element which is likely to play a part in the permanent, successful establishment of a community upon a limited area of the earth. The size of the area is immaterial. Its delimitation is a factor of the inter-relation and perhaps even the integration, of the various elements and tends to be set without predetermination by man.

The success of individual Finnish settlements in many localities of Canada, Sweden and the United States where geographic conditions are similar to those in Finland lends some support to the theory just advanced. The Finns appear to be best adapted to that type of environment characterized by the natural conditions of Finland. However, their attainments in various parts of the United States differ and give rise to a number of questions bearing upon the stage of development of the regions which they occupy. We cannot be certain as yet whether their communities have reached their final stage of evolution. Will the Finns of the Lake Superior District or those who have located upon abandoned farm lands of New England or upon the frontier of northern Sweden, continue as farmers? Will they develop urban centers? Will they leave the farm lands to engage in industrial pursuits? Will they remain passive agents with respect to bringing the region of settlement into complete development allowing others to assume active control in the perfection of such matters as commercial and industrial facilities and civic direction?

Some light may be thrown upon these questions by reviewing the sequence of events in Finnish communities of northeastern Ohio and comparing them with those in the settlements cited above. Here the Finns have concentrated in proximity to Lake Erie. Many have come direct from Finland and some from other sections of the United States, more especially western Pennsylvania. A considerable number is native to the local districts.

The history of the settlement of Finns in Ohio shows the early stages to have coincided in most particulars with the sequence of events now in progress in the Lake Superior District and parts of New England. The Finns came to Lake Erie ports probably as early as 1870. About 1890, the records show they found employment upon the ore docks and lake vessels in the summer period and hired out as lumberjacks in the woods of northeastern Ohio during the winters. Thereby they accumulated some ready cash and shortly entered upon the acquisition of nearby lands for ultimate agricultural development. A scattered few practiced an intercontinental trans-humance, arriving from Finland in spring ready for the opening of navigation and returning to the home land at the end of the shipping season.

As industries developed in the towns and the business of the railroads increased, the Finns found numerous opportunities for permanent employment. Their ready adaptability to heavy labor, their manual skill, and their high order of efficiency caused employers to favor them among the many nationalities which have settled in these localities. While all Finns are not large of stature nor of unusual muscular build yet enough possess such physical stamina that they have established a reputation for these qualities among manufacturers. Steel companies utilize Finns in the "hot-mill" where endurance and resistance to high temperatures are desirable attributes. They are often employed on the docks or in railroad yards where ability to lift great weights and exceptional muscular exertion in other operations are essential requisites.

The assurance of permanent employment in northeastern Ohio at good salaries, it seems, lured the Finn away from farming, albeit he expresses a desire for rural life and sets it as an ambition yet to be realized. About thirty years ago and again about ten years ago there occurred temporary farm-ward movements. After working in industry for a number of years the Finn's desire for independence led to the purchase of a home and then as his children became adapted to an urban environment separation from an industrial life became increasingly difficult if not wholly impossible. In fact, choice no longer played a part in shaping his destiny. To farm meant to invest practically all his savings, to assume a considerable debt and to gamble upon potential returns, whereas immediate occupation in industry assured him of a fixed income and guaranteed to his children an education and some physical comforts such as they might not enjoy upon a pioneer farm. Accordingly, those Finns in Ohio engaged in agricultural pursuits today, represent a very small minority likely to become even fewer within the immediate future.

The early activities of these Ohio Finns were consistent with those of their brothers in other regions of primary settlement. But the subsequent events have differed so strikingly that we raise the question as to whether the evolution has been normal or abnormal for the Finns. Is the experience in Ohio, namely, a transition from an agricultural to an industrial life one that we may anticipate for other Finnish groups or does it merely emphasize man's own variability and lack of dependability to which we have already made reference?

A survey of the landscape of northeastern Ohio shows an almost total absence of inland lakes, the presence of quite small streams of irregular flow and few or no boulder strewn areas. Can it be possible that the absence of physical features usually constituting a strong attraction for the Finns, has led to a loss of interest on their part in farming and in rural life generally and consequently has forced an abnormal evolution of these settlements? Or have these occurrences been normal?

Examination of the distribution of Finns within the urban centers themselves, points to a location in close proximity to the shores of Lake Erie. Three miles North of Painesville is the city of Fairport Harbor, a part of' the metropolitan district of Painesville. It fronts upon the lake shore and here are concentrated nearly all the Finns of the locality, perhaps 25004 out of a total of 3000. Eastward from Painesville is Ashtabula with a subdivision known as Ashtabula Harbor. Most of' the nearly 3165 Finns live in "The Harbor" located at the mouth of the Ashtabula River at the shores of Lake Erie. Farther East in Erie, Pennsylvania, a continuation of the Ohio Finnish district, most of the 500 Finns living there reside in the northern part of the city near the lake shore. Here too, their outdoor meeting place, an institution characteristic of Finnish colonies, is located upon Presque Isle. Has the presence of Lake Erie, even though much larger than lakes which generally appeal to Finns, attracted the Finns more strongly than their hinterland which is devoid of water surfaces of consequence? While some Finns are inclined to doubt the lake influence, others are of the belief that not only do the lake waters attract them because of opportunities afforded for swimming and for the enjoyment of the water landscape, but that the chill winds off the lake satisfy the Finnish desire for a cold atmosphere. If the natural environment has held the people along the shores of Lake Erie, then we may say in this respect the Finns have responded normally. The sandy and marshy lands in the immediate vicinity were not of the type to which the Finns had been accustomed in their native home. Hence, we would not have expected them to develop farming here upon a permanent basis. Their attraction then by the rising industries is not altogether inconsistent. However, this situation is not necessarily a criterion for the probable evolution of the Finns in regions where farm lands and the landscape are combined to provide an environment to which the Finn seems so well adapted. There still remain many details to be worked out in connection with these Ohio settlements to determine exactly why events have taken the turns indicated.

On the other hand, if the activities of the Finns in Ohio can be accepted as a basis for what may be anticipated as the ultimate evolution of most Finnish migrants occupying frontier lands, then we should be able to make that evolution easier for those groups who have recently settled upon new lands or are about to do so. Yet, again, if the Ohio sequence of events is abnormal and those in the Lake Superior District or New England are normal, then adjustments with respect to the future will assume a different aspect. Careful correlation need to be made between these migrant groups and those who have long occupied the land in Finland, and perhaps northern Sweden, that is the control region or standardization area of our problem, in an effort to solve the problem of settlement so far as concerns Finnish groups. Further studies among these peoples both abroad and in the United States may enable us better to work out the numerous interacting forces which play a part in their relation to settlement. By making a sufficient number of observations among many nationalities or ethnic groups and attempting to classify them, we may derive principles and even index numbers that will show the measure of man's power in the pioneer belts and we may also hope to derive data which will serve as an aid in determining upon a rational distribution of population.

[1] The Geog. Review, Vol. XVI, No. 4, Oct. 1926, p. 647-653. -See also Bowman, in The Geog. Review, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Jan. 1931, Jordan County, p. 22-55.
[2] The Finn in America (Bull. Amer. Geog. Society, Vol. VI, No. 3, p. 185-214, 1918). -Finland, The Republic Farthest North, 220 p., Ohio State University Press, 1929.
[3] The Finn in America (Bull. Amer. Geog. Society, Vol. VI, No. 3, p. 185-214, 1918). -The Old World in the New (The Scientific Monthly, p. 498-504, Vol. XVI, No. 5, 1923).
[4] Population figures here and in following statements are estimates only.

Published in Comptes Rendus du Congrés Internationale de Geographie. Paris 1931, p. 281-287.

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