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Kaleva History

Ken Marder

In two years the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village of Kaleva, Mich. will be celebrated.

The following history of Kaleva is taken from the 75th anniversary book and a letter written by a daughter of one of Kaleva's founders.

In writing of Kaleva, it is necessary to include Maple Grove Township where the first land grant was issued in 1847. The biggest part of the Kaleva village area was once a part of a land grant issued in 1853. Until the Finns came to the area, there had been little more than "sawmill" progress, and the township was unknown by name until it was organized in 1878. The modern era therefore began with the influx of the Finns and the founding of the Finnish community and village of Kaleva.

It is true that nearby Tannerville was a thriving "sawmill" town with three stores, a post office, grange hall, church and some housing, but there was no one there who could understand Finnish.

The area where Kaleva was planned and platted was a sandy clearing where two railroads crossed each other, with a small station house, J. T. White's store, and a post office called "Crossing" - the first postmaster was Frank Shimmel. There were also several log cabins.

The general plan was to found a Finnish farming community, to make a living mainly from farming, and as there was still some lumbering industry in the area, to work in the camps in the wintertime to supplement the farming with a necessary cash income.

The town became known as Kaleva when the Michigan Land Society secured a Finnish land agent by the name of Jaakko E. Saari from Brooklyn, New York to sell land in this vicinity and induce Finnish people to make a settlement here. In 1900 Mr. Saari moved here and with him came John Haksluoto who built a home. Other pioneers arriving here in 1900 were the families of Jaakko Lemponen, Kalle Hendrickson, Matti Kemppainen, Antti Myllyla and John Palomaki. The late Vieno Haksluoto Hagelberg Kaskinen was the first Finnish child born in Kaleva. The late Edwin Lemponen was the second. Mr. Saari named the town Kaleva, a name which was taken from the Finnish national epic poem, the "Kalevala". The area where Matt Saari, Matt Simpson, Erick Granfors and Hjalmar Siivonen had farms was called "Hoikka Loukko" or "Skinnynook".

Jaakko Lemponen lived in a log cabin while his farm house was being built and he greeted other newcomers and gave them lodging until other arrangements could be made. The log house was then used as the first sauna in the Kaleva area and was in continuous use for 50 years. He was also the first Finn called for jury duty.

In 1900 the Michigan Land Society surveyed the village into lots. The names of the streets were also taken from the "Kalevala" - Aura, Osmo, Kauko, Tapio, Tavi, Louhi, Panu, Sampo, Metsola, Wuoksi, etc.

The land in the area had been thoroughly raped of its virgin timber, had become unproductive and a tax burden in the hands of the "lumber barons" who had gotten rich from the lumbering industry. It was a burden to be gotten rid of, the sooner the better.

In the fall of 1901 the Finnish Publishing Co. which published the newspaper "Siirtolainen" meaning the "Immigrant" moved here from Brooklyn. The newspaper had national circulation and through it Finnish families in America learned of the Finnish settlement in Kaleva. As a result many came here in 1901 and subsequently.

While sales publicity and advertising tended to make Kaleva out as some kind of a utopian paradise to the pioneer Finns, it was far from that. The sales success occurred because of the pioneer's implicit trust and belief in the publicity and mainly because of their intense desire to get away from mining town living and death trap mines as well as sweat shop conditions in large cities. The colonization succeeded because the Finn would not allow adverse conditions to create failure. In Finland, if a man owned 40 acres of land, he considered himself well off, was able to make a living for himself and family, even though the land was not of the best.

But conditions were different here. He had to start from the beginning. Shelter had to be built and land prepared for planting. It had to be done with a grub hoe between the stumps until the land could be cleared.

The founding of the Finnish community and Kaleva was no sudden brainstorm or quirk of fate, neither was it an act of benevolence to the pioneer. It was a thoroughly planned project and while supposedly idealistic and utopian, its primary purpose was self-aggrandizement. However legal and honest it may have been, it certainly lacked considerable moral principle.

The "barons" had learned that the immigrant Finns were of good pioneering stock and "land hungry" to boot. What better way to get rid of the tax burden than to sell it to the Finns. With proper promotion, this could be done.

One of the promotional ads stated: "Land obtainable cheaply in Kaleva. Kaleva is located between two railroads and a great lake. Two hundred Finnish families now live in Kaleva. Soil is clay and loam. Dairying is very profitable. Haylands especially good."

Land was purchased sight unseen on the strength of the advertising. The people came in droves as if driven by some unseen force. In 1911 there were 1,133 men, women and children on the church roles. Many curiosity seekers came to see the Kaleva utopia. When the purchasers saw the land, many sat down on a stump and cried. Those with money for fares, left and went elsewhere. Those without money rolled up their sleeves and started grubbing between the stumps.

Life for the Kaleva pioneers wasn't easy. Many of them had to clear space on which to build homes. In fact there were stumps on the main street. The land wasn't very fertile and there wasn't much money. However, the Finns were determined to make their livelihood and establish homes for their families. It must have been their Finnish "sisu" or perserverance, which kept them struggling in spite of their many hardships.

Had there been a land zoning ordinance, no sane commission would have classified the area as farming land, this sandy, stumpy, brushy, swampland where subsequently many a crop was lost by frost and droughts. An assessment made some years later left a state land commission aghast and horrified at the quality of the homes built by the Finns on lands not commensurate with their value.

But in spite of all this, the pioneer Finns cleared the lands, built their houses, and raised their families and many of their children left home for the cities to make a living. Some descendents still till the old "home" place with thriving fields of beans, potatoes and strawberries. The founders now rest in their final sleeping place in Maple Grove Cemetery, all deceit and insincerity forgotten and forgiven, as they refused to be licked by adverse conditions or to believe they were taken, they believed they could make a living on worthless land.

The first known close family member who came to Kaleva from Lapua was probably John Kiviranta about 1905. His uncle Jacob Lammi arrived about the same time and sent for his wife Sanna. Jacob's nephew Matt Saari arrived a short time later. Jacob at one time owned several farms in the area. Jacob's niece and her husband Hjalmar and Hilda Siivonen and their five children moved from the Upper Peninsula to Kaleva in 1919 having bought Matt Saari's farm. They later purchased Jacob Lammi's home farm where they had six more children.

Other distant cousins who had moved to Kaleva from Alajärvi earlier were Matt (Talvitie) Simpson with wife Sanna about 1902; Juho Granfors with wife Maija and his son Erick about 1903; and Erick Niemitalo with wife Maria about the same time.

Kaleva Institutions - The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, now known as the Bethany Lutheran Church was organized on January 12, 1902. Sunday School held it's first session on February 16, 1902. Most of the pioneer Finns were religious and felt that the youth had to be properly trained in religion also. The lot of the Finnish youth was a tough one. They not only had to do physical labor, they had to be alert mentally and learn two of the world's toughest languages - Finnish and English. Few, if any knew any English on entering school, but it did not take long to learn. Learning the grammatical fine points in either language was a different matter. Sunday School was held in neighborhood homes until the late 1930's when it was consolidated in the church. They were conducted in Finnish until 1938 when the last class was confirmed.

The Temperance Society, "Kalevatar", was also organized on January 12, 1902. The Temperance Hall was built and made available for use in December, 1902. At first worship services were held in homes and then in the Temperance Hall. The church was built in 1913 and burned down in 1969. The new church building was built and dedicated in 1970. The Wesleyan Church had it's first services on August 27, 1939 and organized as a church on April 7, 1940. It closed it's doors in 1989. The Kaleva Baptist Church began it's services in 1950 in the home of the John E. Wiitala family and the church was built in 1951.

At first children attended a small schoolhouse, known as Maple Grove 5, about three quarters of a mile southwest of the village. The first primary school was builit in 1904 and required two teachers - it burned down in 1912. A new school was built in 1914. The first high school class graduated in 1917. Area rural schools, such as the one the Siivonen children attended, were consolidated into the Kaleva Rural Agricultural School in 1935. New elementary classrooms were built in 1960. The Kaleva school consolidated with the Norman-Dickson township schools in 1963, with elementary schools in Kaleva and Wellston and the middle and high schools in Brethren.

The Union Store was organized in 1907 and the Haksluoto Brothers Meat Market in 1908. Other early businesses were John Makinen's Grocery Store, a drug store, Dickson Hotel, Manner Hotel and Kaywood Hotel.

The first doctor was Dr. W. E. Coates who was born in Milwaukee in 1870. He taught school in Arcadia and then took up the study of medicine and for some time practiced in Manistee, then moved here from Onekama in 1911. The splendid record of the Kaleva Red Cross in the First World War was due to his boundless energy. But the enterprise that was to win him and the town of Kaleva undying fame and a spot in the heart of every service man was the Canteen Service which he and the Red Cross service continued at each train for months until the last of the soldiers had returned home. At one time 8 trains a day went through Kaleva, summer and winter.

Dr. Coates was a director of the Michigan Tuberculosis Society which enabled him to bring in more clinics and health institutes to the county. Not only in his career as a doctor, but in many ways, Dr. Coates served his fellow men faithfully until his death in 1928 so that Coates Highway was named for him.

The Bank of Kaleva was established in 1912 by C. Billman and Sons, Bankers. One of the darkest moments in the history of Kaleva occurred on January 5, 1933, when four armed bandits held up the bank. During the robbery, cashier Ellsworth Billman was shot and killed. The four bandits got away with $3,000 in gold, currency and bonds. It was the first two way radio man hunt in history, and comprised an area of over four counties. The bandits were captured three days after the holdup and all were sentenced to life terms. A book and movie, called "Car 99", were written about the robbery. The bank is now the Kaleva branch of FMB Security Banks.

Electric lights and power became possible in Kaleva in 1926. The village of Kaleva was incorporated in 1948. Robert Rengo was the first president/mayor. Other officers were John Rengo, Charles Dodt and Richard Brotherton.

The Kaleva Historical Museum was dedicated in 1982. It is on both the Michigan and National Register of Historical places. The building was designed as a home for John Makinen who owned the soft drink bottling company which produced the Mission brand of pop that was distributed throughout the Midwest. The facade used 60,000 old pop bottles instead of brick or wood, and so the place was called "The Bottle House". Mr. Makinen died before the building was finished.

Kaleva is no longer considered just a Finnish community as it was in the beginning. Newcomers with various ethnic backgrounds have come to make their contributions to the advancements of the town. However, many second and third generations of the early settlers are still here with names such as Asiala, Beldo, Hakala, Harju, Hendrickson, Hill, Hiipakka, Hulkonen, Holso, Jouppi, Kaskinen, Kemppi, Kuuttila, Leppala, Lemponen, Lindroos, Luhtanen, Makinen, Mannisto, Niemitalo, Nyrkkanen, Pihl, Puustinen, Rengo, Trouppi, Tuisku, Wiitala and others.

An historical marker commemorating the founding of Kaleva in 1900 by Finnish immigrants was erected and dedicated in 1978. It stands on Wuoksi Ave. in downtown Kaleva and reminds us of the brave pioneers who founded this great little village of Kaleva.

Excerpted from a book about the 75th anniversary of the founding of the village (printed in 1975) and a short document written by Esther Puustinen and given to vistors at the Kaleva Historical Museum.

Published in a family newsletter.

© Ken Marder

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