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Green, Michigan and the Kaukas Connection (Part 1)

Douglas D. Karttunen

At the turn of the 19th century, thousands of Finnish emigrants left for North America in search of better opportunities. Many came to the Lake Superior region because of the local copper and iron mines. Often they would work in the mines just long enough to earn the money needed to buy a little land and start a farm of their own - "oma tupa, oma lupa". Such was the case with a number of newly arrived Finns who settled the small, farming community of Green on the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Among these pioneer 

Green is situated west of Ontonagon in lower left part of the map.

farmers were many who had previously worked at the Kaukas rullatehdas - a spool mill located in the parish of Lappee on the southern shore of Lake Saima. Following each other across the Atlantic over a period of about 14 years, most of them would ultimately reunite as neighbors in a newly forged community half a world away. As a point of curiosity, this paper speculates it may be that their common experience at the spool factory may have led the fledgling community in America to nearly adopt the Finnish name "Kaukas".

Was Green Nearly Called Kaukas?

A comment made by my father many years ago regarding the name of our home town - Green, Michigan - has for some reason remained fixed in my memory. He, in fact, was repeating a story that he had heard from his own father, one of Green's original residents. As I now recall the story, a special meeting of local farmers was held to consider naming (perhaps renaming) their newly settled community "Kaukana" - meaning "far away" in their native Finnish language. This seems to have been an appropriate name considering the great distance that existed between their new homes and those they had left behind in Finland. For whatever reasons, however, a decision to call the village "Green" carried the day. Indeed, this name was fitting in its own right since it honored Thorton A. Green, who was General Manager of the C. V. McMillan Lumber Company. This business had earlier acquired large tracts of timberland in the unsettled area west of Ontonagon. It began to log-off these holdings in the early 1900's to supply its own sawmill situated in Ontonagon. As the timber was removed, the company would sell the remaining stump-land to new settlers for the purpose of farming - usually in 40 acre parcels. As a way of promoting his new enterprise, T. A. Green even established a model farm, called Hemlock Hill, to demonstrate the productivity of the land for growing crops and raising farm animals.

While the name "Green" prevails to this day, newly discovered information about the origins of many of the early settlers, suggests that perhaps the abandoned alternative name of "Kaukana" was really a sound alike misinterpretation by my father or me. As it turns out, several of the community's new residents had at one tune worked at a spool mill by the name of Kaukas. Could it be that the proposed name for the new community was meant, instead, to have been "Kaukas" - rather than the more obvious and similar sounding "Kaukana"? Apparently too much time has now elapsed to determine if this was truly the case or not. Further inquiry into the matter has led to no one else who recalls anything about the story. Of course, those old enough to have been there have all long since passed away. Nonetheless, the circumstantial evidence seems to lend at least some credence to the Kaukas naming theory.*

The Kaukas Connection

My grandfather Antti Karttunen (who originally told the above mentioned story to my father) had worked at a spool mill near the Finnish town of Lappeenranta prior to his coming to America in 1901. This spool mill was known as the Kaukas rullatehdas and was situated in the parish of Lappee in southeastern Finland. Lappee was located adjacent to the old fortress town of Lappeenranta on the south shore of Lake Saima - the largest of Finland's many lakes. Investigation of early membership records of the Green Church revealed that, in fact, many of the families that settled the community of Green had come to America from either Lappee or Lappeenranta. As a result of these findings, inquiry was made to UPM-Kymmene (the company which now owns the Kaukas pulp and paper mills - present day successor of the Kaukas spool mill), regarding past employees of the rullatehdas. Astonishingly, hundred year old lists containing names of workers from the Kaukas spool mill were still in the Kaukas Mill archives. Through the kind efforts of UPM and its records keepers, it was found that at least thirteen of the original founding families of Green had one or more members who were employed either at the Kaukas spool mill or at the associated Kaukas pulp mill. Further research of the Lappee and Lappeenranta parish records uncovered additional information about these, as well as other Green settlers not included in the UPM records. Most of these people had, in fact, first moved to Lappee from other areas of Finland for the work which the Kaukas factories afforded. Several Green settlers who were not found in the Kaukas worker lists had, nevertheless, still come from the Lappee area or had some sort of ties to the Kaukas employees. It is quite apparent that a network had been established among these people that ultimately brought them together again a second time on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1890 a Finnish manufacturing company called Kaukas Fabrik began searching for a place to construct a new spool factory. Kaukas Fabrik had already built its first spool mill in 1873 at the Kaukaankoski rapids in the community of Mäntsälä, a little northeast of Helsinki. A site for their new factory was ultimately found in Lappee parish on the southern shore of Lake Saima. There they purchased the Parkkarila farm, which was located in the village of the same name. Construction began shortly thereafter, and the new Kaukas mill began operations in 1892. It was the fourth, spool factory to be opened in Finland, making use of the country's vast birch forests to manufacture wooden spools for export to the European textile industry. In July 1898, just a few years after opening, the new spool factory was destroyed by a fire, but new equipment was ordered immediately and it was back in production by February 1900.

Spool mills like the Kaukas rullatehdas, converted Finland's abundant birch trees into thread spools for export. In the process, birch trees from the surrounding area were cut into logs and transported to the factory. There the logs were sawn into blocks which were turned on lathes, drilled, and thereby converted into spools of various shapes and sizes. Because a lot of wood waste, in the form of sawdust and shavings, was generated.from the processing of logs into spools, Kaukas Fabrik decided to build a pulp mill. The pulp mill would make use of this waste by converting it into a bleached paper-making pulp. In 1895 construction of the Kaukas sellutehdas began near the spool factory, and it became operational by March 1897. A second sulfite pulp mill followed in 1905. Over the years a veneer plant and paper machines were also added to create a growing forest products industrial complex at Kaukas. Today the Kaukas Mills is a world class, state-of-the-art pulp and paper facility owned by UPM-Kymmene. However, by June 1972, the original Kaukas rullatehdas, which had started it all, was closed - largely a result of traditional wooden spools being replaced by spools made elsewhere from modern plastics.

The Kaukas Emigrants

The advent of industrialization in Finland toward the end of the 1800's brought about significant social change and an increased mobility within the general populous. At the same time the population of the country was growing rapidly, and usable farm land in this traditionally agrarian society was being stretched to its limit. This compelled individuals tö move from ancestral farms (many of which may have been in the same family for centuries) to find jobs where ever they could. Many went to the country's newly emerging factories, like those at Kaukas. Among the jobs which spool factory workers performed, as mentioned in the Kaukas worker lists, were: wood sorter, spool block sawyer, turner, spool maker, borer, helper, stoker, etc.

Photo courtesy Doug Karttunen

This circa 1915 photo includes Doug's father (Arthur Karttunen), the boy in the lower left hand corner. His father (Antti Karttunen) is about midway in the crowd just to the left of the door. The picture was taken in front of the Carp Lake School located near the Kaukas peoples' homes.

The prospect of work drew people from across Finland to the Kaukas spool mill. What, then, caused so many of these workers to decide to move once again to America? Was it economics, the political climate, fear of conscription, or some combination of these? Whatever the reasons, there was a slow and steady migration of workers from Kaukas to America from the turn of the 19th century until it was interrupted by the First World War in 1914. Emigration from the Kaukas mills to America was sufficiently common that notations of it were made in the Kaukas worker lists along side the names of many of those who left. The first Kaukas workers known to make the journey to America left in 1900. Their destination was Calumet, Michigan, where employment in the area's copper mines was readily available. Within a year or two many of these people were relocating once again - this time to an area near Mass City, Michigan, a recently revitalized mining "boom town" about 60 miles to the southwest of Calumet. They worked at mines in small neighboring communities such as Belt (later called Lake Mine), Mass City, Rockland, and Victoria. By this same time, those still leaving Kaukas would often travel directly to Mass City. By 1903 the newly cut-over land to the west of Ontonagon was becoming available for purchase, and some of the former Kaukas workers began the pioneer settlements of that area. Subsequently, emigration from Kaukas went directly to that newly settled farming community (soon to be called Green) through the railhead at Ontonagon.

A more detailed account of the emigrant movement from Kaukas to Green follows. Those whose names are highlighted within the text denote Kaukas emigrants who eventually became residents of Green. Most had worked at either the Kaukas spool mill or pulp mill, with the rest being their spouses, children, siblings, or other acquaintances.


The migration from the Lappee area to America began in 1900. The first person known to make the journey was Fredrik Fridolf Karlsson, who had worked as a turner at the spool mill. He left Finland on April 21, 1900, with a destination of Calumet. Calumet was home of'the largest and most productive copper mine in Michigan at the time - the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company. Quite a sizable Finnish immigrant community was already there by 1900, as in neighboring Hancock and the surrounding Copper Country in general. Fred most probably found work at one of the mines in the Calumet area. Fred's wife Aina and two children Aina Dagmar and Wäinö Fredrik, joined him later that year, departing from Finland on August 4. Aina had also worked at the spool mill. The family changed the spelling of their name to Carlson in their new homeland.

Shortly thereafter two other Kaukas workers set off to Calumet: Nikodemus Hokkanen and Aaro Savolainen (later changed to Savola). They traveled together, leaving Finland October 13, 1900, and were accompanied by their wives and children: Miina Hokkanen and daughter Lyyli Eliina; and Kaisa Savolainen and son Aksel Johan. Both men had worked as turners at the mill.


The next year found more workers leaving the Kaukas mill for Calumet. Antti Karttunen departed from Finland on April 6, 1901. Traveling with him from Kaukas were three other men: Samuli Siljander, Johan Oinonen and Antti Oinonen. John Oinonen was single, while the others were. married.

Editor's note: Doug Karttunen recently retired from his position as a Principal Process Engineer with International Paper Company's mill in Quinnesec, Mich.
He and his wife Sally reside in Kingsford, Mich., and are both active in FinnishAmerican activities.
The conclusion of this article will appear in the March issue with more biographical sketches.

* After this paper was published, the following article was discovered in the May 21, 1904 issue of The Ontonagon Herald - a local newspaper. It confirms the suspicions raised in the paper that Green was, in fact, supposed to be called Kaukas:

Published in The Finnish American Reporter, February 2002.

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