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Lina Belar/FOCUS The entrance sign to the Finn Creek Museum welcomes visitors to the grounds.

Finn Creek Summer Folk Festival is this weekend

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Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

The thing about the Finnish is that they love everything about being Finnish and hope that you will, too.

That’s what prompted a group of organizers to establish the Finn Creek Open Air Museum nearly 40 years ago in a remote section of East Otter Tail County along the Leaf River watershed. 

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During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many settlers of Finnish descent settled in the New York Mills area and they stayed, preserving their culture throughout the generations. Today, it is still possible to hear Finnish spoken in the local café and on the street.

But nowhere is the thrill of being Finnish celebrated more wholeheartedly than in the annual Finn Creek Summer Folk Festival, held at the site of the original Finnish Farmstead of Siffert and Wilhelmiina Tapio, who came from Finland to homestead 80 acres around 1900.

The house and the sauna are the original buildings of the homestead. Other buildings were moved there or are faithfully reproduced replicas of the original buildings. 

Over the years, other structures have been added to the site. A one-room school house from 1890 is a living, working example of the schools where thousands of rural children learned their ABCs. 

The Finn Creek Open Air Museum was opened in 1976 with the mission of preserving the heritage and artifacts of the early settlers. The 40-acre site is also home to the Summer Folk Festival, a two-day festival held the last weekend of August. At the festival, the pioneer heritage is celebrated. There’s an old-time threshing machine in operation, as well as a sawmill. In one building, a blacksmith uses traditional tools to bend iron. There are also displays of old machinery and tours of the farmstead. Other events at the festival focus on the Finnish heritage.

Sometime before the festival, a week-long Finnish language school is held.  Modeled on Salolampi, the Finnish Camp at Concordia Language Villages, students spend several hours each day immersed in the culture and language of Finland.

Amy Tervolo-Hultberg, who is now the Dean of Salolampi, is one of the instructors. 

“It’s an intensive couple of hours. The kids are immersed in the language,” she said, “not submerged by it.”  

In Finland, Tervolo-Hultberg said, 15 minutes of every hour, school children get a recess: “It’s a very active learning process. We do traditional schoolyard games, bake some traditional Finnish treats. We want to introduce the culture as well as the language.” 

She hopes that everyone will go to Finland someday, but until then, this is the next best thing.

One of the scheduled events during the Summer Folk Festival is a class called Learning Finnish, led by some of the students who participate in the week-long Finnish language class. 

Another way that visitors to the festival can experience the Finnish language and culture is to participate in the Finnish Conversational Hours, which are held both days. And, in addition to more traditional festival food, there will be Finnish treats.

The other mission of the Finn Creek Open Air Museum is to provide a place where people can enjoy family reunions, anniversaries and other gatherings at a reasonable cost.

The site is often in demand for these kinds of events.  A large banquet hall and kitchens have been recently remodeled. The campgrounds have electric hookups for 40 RVs and a new building houses bathrooms and showers. Last year, a fire pit was added to the campgrounds. 

All summer long from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Finn Creek is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, from 1-5 p.m.  A charming gift shop is well-stocked with a unique line of Finnish products, from Iitala glass to Marimekko fabrics as well as Finnish coffee (Juhla Mokka).

The Finn Creek Open Air Museum is staffed entirely by volunteers. Some have a family connection. The grandson of the original family who homesteaded the area has been a regular volunteer for years.

Most of the volunteers are members of the New York Mills chapter of the Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society. Board president, David Wittiko, said the reason he volunteers is that he wants to make sure the next generation gets to understand more about their Finnish heritage. 

“I feel like it’s a duty,” he said.

But, like the other descendants of Finnish settlers, Wittiko loves everything about the Finnish culture, and thinks you will, too.

Summer Folk Festival

The Finn Creek Museum Summer Folk Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24-25. Events will be ongoing from early morning to 4 p.m. both days.

Food will be available on site, including BBQ, hot dogs, pork sandwiches, pies, ice cream, Finnish specialties and more.

There will be wagon rides, displays of antique equipment, historical storytelling, a petting barn, museum tours, demonstrations (of log sawing, blacksmithing and rug weaving), a children’s tractor pull, live entertainment and much more.

For a complete list of events, visit www.finncreek.org.

The festival is sponsored by the Minnesota Finnish American Historical Society.

Open Air Museum

The Finn Creek Open Air Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 1-5 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Admission is free. It is located three miles east of New York Mills on 340th Street.  Take State Highway 106 south off of Highway 10, and watch for signs.

Lina Belar, For the Focus

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