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Esko's Corner

An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township

About the Project

“The historian,” said novelist E.L. Doctorow, “can tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” This new book does both, fusing well-documented history with stories and recollections of the people who lived through good times and bad in a small northeastern Minnesota community.

What To Call It?

For a long time, the book’s working title was “A Place Called Esko,” subtitled “A History of Thomson Township.”

For a while, the book project committee was leaning toward “The Valley of the Midway.” It has a nice ring, but the reality is that nearly half of the township’s watershed is outside of the Midway River’s influence and there was concern about some residents feeling excluded.

“Esko: The Sauna Suburb” had some early advocates, but it, too, was deemed exclusionary because even though the community was developed mainly by Finns and Finnish-Americans, the majority of today’s residents are not of Finnish heritage.

Another temporary front-runner: “Let’s Go, Esko!" The battle cry of the high school athletic teams, it was also an expression used years ago by Finnish-accented rural residents when proposing a trip into “town.” But for some committee members, it was either too limited by its connection with sports or too frivolous.

But then we finally hit on a title. It was probably too obvious to see immediately. We called it "Esko's Corner,"  the name by which the community was originally known. The subtitle, "An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township," did not change. So there you have it: Esko's Corner.

How It Began:

The Esko Historical Society held its first Esko Heritage Day in 2007. Presenters offered a wealth of interesting material, and some of them urged the society to capture the community’s story in book form.

There had been one book, History of the Thomson Farming Area by John A. Mattinen, in 1935, but it existed only in Finnish until translated and republished in 2000. Another, Francis Carroll’s Crossroads in Time: A History of Carlton County, published in 1987, provides an excellent, but limited, history of Esko and Thomson Township.

So in 2008, interested parties were convened and a steering committee was organized to shepherd a book into print.

Committee members sifted through government records, historical society archives, regional libraries (including, it seems, miles of old newspaper microfilm) and numerous family journals and letters. More than 100 interviews were conducted with past and present area residents.

The writing process was finally done in the spring of 2013, followed by the design and then a few months of final editing, proofreading and, ultimately, indexing. The manuscript and images were shipped to the printer in early November 2013. The books arrived on January 8 and now, finally, the first definitive history of Esko and Thomson Township is a reality. 


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NEMBA AWARD

“Esko’s Corner” has been selected the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards runner-up in general nonfiction for books published in 2013.

NEMBA, established in 1988, annually recognizes books from a nine-county area “that best represent northeastern Minnesota in the area of history, culture, heritage or lifestyle.” Judging is performed by the University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library, Friends of the Duluth Library and Lake Superior Writers.

Two awards were presented in each of five categories: general nonfiction, memoir and creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry and children’s literature. The winner in general nonfiction was “The Pie Place Café Cookbook: Food & Stories Seasoned by the North Shore,” written by Kathy Rice and published by Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc.

The Esko Historical Society is grateful to Barbara (Himango) Forcier and the Esko Senior Citizens for their nomination of “Esko’s Corner.”

BOOK SALES...

More than 1,500 books had been sold by early October and nearly 200 were on consignment at 28 commercial and nonprofit outlets (see list below).

Reader reaction has been highly gratifying. "It feeds the intellect and the soul," said one. Another, less poetically, said, "We were quite blown away." And a third said, "It will be treasured by all."

The long-awaited hardcover book was designed by award-winning Duluth historian Tony Dierckins and printed in Minnesota by Bang Printing of Brainerd.

Books may be ordered by mail (see “Order Info” page) or by visiting the area vendors listed below.

OVER-THE-COUNTER:

ESKO: A Shear Thing, Barnes Care Assisted Living, Esko Liquors, Esko Self Service, Eskomo Pizza Pies, Finn & Feather Hair Designs, Hair Designs by Sherri, Hammarlund Nursery, Widdes Feed & Farm Supply, Wirtz Service.

CLOQUET: Attic Antiques, Bearaboo Coffee Shop, Bergquist Import & Gift Shop, Carlton County Historical Museum, Family Tradition restaurant, Kamari Gift Shop.

CARLTON: Carlton Bike Rental.

SCANLON: Trapper Pete's Steakhouse & Saloon.

WRENSHALL: Brickyard Restaurant.

JAY COOKE STATE PARK: Park Headquarters gift shop.

DULUTH: Bookstore at Fitger’s, Gannucci’s Italian Market, Great Lakes Aquarium, Lake Superior Magazine, Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, Nordic Center, The Art Dock.

E-mail questions should be directed to dwhelberg@aol.com.

A Living History

Esko's Corner is not a mere recitation of cold facts and dates lifted from musty tomes in area libraries. It is, first and foremost, a people’s history, a social history—recollections of folks who lived, worked and played here.

There are family tales that have been handed down through generations as well as stories of colorful characters (“Housu Maija,” or “Pants Mary,” among them) and unusual events (the day the notorious John Dillinger stopped for repairs at Moses Service Station and the night some local farm boys beat the fabled Harlem Globetrotters in basketball).

There are features sure to surprise even longtime residents: The locations of pathways used by American Indians and Voyageurs, the existence of an ancient volcano, the fact that the first industry was not logging or milling but mining (there were slate mines on the St. Louis River) and, in what promises to be a well-thumbed chapter, a history of local road names.

Descendants of survivors of the Great Fire of 1918 recall the trauma and terror of that disaster, while people who endured the Great Depression describe its impact on daily life—or, as someone also said, “What Depression? We were so poor we didn’t notice.”

There's a big chapter on farming, especially dairy farming. Not that long ago the township was noted statewide as a dairy center, and farms, large and small, dominated the landscape.

Esko’s schools and scholars have been the pride of the community for generations. Emerging from the ashes of the 1918 Fire, the independent school district became a model for others, and it continues to reap state and regional awards for academic and extracurricular excellence. A major chapter is devoted to the schools, including sidebars on horse-drawn schoolbuses, the Esko Cannery and the state's first Future Farmers of America program.

The chapter on Esko's businesses will stir many memories as we revisit the founding of RAM Insurance, Arrowhead Creamery, Mattinen's Barbershop (and post office), Juntti's stores, Hank's Cafe, Moses Chevrolet, the Co-op, Smith's Hatchery, S.R. Bergstedt's various enterprises, Kinnunen Lumber, Meadowbrook Dairy and many more...plus, in more recent years, Widdes Feed and Farm Supply, Hammarlund Landscaping, Townsend's Sugar Camp, Quarter Master Buffalo and Barnes Care Assisted Living. 

And there is a lot of sports coverage, to be sure. Recognition of Esko’s name throughout the state and region is often tied directly to the perennial success of its teams and athletes: the Eskomos. 

Esko’s evolution into today’s lively little suburb is addressed in full, as is so much more...early logging camps and sawmills, a trip down the Midway River, Jay Cooke State Park, the impact of two world wars, the Esko Locker Plant, the founding of the Esko Volunteer Fire Department.

The book is also lavishly illustrated with about 160 photos, many in color, and nine topical maps. The producers are hopeful that Esko's Corner will become another of Thomson Township's many treasures.

 

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