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11To build the rail system and docks that made it a great location, the town had recruited laborers from Finland, Hungary and Slovenia to work on the infrastructure that transported iron ore and coal to Pittsburgh and grain and lumber to Cleveland and other population centers. Most were Finns who sent for their families and, during the late 1800s, built houses on land near High and Third streets land the docks owned and allowed them to use. Finn Hollow was the name given to the town’s Finnish neighborhood.

When their families came, the Finns formed temperance societies to keep their children on the straight and narrow with programs of Finnish language, singing and dancing. Everyone was required to take a pledge against drinking alcohol.

“But in the early 20th century, the docks decided they wanted the land back,” says Kathy Kuivinen, curator of the Finnish Heritage Museum. “Those Finn Hollow homes had to be moved. Today about eight of those homes remain and are part of our walking tour.”

Although now their native languages are largely limited to church services, Finnish, Hungarian and Slovenian tongues once were heard even more often than English on the streets of Fairport Harbor. Only slightly more than 3,000 people live in the village today, and about 12 percent of them share a Finnish ancestry.

“The Finns, Hungarians and Slovenians here get along so well in Fairport that it inspired a joke about how FHS, the initials for the high school, actually stands for Finnish, Hungarian and Slovenian,” Kuivinen says. The other nationalities all have an interest in preserving their ethnic heritage, too, she says.

The museum began several years ago with a germ of an idea among a group of Finns in the congregation at Zion Lutheran Church, where Finnish language services still take place.

“Many of them had things from Finland that had been handed down through the generations, and they were afraid traditions and memories would be lost as the Finns assimilated,” Kuivinen says.

After a monument honoring Finnish families was erected in 2004, the core group continued to work toward forming a museum.

The building at 301 High St. became available, and the museum was formally established on July 1, 2007.

Coincidentally, the museum is located in what had once been Finn Hollow.

“This place had been a city hall, a fire station and even a senior center, so it’s also fairly historic,” Kuivinen says.

Museum visitors are greeted in the adjacent coffee room with a hearty “Hei!
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Hei!” (hello) and good strong Finnish coffee accompanied by generous slices of nissu, a cardamom flavored Finnish bread still made by the women at Zion Lutheran Church.

The Finnish Heritage Museum has become a repository for many items that folks had passed down from father to son, mother to daughter things no longer in use by families but kept preserved in their attics and basements.

A 100 year old double harness loom still is in use at the museum operated by a member who recalls how thrifty Finns made rag rugs from old and outgrown clothing.

“Every home had a loom like this,” Kuivinen says. “When I was a girl, my grandmother had her loom in her basement. I remember spending Saturday nights cutting up rags to be made into rugs.”

These days the rags for rugs come largely from old and outgrown blue jeans, so there are a lot of denim rag rugs around Fairport Harbor.

A replica sauna in another part of the museum helps recall a lifelong activity in many Finnish households.

“I can always tell by the way people pronounce it whether they’re Finnish or not,” Kuivinen says. In Finnish, the accent is customarily on the first syllable, so the word is pronounced SOW na, she says.

Finns invented the sauna as a means for staying clean and warm during the long winter. The custom spread to other Scandinavian countries, where it was adopted with different variations.

“Some homes here in Fairport still have their saunas in place, and a number of people have made a modern day tradition of taking saunas in each other’s homes,” she says.

Currently, it’s an exhibit of traditional Finnish costumes that’s drawing visitors to the museum.

“We have 14 costumes, many of them belonging to our members,” Kuivinen says. “In Finland there are more than 500 costumes connected with different parts of the country and used for different celebrations.”

The oldest in the museum’s collection is a costume made by hand to replicate one from the 13th century. Look closely at the bead work to see that they aren’t really beads at all but wires wrapped tightly and uniformly to look like beads.

“From a distance, it looks like lace,” Kuivinen says.

Vests and aprons often are worn over the dress with black stockings and black shoes.

An official board in Finland keeps track of costumes, where they originate, how they’re made and when they are to be worn, she says. Younger women wear beribboned head pieces while older, married women wear caps, she says.

In this country, traditional Finnish costumes can be seen at dance demonstrations and at the December celebration of Pikkujoulu, or the Little Christmas.

The original Fairport settlers are long gone, and the last wave of immigrants from Finland came to Fairport Harbor in the 1960s, so it’s an aging population. Second , third and fourth generation Finns often speak a little Finn but have lost the reading and writing of the language. On trips back to their homeland, they realized that the Finnish they spoke was a childish, outdated version of the language and no longer heard in Finland.
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