The economic efforts of the people of the Copper Country are grounded in their communities. Boston and Paavola, both adjacent to landscapes owned and managed by the Keweenaw Land Trust, are each distinctive communities which began and then thrived in the mining era only to see their populations decline after active mining ended here.

 
 

Boston represents a successful shift from a mixed-ethnicity mining location to a community that emphasized commercial agriculture and had a lively social life. From its beginning, Paavola is distinct as an almost exclusively Finnish community devoted largely to agrarian life and the promotion of Finnish cultural values.

BOSTON
Boston began in the 1860s as a copper mine location on the middle lode serving the short lived Albany & Boston mine. As the fortunes of the nearby copper mines rose and fell the community grew to embrace commercial agriculture as well. Boston's distinctiveness as a community peaked in the middle of the 20th century with great public enthusiasm for its sports teams and general store. As mining in the Copper Country ended in the 1960s and commercial agriculture trickled away by the turn of the 21st century, Boston evolved into a residential community for Hancock to the south.

Though not yet called Boston in the annual reports of the period, between 1860 and 1864 the Albany & Boston mine location was well on its way toward becoming a thriving community. In hopes of "attract[ing] family men" in those years, the company established a school house that served 25 students including some children from the neighboring St. Mary's Copper Mining Company location. The mine was quite optimistic and proud of its emerging community, as reflected in its annual reports. In 1864 there were 235 residents including 75 women and 65 children under 15 years old; the other half of the population were the mine workers themselves. The mine employed mostly men from the U.S., Canada, England, and Ireland. The majority of them could read and write.

Around the turn of the century, Boston was a thriving independent community with a school, multiple churches, and general stores. Boston was large enough that by the end of the company's first year of service in 1900, the Houghton County Traction Company provided Boston's residents with streetcar service to Hancock.42 In that same year, the town established a post office with Jemma White as its first postmaster. Unfortunately there was some confusion between mail deliveries to Boston, Michigan and Boston, Massachusetts. The solution was in April 1906 to officially rename the post office as Demmon, after one of the mining executives. In this era, Boston children attended classes at the Franklin Jr. School from kindergarten to 10th grade, and then they could finish high school in Calumet, Hancock, or Houghton. Before 1909 the only store in town was James H. Seager & Co, more commonly known as the Boston Store. After that year the town had a co-op flour mill and three general stores - Kemppainen Bros., Pykonen, and J.H. Seager & Co., and also the Waarala confectionary. In the years before World War I, Boston's population grew steadily to just under 1,000 residents.

In the years after World War I, Boston's population remained steady as some of the town's amenities and infrastructure diversified. By 1916, Boston had added a telephone connection, expanded its number of churches to three - Evangelical Lutheran, Apostolic Lutheran, and Methodist Episcopal - and added a high school to supplement the already established Boston School. Most of Boston's residents at that time were working for the Franklin Mining Company at its Franklin Jr. mine. In addition to miners and laborers, and their families, the town's residents also included Franklin's physician, gardener, blacksmith, and carpenter. Expansion was not found in all sectors however; in this period Boston's general stores were reduced to one, the J.H. Seeger and Co. store, which employed two clerks.

Active mining around Boston ended in the late teens and the townspeople turned more and more to agriculture as a way to make a living. For example, the town added three dairies in 1917 to accommodate the increased number of dairy cattle nearby. Rural Property Assessment surveys conducted two decades later record some of the land around Boston being used for growing hay and other schedule "A" crops; the land that wasn't actively cultivated was a mixture between hardwood stands and cutover land. Sketch maps from the property surveys show the road that branched from US 41 to go past Boston was called the Cloverland Road, which was a name associated with farming in the Upper Midwest. The 1937 property surveys listed local trading centers alternately as Boston or Demmon, showing that the residents continued to alternate between these names. Boston, at that time, also had a dance hall and an athletic field on its untillable pastureland. Not surprisingly, the town's Finnish Apostolic Lutheran church was surrounded by lots between County Road and Boston Pond that were owned by people with Finnish surnames.

The Boston Store, which operated from 1902 to the late 1970s, was an important center of commerce for the community. During its nearly 80 years of operation, the store had four owners/proprietors. The first group, Seager & Co., had their main store in Franklin location and another store in Ripley as well. According to Jack Waara, age 91 in 2002, the Boston store structure was originally built in the Rhode Island location in the late 1800s and "hauled cross-county by horse" to begin business in Boston in 1902. It served the community as a gathering spot for gossip and for farmers to trade. It was reported in the Daily Mining Gazette that "[a]ll of the stock for the store - including dry goods such as cloth, groceries, sausages made at a meat plant in Boston, and boots for miners were transported from the main store on Quincy Hill by horse and buggy in good or bad weather." The descendants of the second proprietor, Gus Waarala, Sr., describe the store as a "prominent landmark." Waarala also owned a pool hall/candy store with some groceries. In the Jaehnig period of ownership, the store was served by a bus line. It was said that they had a good meat department and at some time had a slaughterhouse in back of the store.

In mid 1970s, two men with degrees from Michigan Tech, Glenn Pyhtila and Allan Ponnikas, sought to open a business in the former Boston Store. Their intention was to make it a country store that employed both a butcher and a clerk. The store was outfitted with hitching posts for horses; they extended the country store theme by also selling saddlery and related products. They expected to serve customers from the area surrounding Boston; including Salo, Oneco, Highway, Rhode Island, St. Mary's, and Arcadian. They were willing to deliver to their customers for a fee.

Boston's sense of community identity and cohesiveness centered around public resources and activities. The Boston community at times had a baseball team and a hockey team, both of which were quite successful in the Upper Peninsula. Their first sports organization was a baseball team. In the 1910 season the team had an African-American player known as "Paddy", "who like so many others was a miner."53 The town's baseball team was the Boston Pirates whose baseball diamond was known as Fenway Park; they were the champions of the U.P. in 1935. Fenway Park was outfitted with a dugout, bleachers, scoreboard, and concession stand.

In the decades immediately post-war, the community hockey team was quite competitive in the larger region and review articles celebrating the achievements of Boston's hockey team showed up in the local newspaper. The Daily Mining Gazette in 1947 featured a colorful description of the community:

"You never heard of Boston, Mich.? Well neither have a lot of people. It isn't even listed on most maps. It is a community of 300 located between Hancock and Calumet on old US 41. It consists of two stores, two gas stations, a church, and a flaming hockey spirit. There's not even a school or a passenger train stop within five miles, or a spot where a fellow can whet a parched lip. But there's plenty of hockey enthusiasm - has been for years, in fact."

The above description appears in the context of a news article on the formation of a Boston-based hockey team set to compete in a regional hockey circuit. If successful, they would have represented the smallest town in any hockey league.

Labor festivals held into the 1980s show that Boston's labor history was not forgotten by its post-mining era residents. Into the present there continue to be accounts in the local newspapers celebrating the history of Boston as an important mining community. These include review stories and accounts of people seeking to preserve aspects of the community and its built environment. For example, the community was famed for the "Great Boston Train Robbery" where C&H payroll was stolen from a mail car and for being the birthplace of "Big Louie" Moilanen. Labor Day celebrations were recorded in the local newspaper in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1975 celebration was its third annual. The event was held at the community center and parking was available at Fenway. The 1981 Labor Day event was also held at the community center. This event was highlighted by an arranged reuse of the local stacks, described as "…smoke in the skies will direct newcomers to the… celebration…. The two old Boston Mining Co. stacks will again pour forth smoke, once a common sight in this now inactive mining community."

After its peak of nearly 1000 residents in the 1910s, Boston's population began to drop steadily, down to around 280 residents in 1940 and then declining further still through the end of the 20th century. Despite their dwindling population, the town made improvements in 1968 by breaking ground for a new fire station and community hall. Money for the construction of this combined structure was raised by a local business development committee. As of 2000 Boston had become a "residential and agricultural town" with approximately 100 residents.

PAAVOLA
Paavola began life as Concord City. Though it was not strictly a mining location, unlike Boston, the optimism of Concord City's early years was tied to the boosterism of the Arcadian Mining Company and other nearby short-lived mines near the turn of the 20th century. The Daily Mining Gazette described Concord City as "a thriving little community" that was growing "rapidly" in response to development at the Arcadian Mine. Optimism was such that the paper reported that "the population of the little town will be on the increase from now on." Within the first decade of the 1900s the community's character quickly solidified into a Finnish enclave with strong agrarian interests and strong mining labor partisanship. Paavola, as it was known from 1909, exemplified a common local Finnish desire to move away from mining toward household subsistence agriculture. Throughout its history the community had an uneasy relationship with mining. Though mining was part of its beginning, Paavola's residents were not clearly affiliated with any one mine, though at its population peak many of the town's men were employed in them.59 Paavola's most enduring mark on the Copper Country landscape is suo ojat and farmsteads; and on memory is oral histories; both derived from its agricultural character.

John Kustaa Paavola, for whom the town was re-named, was born in Finland in 1859. He, his wife, and the first three of their eventual 11 children moved to the Copper Country in the mid-1880s where John worked as a miner and stone cutter. They settled near Concord City. By 1895, John had acquired 160 acres of land adjacent to Concord City, satisfying a dream held by many Finnish immigrants of that era to own farm land; in that year he deeded 40 acres (the south ¼ of Section 19) to the town for public use. As it was originally platted, Concord City had ten streets that encompassed fifteen blocks. A recent pedestrian survey shows that only the south-central portion of the original plat has dwellings and other structures remaining. In some cases, platted streets were never fully developed and instead became drainage ditches or alleyways.

In 1909, the residents of Concord City petitioned the U.S. government for a post office, submitting 100 signatures along with the request.64 The town's 60 families felt that it was too inconvenient to pick up their mail in Hancock or Franklin. In their petition Concord City's residents changed the town's name to honor John Kustaa Paavola. John Henry Paavola, 5th child of John Kustaa, then became its first postmaster. He was postmaster from June 1909 to October 1910. Later on John Henry's sister, Mary Pietila, was Paavola's third postmaster. The town's general store held the post office in its earliest days. That office also served mail clients from Arcadian, Sunshine location, and Mesnard. At its height the office served 100 box holders. It was a social center for many of the older men of the town, who would wait there for their mail and reminisce with each other. Paavola's final post office was run out of the home of its last postmaster, Jennie Kesti, until her retirement in 1966, at which time the post office closed its service. The post office was a key element of Paavola's infrastructure and its end was prominently mourned in the Copper Country's largest newspaper at that time. The fate of the town's school rose and fell much like its post office. The residents of Concord City began a school for their children in 1900. The school reportedly closed forty years later, probably due to declining population, at which point the Paavola school board purchased a bus to take the children to school in Hancock.

Paavola's cultural underpinnings were almost exclusively Finnish; the Daily Mining Gazette noted, in a tone of soft racism, that "[a]n Englishman, Croatian, Italian, Frenchman or the Irish hadn't made themselves known to the area people." The same article's reflections upon early daily life in the town, possibly based on retiring post mistress Jennie Kesti's recollections, made it sound idyllic. Fathers lovingly supervised their children in planting potatoes in the family garden or eating candy at the general store. Families raised their own livestock, such as cows, horses, chickens, ducks, or pigs and preserved berries for the winter. Families tended to have many children (8-14) who were well disciplined, thanks to the watchful eyes of elder siblings, and obeyed curfews. The townspeople enjoyed saunas, fueled by wood smoke, on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Some of these families opened their saunas to the public. The Daily Mining Gazette also reported that not all of the residents knew English as well as Finnish, so the postmaster would help those who only spoke Finnish when they would purchase from mail order catalogs.

In the early 1900s, the community's close proximity to several small nearby mines made it a popular place for miners and their families to settle. It was of special interest to miners working for QMC because they were able to purchase existing structures from the Arcadian mine's location to move to Paavola after that mine's demise. Arcadian had as many as 150 "dwelling houses" that these later miners could have utilized. In 1908 the executives of the QMC purchased ten 6-room houses from the Arcadian mine for $175 each; six of these were then moved to Concord City for $275 each where they were placed atop stone foundations and cellars for $500 each. The Quincy Mine executives believed that this plan was cheaper than wholly new construction. In an internal letter, the executives also noted that around 12 other Arcadian houses were purchased by "our miners" themselves and moved to Concord City, "the town site of the Arcadian property." Quincy executives were pleased at what this might signal; "It expresses the returning confidence the miners have in the mine and their contentment to cast their lot with the future of the [Quincy] mine." It is possible that the farmstead structure on the current Paavola Wetlands Preserve property was one of these former Arcadian structures. The remains of this farmstead, and other homes in Paavola, represent the legacy of the townspeople's transition from mining to farming.

Since these homes were no longer company housing they allowed the miners a respite from their employer's gaze, unlike the copper mining locations. This was especially the case for those miners working for QMC. In this way these workers and their community were socially and politically independent of their mining company employers. This relative independence in the 1913-14 strike era meant that Paavola was a popular place for Finns to live because they felt removed from the watchful eyes of the mine bosses who did not own the town. At the time there were concerns about voting blocs in Franklin Township, centered on the Paavola community, which might have advanced a Finnish workers' agenda. There is also evidence that labor organizers used Paavola as a central location from which to plan the strike.

Perhaps evolving out of their prior pro-labor efforts, in the early 1920s, the residents developed an organization known as the Paavola Worker's Club to provide "moral," "intellectual," and "social" support to members of the community. In 1921 the Paavola Workers Club was officially assembled.73 The purpose for their organization was to support the residents of Paavola by sponsoring educational lectures, musical and literary entertainment, evening and Sunday school for workers, college(s) for the education of Finnish people - especially young people - and to hopefully establish a library. The group owned lot #1 in Block 7 of town, on the corner of Main and 5th streets, where their meeting house would be located. Their incorporating members were all men who were residents of Paavola; initial membership was 25 cents with 10 cents due from each member monthly. Interestingly, the incorporating document referenced the town both as Paavola and as Concord City.

Most of the heads of household living in Paavola in the post-strike period were employed by the copper mines as either miners (30 persons) or laborers (23). Of the 19 occupations listed in the 1916-1917 Polk Directory for the 400 persons living in Paaavola, over half were directly related to mining operations. Of the 82 residents listed as employed in that period, the remainder were mostly farmers (9 persons) and individuals working to support the community's infrastructure such as teacher, postmaster, and general store proprietor.

The 1920 Federal Census also gives a picture of Paavola at that time, though it was listed as Concord City in the document. There were approximately 250 people living in Paavola, in 50 households. Forty-five of the fifty heads of household were born in Finland; the exceptions were other Scandinavians from either Norway or Sweden, or men born in Michigan of Finnish or Norwegian parents. The ethnic makeup of their wives paralleled this trend as well. Across the community, the parental generation residing there in 1920 tended to be born in Finland, and their children born in Michigan, usually in the Copper Country. The church records of Paavola's Apostolic Lutheran church also reflect this progression; those in the registry that were born before 1900, especially those born between 1850-60, were born in Finland, whereas those church registrants born after 1900 tended to be born in Paavola itself or in neighboring towns such as Boston, Hancock, Franklin, Hubbell, Calumet, Red Jacket, or Osceola. These people are all likely members, or descendants of, a group of several hundred families who emigrated from Finland to the Copper Country beginning in the 1890s. Paavola's 1920 era households were usually multi-generational, with 85 sons and 48 daughters of varying ages, including adult children living at home. Four of these households had three generations living together, with grandchildren of grade school age. Seven households also had individual single male boarders.

In the 1920 Federal census, of the 60 individuals with listed occupations, 49 of them worked for the copper mines in some capacity, with half as underground miners and most of the other half as mine laborers. Other employed men worked for the local hardware store and the local grocery store, including its shopkeeper. One woman was employed as a servant; otherwise no women are noted as working outside the home. Oral history narratives published by the Michigan Humanities Council described Paavola as a "little Finnish farming community" that was focused on dairy production. An historian in the 1920s noted that it was popular for Finnish immigrants and their descendants in the Copper Country to divide their time during the year between working for the mines and tending to their own small scale agricultural production.

Most of the farming households listed in both the Polk Directory for 1916-17 and also the 1920 Federal census owned their farms free and clear, though John Anderson's 40 acre farm was the only one to appear in the Farm Directory section of the 1916-17 Polk Directory. By 1920, Mr. Anderson had passed away and his wife and sons had taken over the farm's operation. Scott emphasized the agricultural character of Paavola in his description in Michigan Ghost Towns:

"Some of the townsmen continued to work in the remaining mines, the last of which closed after 1940, but most people in Paavola were farmers. It became a center for farm and dairy products in the early 1900s. Were it not for the farms and the railroad, Paavola might have vanished long ago….

In the mid to late 20th century, the farmstead landscape property that is now part of the Keweenaw Land Trust's Paavola Wetlands Preserve was occupied by the Karjala and Noponen families and leased through Cohodas-Paoli. The Karjala-Noponen homestead represents an architectural survival of Paavola's past as a community of Finnish farmers and miners. Family members recalled that the farmstead was subsistence-based rather than operated at a commercial level.78 The farmstead was part of a sub-section of Paavola known locally as "Three Corner Town," where all of the homes were farmsteads; it is the only remaining structure from that area.

The farmstead was owned by multiple generations of the Karjala family. It is likely that Hilda Sophie Karjala, the woman who married the town's first postmaster, was related to the Karjala family that owned this farmstead. The most recent resident, Helen Karjala Noponen, was likely born in her family home along with her siblings. Hilda Sophie Karjala, was Helen's elder sister.80 Helen moved into town (Paavola) after she married a young Finnish-American man named George Noponen who was also born in Paavola. After her husband's untimely death prior to World War II, Helen Karjala Noponen moved back to her parent's home in Three Corner Town, where she lived until late in her life.

 

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Photos Courtesy of MTU Archives

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This project was supported in part by the Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byways program and Finlandia Foundation National.