Program focuses on agricultural history

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP – The history of the Copper County may have been molded by mining, but even miners had to eat. That’s where communities like Paavola came into the picture.

“A number of folks who lived in Paavola in the early 20th century were miners, but it wasn’t a mine location,” Michigan Tech Industrial Archaeology and Heritage PhD candidate Lee Presley told history buffs during a guided history walk at the Paavola Wetlands Nature Area Thursday. “It was much more for agriculturalists, small scale or commercial.”

About 40 people joined Presley for the program, part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s Fourth Thursday in History program. Participants also heard from Pat Toczydlowski of the Keweenaw Land Trust, which owns the nature area, on its efforts to preserve the historic Karula homestead on the property, and make it more accessible to visitors.

“Lee’s research is one piece of the decision regarding saving the house,” said Toczydlowski, noting the land trust had considered letting the property revert to a fully natural state.

Presley said Paavola, originally known as Concord City, was once a thriving community. According to the 1920 U.S. Census, the last to log the community separately before it was statistically absorbed into Franklin Township, there were then 250 residents in 50 households.

That census also listed Paavola as 98 percent Finnish, and the town boasted two public saunas – open on Wednesdays and Saturdays – as well as a general store, platted streets, a school that went up to eighth grade, a town hall that still stands today, and a post office that played a pivotal role in the burg’s acquiring its current name.

“John Gustav Paavola deeded 40 acres to Concord City for public use in 1909, the same year the Concord City residents asked for a post office and got it,” Presley said. “The post office was named Paavola in thanks, and Paavola’s son was the first postmaster.”

Presley said that while Paavola wasn’t a mine town, mines were crucial to its development – particularly mines that failed.

“The mines cut down the vegetation, all the trees, but the cut-over land was good for agriculture,” she said.

Most of the talk took place in front of the small, partially-deteriorated Karula farmhouse, a structure built early in the 20th century. Working inside the house – visitors are asked not to enter for safety reasons – Presley said she found a newspaper, printed in Finnish, that had been used for insulation.

“Where the plaster and lathe is broken off, you can see the date is 1909,” she said.

Many of the houses in Paavola are mine houses that had been moved from other locations, Presley noted, though archaeologists are debating whether the Karulas’ was one of those or was built on the spot.

The Karulas were probably small-scale farmers, she said, with a few animals and crops to provide for themselves and possibly to trade with neighbors. Other Paavola farms were larger-scale operations, though “there’s a difference of opinion as to whether they were commercial farmers,” Presley said.

Like most of their neighbors, she said, the Paavolas fit several children into just a few rooms and a sleeping attic.

“It’s kind of impressive to think about the size of the house and how many people lived there,” noted Toczydlowski.

After her lecture, Presley said she sees a lot of interest in history in the Keweenaw, including people interested in topics like the history of food, her own specialty, and with personal ties to specific neighborhoods.

Amateur historian Barb Koski, one of Thursday’s attendees, falls into the latter category. She’s especially interested in the history of Stanton Township, where she’s known for collecting history from that area’s elders, and is proud to have discovered kilns on a couple of properties.

“I like that I can walk on the property where my husband’s ancestors lived,” she said.