Glimpses at Ely’s Finnish American Past
On April 13th it will be 110 years since the former Apostolic Lutheran Church Society of the town of Ely was established.
|Ely pictured in 1890|
Finnish Americans have also lived in many of these wild mining towns. That was the situation in Butte, Mont., in the Lead-Deadwood area in So. Dak., and in mining towns in Northern Minnesota.
|Workers pose in 1890 at Chandler Mines, Ely|
Among Finnish Americans the Lutheran faith was dominant. The Lutherans were split into three main groups: Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Suomi Synod), Finnish National Evangelical Lutheran Church (Kansalliskirkko) and Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church (Laestadians). There were many Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian congregations in on Minnesota’s Iron Range by the end of 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century. The northernmost congregation was in Ely. This article goes back to the history of Apostolic Lutherans/Laestadians in Ely.
The constitutive meeting for the Apostolic Lutheran church of Ely was called with this invitation in 1894.
The discovery of iron ore in Northern Minnesota became public knowledge in 1852 and mining began 30 years later. By the end of the 19th century, Northern Minnesota became the most important producer of iron ore.  The opening of the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges in the 1880s and 90s was soon followed by Finnish settlement in many range towns and villages. Among them were Tower and Soudan in 1885; Ely in 1887; Hibbing, Mountain Iron, and Virginia in 1893; and Biwabik and Eveleth in 1894. Most immigrants had heard many stories in ”the Old Country” of what a wonderful place America was: “Everything was beautiful in America”; “A person could get rich in America”; and “America’s streets were paved with gold!”
The reality was a quite different matter: “On a particular morning, just when it was getting light, the night freight pulled into Ely, bringing with it a young family from Finland. The little daughter looking out of the train window saw Ely for the first time in the gray light of a Sunday dawn. She saw streets of mud, ugly frame buildings, board sidewalks on which drunken men slept. ‘Mother, mother,’ she asked, ‘Did we pass America in the night?’” Work in the underground mines was dangerous. It was hard to put together a crew of experienced miners. Most men lasted maybe a year or two underground. Replacements arrived by the hundreds—Swedes, Slovenians, Italians, and Finns. In Ely there were four mines: Pioneer, Chandler, Zenith, and Sibley. In 1956 Pioneer (opened 1888) and Zenith (opened 1892) Mines were still operating.
The first Finns arrived in Ely in 1887. Among them were Laestadians, who very soon began their religious activity. Laestadian services began in Ely at the latest in 1889. On Oct. 14th, 1894, Gust Josephson, Henry Jängälä, Henry Saari, Isack Hamari, John Hamari, Ewald Esko, and Otto Pikkarainen called the first official meeting to form a local congregation. The meeting was held at Isack Hamari’s residence on Nov. 3rd, 1894. The meeting’s purpose was to elect officers for this new congregation and to incorporate the church according to Minnesota law. At this constitutive meeting the Apostolic Lutheran Church Society of the town of Ely was officially established. Henry Jängälä chaired the meeting and Otto Pikkarainen served as secretary. Chosen for the new Board of Trustees were Henry Jängälä, chairman; Otto Pikkarainen, secretary; Isak Hamari, treasurer; and John Hamari and Henry Saari, trustees.
The congregation purchased its own church building in 1896. First there were discussions about building a new church. A building committee was chosen with Chas. Pyyny, Henry Saari, Otto Pikkarainen, and Gust Josephson as members. When the local Finnish Temperance Hall came up for sale in April 1896, the Apostolic Lutheran congregation purchased that building. The Finnish National Brothers Temperance Association of the city of Ely first sold their building to the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran church of Ely on April 11th for $50, and two days later the same building was sold to Apostolic Lutherans for $300. The church building was on Chandler Iron Company land on Lot 5, Block 1 (at East Washington St) in the South Chandler Addition to the city. The congregation paid one dollar a year (1901) to lease the land.
|Preacher Jacob Wuollet|
When the schisms became a reality among Laestadians on the Iron Range, the majority of the Ely congregation supported the so-called Pollarite preachers. It seems that the situation was unclear many years, but in 1932, when John Pollari was chosen as minister of the Ely congregation, the final decision was made. Some active members left the congregation. Among those who maintained contact with the other group, the so-called Heidemanians, or Conservative Laestadians, were the congregation’s former chairman Jacob Isaacson (1915–1916, 1919–1929, board member 1915–1929) and board member Chas. Randa (1919). Both names disappear from the congregation’s minutes and records after 1932. Indirect proof of schisms in the congregation comes up in the minutes of the congregation’s annual meeting in 1931. After the splits, the congregation’s membership declined year after year; today it no longer exists. The church building was sold Oct. 9th, 1968 to a private party for $50 and has since been dismantled.
|Preacher Jacob Halvary who lived first in Atlantic Mine, MI and moved later to Detroit.|
Laestadian/Apostolic Lutheran Churches are still active in many areas in Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, even though this Lutheran branch has disappeared from Ely. More information about their activity you can find for example from this site: http://www.laestadianlutheran.org
Article was published in Ely Echo, April 8, 2006
Article was published in Ely Echo, April 8, 2006
On the Iron Range there were Apostolic Lutheran/Laestadian Congregations in Biwabik (congregation incorporated in 1894), Cherry-Iron (incorporation date unknown), Chisholm (1905), Ely (1894), Embarrass (1906), Eveleth (1922), Florenton (1916), Gilbert (1923), Hibbing (1924), Hutter (1916), Mountain Iron (1901), Peyla (1901) , Pike (1920), Soudan (1896), Sparta (1901), Tower (1894), Trout Lake-Bovey (1941), Virginia (1895).
A special thank you to the Ely-Winton History Museum and to local historian David Kess. With their help we have been able to copy the preserved papers of the Apostolic Lutheran Church Society of the City of Ely. Mr. Kess also provided information about the congregation’s past and supplied us with the old picture of the congregation’s church building.
 Marvin G. Lamppa; Minnesota Iron Country. Duluth, MN 2004, p. 144.
 John I. Kolehmainen; The Finnish Pioneers of Minnesota. Published by Minnesota History, Volume 25, Number 4, p. 317-328. December 1944.
 Marvin G. Lamppa 2004, p. 91.
 Marvin G. Lamppa 2004, page 90
 Hans R.Wasastjerna; Minnesotan suomalaisten historia [The History of the Finns in Minnesota]. Superior, WI 1957, page 421.
 One source reports that a Finn named Jacob Perttula arrived in Ely on foot from Two Harbors already in 1884 or 1885 (Wasastjerna 1957, page 421).
 Henry Jängälä was the congregation’s minister. Very little information about this man has been found. He had been minister and secretary of the Apostolic Lutheran Congregation of Ironwood, Michigan in 1889–1891. When he moved to Ely, is unclear. Henry Jängälä (3.15.1852–12.5.1904) is thought to be originally from Alatornio, Finland, and to have lived in the USA already in 1885. He is buried at Little Greasewood Cemetery near Pendleton, Ore. (Pekka Raittila; Lestadiolaisuuden matrikkeli ja bibliografia, Helsinki 1967, number 151; Little Greasewood Cemetery Records, Ore.).
 Meeting of the Ely Apostolic Lutheran congregation Mar. 3, 1895 and interim congregational meeting Jan. 5, 1896. At this meeting 18 members were present, and it was decided to collect money for a church from the town’s businessmen, companies, and the congregation’s members.
 Andrew Rajaniemi was born in Alavieska, Finland, 5.13.1853 and moved to Calumet, Mich., from Toholampi, Finland, on 8.1.1892. Rajaniemi became Laestadian in the beginning of 1870s and began his preaching duties quite soon after his conversion. In Finland he made mission trips with A.L.Heideman before Heideman’s departure to the USA. While living in America Andrew Rajaniemi made also mission trips. He died on a trip to the East Coast, in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1897 (Raittila 1967, number 402).
 Sakarias Arvid Hurula (brother of Finnish preacher Eetu Hurula) was born December 11th, 1866 in Karunki, Finland. He was as a preacher also in Ironwood, Michigan and Kingston, Minnesota. S. Arvid Hurula died Sept. 26th, 1945 in Mason, Wis. After the divisions among American Laestadians, he belonged to the “Suurseuralaiset” or Big Meeting group. (Raittila 1967, number 110; Uuras Saarnivaara; Apostolisluterilaisuuden historia. Ironwood, Michigan 1947, page 287).
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregational meeting minutes 10.25.1896
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregational meeting minutes 30.10.1898.
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregation’s annual meeting minute books, 1898 - 1932
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregation’s ledger 1894 – 1916.
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregation’s annual meeting minutes, Jan.1, 1932
 Their names are mentioned in the Finnish Conservative Laestadian paper, Siionin Lähetyslehti along with that of Rose Jokinen during the 1930s. The mention states that the paper had been ordered to Ely for a whole ten-year period in the 1930s.
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregation’s annual meeting minutes, Jan 1, 1931. The meeting decided not to use church funds to pay preachers who have not been called by the congregation.
 Ely Apost. Luth. congregation’s documents. A copy from the business ledger, 10.9. 1968.