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Friday, July 02, 2004

AP Wire | 07/02/2004 | Hill's Finn Boarding House tells about immigrant miners' lives

AP Wire | 07/02/2004 | Hill's Finn Boarding House tells about immigrant miners' lives
Hill's Finn Boarding House tells about immigrant miners' lives

LEE BLOOMQUIST
Associated Press

CHISHOLM, Minn. - Inside the two-story wooden building, interpreters weave stories about the thousands of single men who came to the Iron Range in the early 20th century to carve a living from the earth.

To jump start a 12-hour day of physical labor and a 6.5-mile walk to work, the men preferred hearty breakfasts of fried steak and potatoes with onions.

When they returned, exhausted and filthy from a day of work in an open pit iron mine, many slept and had their clothes washed. In the evening, the men played card games of poker or smear, or danced to music.

Boarding houses that sprung up across the Iron Range at the turn of the century were a center of social life for immigrant miners.

Hill's Finn Boarding House now tells that story at Ironworld Discovery Center.

The 19-room house, which stood in Buhl since 1905, was dedicated at the history center several weeks ago.

As the Iron Range's last original boarding house, it becomes one of Ironworld's most authentic exhibits.

"It's symbolic of what people went through in the early days so their children and their children could have it better," said Shirley Hill Johnson, whose family owned the boarding house since 1936. "It's a reminder of their struggles."

Built by Charles and Gustaava Hill, the 28-by-74-foot building was home to immigrant boarders during iron mining's heyday in the 1920s until 1936, when Hill Johnson's grandparents bought the building and rented out rooms.

In the 1990s, Hill Johnson attempted to operate the building as a museum at its original Buhl location but couldn't make ends meet.

To preserve the building and its rich history, and open it to the public, Hill Johnson donated the structure to Ironworld.

"They cared for it for years and did everything they could to run it as an exhibit in Buhl," said Marianne Bouska, Ironworld's managing director. "When they knew they couldn't do it on their own, they got help."

The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, the Northland Foundation, the cities of Buhl and Chisholm and Minnesota Department of Transportation helped pay for the partial restoration and the move.

In 2000, the building was moved from Buhl to Ironworld. Since then, the first floor has been renovated and period furnishings have been installed. Some furnishings, including a chair and the kitchen sink, are original.

Original family photographs of Shirley Hill Johnson's parents, Oliver and Mary Hill, hang on a wall.

"I think it is really lovely," said Lillian Hakola, 93, of Hibbing, who was born in the boarding house. "They have done so much for it."

As child, Hakola remembers an ice deliveryman coming down the street near the boarding house. Hakola and other children would run out to the street and the iceman would give the children chips of ice to taste. She also remembers big benches that the miners sat on in the boarding house and spittoons strategically located in the building.

Boarding house interpreters tell stories about life there. Sometimes visitors have stories of their own.

Most Iron Range boarding houses were organized along ethnic lines and had strict rules of behavior. At Hill's Boarding House, more than 50 lunch pails were prepared each day for the miners. Women who worked at the boarding house washed laundry in large kettles of boiling water, cooked meals and ironed clothes for the men.

Laina Beurala, 86, of Buhl, washed dishes in the boarding house until she was 10 years old. Beurala was one of about 40 people who attended the dedication.

"I think it's wonderful," she said of the building's opening and restoration at Ironworld. "I have lots of memories about it, but I never expected it to look anything like this."

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