We would like to welcome everyone interested in our community to browse through the pages of the Oulu, Wisconsin website.
Browse the Historical Society pages, search for information about Oulu families past and present, start or join a discussion on the Message Board or search for information about current township demographics, happenings, places of interest and more!
We hope that over time, OuluWis.us will become a useful tool for current residents as well as anyone interested in their roots and this special community we call Oulu!
I bet a lot of you folks reading this have memories of the old days growing up in Oulu and the surrounding area.
Going to school at one of the old schools or at Oulu Elementary. To Gitchee Gumee 4-H club meetings. Church doings, weddings, funerals. Going to the Oulu Branch, or Lehtos Store/Purnells/Harrys Corner for groceries. Haymaking in the summer. Shoveling manure in the winter.
How about the Juhannus Juhlat of past years? Oulu BlueJays baseball games? A lot of stuff comes to mind..
Contributing Reporters can write news articles or submit short stories for publication on the "Old Days" pages. Click here for more info.
Or if you prefer, you can ask a question or start a new discussion on the "Message Board".
Things sure have changed in Oulu over my lifetime. A lot of new families have moved in. A lot of young folks have moved out. But it seems no matter how long you have lived here, or how long you have been away, there is some strange, almost spiritual connection we all have with this place.
So come back to OuluWis.us often to share some "Kahvia ja Pulla" with the rest of us.
OULU IN THE 1950s
The 1950s are nostalgically portrayed on television and in the movies as a carefree era marking the birth of television, rock and roll, modern homes and the "Father Knows Best'' style of family where dad goes to the office and mom stays home.
Anyone who grew up in Oulu during the 1950s would not recognize that picture.
Mom, Dad and the kids were likely all working in some capacity on the small family dairy farm. In addition, at least one person was usually working another job. Most of the homes were original to the farmstead and were just getting indoor plumbing. The authentic Finnish sauna was still a prime contributor to the family hygiene. Television was finding its way into the living rooms, but initially there were few channels and snowy black and white images.
The world was recovering from the effects of World War II. The Korean Conflict and Cold War fears had Americans on edge and prompted Civil Defense planning and training. In fact, Oulu and the surrounding area had actually been looked at as a location for working on hydrogen bombs.
Fortunately, this dubious honor did not become part of Oulu history. Communist threats throughout the world, including the Korean conflict and the McCarthy hearings in Washington were not lost to Oulu residents. Within the community was the mystery of the empty Oulu Hall, which had been built first as a community social hall, but later succumbed to its reputation as a meeting place that had divided the community a generation earlier. According to the "Historical Sketches of the Town of Oulu, Bayfield County, Wisconsin 1889-1956", "For nearly two decades life went on harmoniously, and then came the big riff. Neighbors became strangers, opinions differed and the house was divided."
The community building had been built in 1910 on an acre of land purchased from Nestor Johnson and was initially used for community-wide social gatherings. Complete with stage and kitchen, it was the center for meetings, cultural, social and recreational events. In its final years, however, it stood vacant and was a reminder of the interim years when many in the community disparagingly began to refer to the place as the communist, not community, hall.
By 1950, Oulu's population was 725. This was down from 910 in 1940. Many young adults began leaving the community after graduation. They left either in search of more schooling, marriage or for industrial based jobs, frequently in the automobile industry .
The family farms were no longer able to sustain all the adult children in the families.
Oulu's Economy in the 50s
Throughout the 1950s, daily farming was the center of Oulu's economy. For profitability, farms needed more acreage than had been the case earlier in the century.
County records showed that the Oulu Township had the most cattle in the county, often with the highest valuation throughout most of the first half of the century. In 1955-56, the number of cattle in Oulu peaked at 2414. After 1958, Oulu gradually lost the rank of primary daily producer in the county to the townships of Eileen and Kelly.
In Oulu, farming was at its peak in the 1950s. Cattle, milk and hay were important products of the farms.
Although the farms were small in size, they were the foundation of the local economy. However, as was true in earlier Oulu, many of the families also had a second income off the farm. As vehicles were becoming more affordable and roads more passable year-round, it became possible to commute to work outside the community.
Throughout the decade, the five mile “retail district'' along highway B included three stores and one garage. The Oulu Branch of the Iron River Cooperative continued to operate on the West side of Oulu at the intersection of county B and FF as it had since opening in 1916. The Oulu Branch of the Iron River Cooperative continued to provide necessities to the residents. Earlier managers of the store had included: Andrew Lauri, William Lauri, Bill Wentala, and Frank Mehtala. Reino Makela managed the store throughout the 1950s and continued to serve in that role for over three decades, until his retirement in 1980.
The former Oulu Cooperative Creamery building served as storage space at the location next to the Oulu Co-op. The creamery had been organized in 1910, but it closed in the 1920s and reopened in Iron River as the Iron River Creamery in 1923. The creamery then merged in 1949 with Twin Ports creamery. So, by the 1950's the milk was being shipped out of the community to Twin Ports, the Furhman cheese factory or Bridgeman Russell.
The second store operating in Oulu in the 1950s was the Northern Cooperative Store. It continued to operate until 1957 at its site on the Laukkanen farm, located on what is now known as Boulevard. Paul Woimala was the manager at the time it closed.
The third store - Oscar Lehto's Corner store - was located on Oulu's East side at the intersection of County B and Airport Road. After the death of Oscar Lento in 1959, his family operated the store until selling to Jack and Mary Ann Purnell. The Purnells would purchase and operate this store until the late 1960s, when Harry and Leanna Pudas assumed ownership. Along with providing gas and food supplies, it was a popular location for catching the bus to school athletic events.
The one auto repair service in the Oulu "business district'' was built by Hans Sauvola in 1946. In 1952, Axel Lento purchased the garage. The Lehto family provided car repairs for the community for the next two decades. It was located about a mile west of the Oulu Elementary school on County B.
Read more about Oulu's more recent history in "The Second Fifty Years: The Continuing Story of Oulu, Wisconsin 1950s-2004", available at the Oulu Mall
As early as 1889, Finnish immigrants were leading the way in homesteading the land that was to later become the Town of Oulu.
Swedish, German, Norwegian, and other European immigrants were also among those early homesteaders, but close to 75% of the original homesteaders were of Finnish descent.
An even higher percentage of subsequent settlers were new Finnish immigrants or immigrants who had briefly settled in Northern Minnesota or Michigan. The Finnish influence is present even in 21st century Oulu where, according to the 2000 census, 40% of the population still claim Finnish as their primary ancestry.
After several years of homesteaders and working the wilderness and logged over lands governed by the Town of Iron River, Oulu's early settlers lobbied to become a separate township. Local legend tells of the Finns walking or skiing in to the Iron River town meetings and on occasion being met by closed doors and canceled meetings. The separate identity finally became a reality on December 7, 1904. The name Oulu was chosen in respect for the homeland region and city in Finland that had been the birthplace of Andrew Lauri who led the effort to gain autonomy. With the help of a lawyer secured by Lauri, along with an affirming Bayfield County Board vote, the separate Oulu Township was born.
It was the same year that the neighboring community of Orienta became an independent ttownship. The Finnish roots of the majority of the early settlers have had a significant influence on more than the name of the community.
The saunas, farms and original homes were constructed much like those of the homeland. The early tools and farming techniques were also reminiscent of the old country.
Most of the early medical treatments-from birthing to delousing-took place in the ever present Finnish saunas. Even in-the classrooms of the early l 950's, there were students who were first learning to speak English. In addition,the Lutheran church services were more likely to be in Finnish than English until the 1950s.
With the dawn of the 2lst Century. Although the demographics of the community have diversified, there is still a prevalence of Finnish surnames like: Elonen, Heikkila, Granlund, Johnson, Kangas, Kallinen, Kongas, Koski, Laakso, Lahti, Lehto, Lind, Maki, Mattila, Mattson, Mehtala, Mikkola, Pudas, Pyykola, Rantala, Rautio, Reijo, Sauvola, Suo, Taipale, Tapani, and Tuura. In fact, many of these residents continue to claim 100% Finnish heritage.
Although Oulu's dominant influence has been Finnish, equally important were, and still are, the contributions made by the many non-Finnish settlers and their descendants. The Swedish Baptist Church and the Pine Glade Cemetery reflect the strong Swedish influence in the heart of Oulu. The names of descendants of many of those early non-Finnish settlers: Anderson, Frostman, Goetsch, Pedersen, Lindelof are still found on mail boxes throughout the community.
Mining and lumbering skills brought many early settlers to the Mid-West to find their fortune. In reality, economic wealth was to elude most Oulu settlers. Their pride and sense of accomplishment actually came from being landowners. Second generation families frequently continued to work and develop the Oulu Homestead farms settled either during the Homestead Act era in Oulu from 1889-1916, or during the second wave of land purchases.
Read more about Oulu's History in "Historical Sketches of the Town of Oulu, Bayfield County, Wisconsin 1889-1956", and "The Second Fifty Years: The Continuing Story of Oulu, Wisconsin 1950- 2004" available at the Oulu Mall.
1890-1910 The Homestead Era
The United States Government granted homesteads under the Homestead Act, passed by Congress in 1862. Within ten years after this law was passed, 28 million homestead claims were issued through. out the states. The land was issued to the head of the family, who had to be twenty-one years of age or over. Many of the foreign born settlers took advantage of this offer. It encouraged them to become citizens.
The tracts issued were not to exceed 160 acres, and some improvements were to be made within a five-year period.
Several enterprising foreigners came to Oulu from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Denmark and pioneered here. The majority were Finnish. The first of these were: John Kangas, who filed a homestead in Section 18. He came here from Pennsylvania in May 1889. The present owner of the farm is Alina Rantala, daughter of Mr. Kangas.
Henry Maryland came here with Mr.Kangas. Both had a claim a mile long and a forty wide. Mr. Maryland came here from Superior, Wisconsin. He farmed this land and lived to the age of 94. His son John has the farm now. This property is in Section 18 and the Oulu Apostolic Lutheran Church is on this land.
Fred Johnson came here from Bessemer, Michigan, in September 1889 and filed a 160-acre claim an Section 8. Johnson's first homestead house was built right on the road going east and west of this farm.
The house had to be moved after the land was surveyed. From this claim Johnson sold 10 acres to Karl Hammar, now owned by the William Rantala estate. Later he sold 30 acres to Gust Lukkarila; this land is presently owned by Arne W. Johnson.
The other three forties belong to the sons of Fred Johnson, Emil M. Johnson, Hj. Johnson, and Arvid Johnson', Arvid's third forty was farmed by Lester Johnson. In 1956 Lester Johnson sold the farm to Albert Heikkila.
Matt Lampi came here from Bessemer, Michigan, in the fall of 1889 and filed a homestead in Section 8. Mr. Lampi operated a store on this place for several years. The present owner of the farm is Waino Erkkila. He rents the house out to Bert Ball.
Selma Hill came here from Michigan and claimed a homestead in Section 4 in 1890. The present owner of the farm is Ernest Tolonen.
That same year John Pudas came here from Ironwood, Michigan, and filed a homestead in Section 9. The farm is presently owned by Ed. Pudas, one of the sons, who has 60 acres of it.
Eli Pudas has forty acres and the remaining 60 acres has changed hands many times and is presently owned by Ernest 0. Rantala.
Isaac Uusimaa came here from Superior, Wisconsin, in 1890 and filed a claim in Section 17. Robert Alto has the farm now and part of the claim was sold to John Wentela. Mr. Uusimaa bought the homestead rights from Peter Makl.
In 1891 Henry Getto came here from Ashtabula, Ohio, and filed a homestead in Section 4. This farm is presently farmed by his two sons, Fred and Oscar. Part of this claim was sold to Herman Aho in 1910.
John Tuura came here from Cloquet, Minnesota in 1891 and filed a homestead in Section 7. From this160-acre claim he sold 40 acres to Eli Laakso, who later sold it to Victor Leino. The farm is still owned by Leino. In 1898 Konsta Sorvisto bought 40 acres from John Tuura. Sorvisto came here from Bessemer, Michigan; this farm is now part of the William Rantala estate. John Nurmi bought three acres from John Tuura. He came from Ishpeming, Michigan, in 1900. Nurmi later sold the store and land to Hilda Hermanson, who came here from Ironwood, Michigan. This three-acre piece is owned by Arthur Suni. Jack Tuura bought ten acres from John Tuura (not related.) The Oulu Lutheran cemetery also came from this claim. The present owner of the John Tuura farm is Albert Heikkila.
In 1892 Andrew Heikkila came here from Bessemer, Michigan, and filed a homestead claim in Section 8. From this claim he sold 40 acres to Andrew Heikkinen in 1898; this farm is owned by Arthur Pudas. Andrew Heikkila gave one of his sons, William, the forty acres and ….