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 ….Read more about Oulu's Homestead Era in "Historical Sketches of the Town of Oulu, Bayfield County, Wisconsin 1889-1956", available at the Oulu Mall