Massachusetts Finnish Heritage
Cape Ann, Massachusetts
Located about 30 miles northeast of Boston, Cape Ann includes the town of Rockport and city of Gloucester. The area was a fishing and shipping port, and became known in the 1830s for its high quality granite; the stone was mainly cut into paving blocks.
Finnish immigrants began to arrive at Cape Ann in large numbers in the 1870s, and worked the granite quarries until the Depression and popularity of concrete doomed the industry. They had an active and thriving community, and between the 1920s and 1940s there were about 5,000 people of Finnish descent living on Cape Ann.
An invitation from Cape Ann Finns
With advanced notice, as possible, Cape Ann Finns (CAF) members will lead tours of Lanesville and/or Rockport that take in sites related to the Finnish heritage of the area.
Sites may include the Carlson Quarry (painting by local artist Jana Matusz); the stone house nearby at which many arriving Finnish immigrants boarded; the handiwork of Finns who built walls and foundations and even houses of locally-sourced granite; two of the four Finn halls now repurposed; Finn churches, saunas, Finns’ homes and more.
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Cape Ann Museum
This museum covers the art, history and culture of the area.
Click here to learn about the Folly Cove Designers, a guild of self-taught artists that worked together from 1938 to 1969. Members of Finnish descent included painter and graphic artist Hilda Kaihlanen.
Halibut State Park
The northern coast of Cape Ann was the site of the Babson Farm Granite Quarry, which employed many Finns and Swedes in the 19th century. It is now Halibut Point State Park, and the visitors center features exhibits about the granite industry.
Lauri Kaihlanen Gallery
The son of Hilda Kaihlanen (1919-2013; see Folly Cove Designers, above) is also an artist.
His gallery on Bearskin Neck in Rockport is filled with his colorful art featuring whimsical animals and local scenery.
About the Cape Ann Finns
In the fall of 2017, six Finnish-Americans from Rockport and Gloucester, Massachusetts, decided to form an organization whose mission would be the preservation of the heritage of their Finnish community. Their primary goal would be to create an online repository of information, artifacts, photos, articles and oral histories to archive and tell the story of Finns in Cape Ann. The founding members—Elana Pistenmaa Brink, Nikki Korkatti, Valerie Nelson, Robert Ranta, Dona Kaihlanen Shea and Wayne Soini—agreed that, although it was not structured as a social group, they wanted to host programs of interest to Finnish-Americans and “friends of Finland.” By the end of the year they had launched the Cape Ann Finns Chapter, Finlandia Foundation National, referred to as Cape Ann Finns (CAF).
Located about 30 miles northeast of Boston, Cape Ann includes the town of Rockport and city of Gloucester. The area was a fishing and shipping port, and became known in the 1830s for its high quality granite; the stone was mainly cut into paving blocks. Finnish immigrants began to arrive at Cape Ann in large numbers in the 1870s, and worked the granite quarries until the Depression and popularity of concrete doomed the industry. They had an active and thriving community, and between the 1920s and 1940s there were about 5,000 people of Finnish descent living on Cape Ann.
CAF has begun the collecting of information, materials and stories, as well as initiated and co-hosted events that honor the culture of the community. These collaborative efforts both strengthen the programs and reach broader audiences.
“From the start we agreed we would create events with other established groups,” says Rob Ranta, CAF president. Key partners are the Lanesville Community Center, which was founded in 1954 with Finnish members; St. Paul Lutheran Church, established by Finnish immigrants; Spiran Lodge No. 98 of the Vasa Order of America, a Swedish group that now includes members from the other Nordic countries; and the Rockport Legion Band, the community concert band established in 1932 by 32 local men—about two-thirds of whom were Finnish.
In the summer of 2019 CAF, the band and the Lanesville Community Center co-sponsored a successful Tribute Concert to honor the group’s charter members. Guest conductor Paul Niemisto led the band and guest musicians in an outdoor program of Finnish-American and American favorites. Theatrical performances were at the heart of Finnish immigrant social life, and CAF worked with the Lanesville Community Center, Vasa Lodge 98 and the Rockport Community Theatre on a production of one-acts and scenes from Finnish plays, translated into English.
In another joint effort, CAF and the Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester hosted John B. Simon, author of Strangers in a Stranger Land, a historically factual novel about Finnish Jews who fought alongside Nazi troops in World War II.
CAF has also organized, and financially subsidized, outings for members. In March groups enjoyed a performance of the Boston Ballet under the artistic direction of Mikko Nissinen, a native of Finland, and a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hannu Lintu of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
While COVID-19 has curtailed planned programs, CAF managed to host a Virtual Juhannus featuring a screening of the documentary Sirkka: Past and Present, and the Rockport Legion Band Tribute Concert.
Although heritage preservation is the main mission of CAF, Rob admits that the number of events has grown. Still, he says, “We stress knowledge-building at our co-sponsored events. A social purpose might evolve and would be welcomed, but what brings us together is heritage preservation.”
In less than three years, CAF has grown to a membership of 261, with about 20% of members from outside of the immediate area. “There are a lot of good things happening,” says Rob, and through these efforts, “Our Finnish-American people will come to understand a little more about our forebearers, and appreciate them.”