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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Long Valley Finnish Structures

The following excerpts were taken from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, "Long Valley Finnish Structures." The nomination is a thematic group meaning that several related properties are being nominated as historic places.

Description
The buildings nominated in this thematic group were constructed by members of the Finnish settlement in the area of Long Valley, Idaho, between 1900 and 1930. They include log homestead cabins, houses, and saunas; log and frame barns; and the frame Elo school and Elo schoolteacher's cottage. The log structures in particular share several similarities in style, materials, and technique. Finnish building craft resulted in tightly fitting logs using corner notches of the double, full-dovetail, or locking dovetail styles. Most of the buildings being nominated here are of hewn logs, although a few are constructed of round logs.

The buildings date back to 1902. They are the last physical remnants of the Finnish homesteads that dotted the valley as more and more immigrants settled here. The index to United States patents for Valley County lists 94 homestead patents issued to Finns between the years 1904 and 1925; few of these homesteads are intact and only a small number of their buildings still stand. Those that do, however, are both historically and architecturally significant and some of them deserve listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The Finns built extraordinarily sturdy structures by using a tool they called a vara, or scribe, to measure how much wood should be grooved out of the bottom of a log so that it would fit snugly on the curved upper side of the one beneath it. Chinking was rarely necessary in a Finnish-built log cabin, although sometimes moss or rags were placed between logs for insulation. This method dates back at least to the 13th century and is so effective that it was still used on nearly all the Finnish homestead buildings in Long Valley. Most of the buildings were made of hewn logs, perhaps because, as Donovan Clemson writes in his book Living with Logs, "hewed logs looked a little more professional, removed the building a little from the rawness associated with the standing bush...the house, hopefully, might even be mistaken from a distance for a frame building with dressed sides."¹

This nomination includes six homestead cabins; seven log houses of two or more rooms; four log saunas; log barn and frame barn of double crib style; log granary, goat barn, chicken house, and blacksmith's shop; frame school building and a frame teacher's cottage--25 structures representing several farm activities and typical homesteads from a one-room cabin to a hewn-log house consisting of two or more rooms and one or two stories. Very few written records of the Finnish community in Long Valley still exist, but these buildings suggest how the Finns lived and worked in the homestead era of Valley County.

Significance
The surviving log homestead cabins, saunas, and barns of the Finns in Long Valley are examples of the Finns' extraordinary skill in constructing sturdy and weather-resistant log buildings. A number of these buildings are in remarkably good condition, considering that their exposure to the region's harsh winters spans, in some cases, more than 70 years. These buildings are reminders of a community's past, the homestead era in Idaho, and a national heritage that reaches back to 1638, when the first Finns came to this country and the first log cabins were constructed in America. Many of the features of the 17th-century cabins in the New Sweden area can be seen in Finnish-built homestead structures in Long Valley.

Long Valley is fast becoming a popular resort area; the farmland is being sold and subdivided, and homestead buildings--regarded as old shacks--are often destroyed or allowed to deteriorate. National Register listing will provide a record of these structures for future generations and will undoubtedly spark interest in preserving some of the buildings in the thematic group. The structures have a significance both historical and architectural. The Finnish community had become almost completely assimilated into the larger mainstream culture of Long Valley by 1980, and a record of their settlement should not be lost.

Questions for Reading 2

1. When did the Finns move into Long Valley?

2. What kinds of structures did they build on their homestead land?

3. How many homestead patents did the U.S. government issue to the Finns in the period 1904-25?

4. What construction techniques made Finnish cabins or houses nearly airtight?

5. Why were hewn logs preferred to round logs?

6. It is said of Finnish farms that they are usually smaller but have more buildings than the farms of other ethnic groups. How does the reading show this to be true?

7. Why is it important that Finnish homestead buildings be listed in the National Register of Historic Places? Is a goat barn really that significant? Defend your answer.

¹Donovan Clemson, Living with Logs (Saanichton, B.C.: Hancock House, 1974), 32-33.

Reading 2 is compiled from National Register Nomination Form "Long Valley Finnish Structures (Thematic Group)" (Valley County, Idaho), by Alice Koskella, Architectural Historian, Idaho State Historical Society, 1982.

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