Times were tough in the life of an immigrant farmer in northeastern Minnesota. Subsistence farming was a way of life that had gone on for centuries in Finland. Immigrants knew what was needed to survive in the harsh climate of the area. All family members old enough to work - men, women and children - did their share in clearing the land and creating a homestead. Facing thin rocky soil and a short growing season, immigrants in Embarrass planted potatoes, which became the major cash crop of the farms, supplemented by hay, rye, oats, and wheat.
Finnish immigrant farmers began settling regions of St. Louis County in the late 1800's. They purchased their homesteads from private properties and through the provisions of the Federal Homestead Act of 1862. Many Finnish immigrants moved to the rural homesteads to escape poor wages and unhealthy conditions in the mines on the Vermilion and Mesabi Iron Ranges. Others took up the life of backwoods farmers for ethnic, political or religious reasons and the desire to own their own land, even if one's claim was no larger than 40-80 acres.
At the age of 26, Gregorius Hanka married Mary Stierna. Together they purchased an 80 acre parcel of land from the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad. While staying with neighbors, the Hankas erected a one-room log house built of logs short enough for one man
to lift and tight enough to survive the cold winds of winter. By 1915, several other buildings were built, including a sauna, hay barn and cattle barn.
Finnish folk building form, arrangement and farming practices were etched in the memories of the immigrants as they worked on "proving up" their homestead claims by erecting small houses and clearing the land for cultivation.
The Hanka homestead includes ten buildings, four of which are made of logs. As was common in western Finland, the homestead formed a U-shaped courtyard consisting of the house, sauna and a double-pen barn in the center of the farmstead. Open hay fields surround the farm, with a log hay barn located about 500 feet southeast of the house. This illustrates the common practice by Finns of erecting several buildings, each with their own special function. The hay barn in the field, at a considerable distance from the house, is also based on the Old World arrangement of farm buildings, with the added benefit that if the barn went up in flames, the other buildings would not.
Architecturally, the Hanka farm buildings embody the traditional, distinctive construction techniques used by the Finnish immigrants at the turn of the century. Chinkless log walls and double-notched corners indicate a rich array of building skills borrowed from their native Finland. The logs used were often from the trees which
did not have the market value of other woods, such as tamarack, or the pine and poplar found in nearby woods.
National Register of Historic Places