Who Was Eli?

Eli Wirtanen was born Elias Vertanen in Karstula, Finland on July 17, 1870. Being the 3rd son in line, he had no hopes of owning the family farm. As a teen, Eli immigrated to Thunder Bay, Ontario to live with his brother David. When David died, Eli wanted to come to the United States to apply for citizenship. In 1904, Eli Homesteaded 40 acres alone the Old Vermilion Trail in Markham, Minnesota.

Eli worked in logging camps and assisted local famrers with harvest. Because therewere no roads but only trails in the early 1900’s, Eli helped to build and maintain roads by using horse drawn power.

Eli never married and never owned a car. Most everything Eli needed in life, his food and materials for farm buildings, he got from his own land.

Finnish people are refered to as “People from the Forest.” Eli understood the forest and how to use it. A Finnish proverb says, “The forest gives what the forest has.” Nearly everything necessary for life is provided by the earth.

Eli was a pretty healthy man and lived to be 87 years old. He died in 1957 and is interred at the Markham Cemetery in Colvin Township.

Eli’s Farmsted

This 1904 40-acre homestead is a beautiful and peaceful tract of land filled with Norway pines and other evergreens. The house, animal barn, hay barns, and guesthouse are situated on knolls surrounding the farmstead. The arrangement was similar to that of the Savo area of Finland, just east of Eli’s birthplace. A more common placement, other than Savo, would have been farm courtyards with the buildings closer together. The idea of distance between the buildings would prevent complete destruction in case of fire. The most favorable comments of visitors is “a most peaceful and tranquil place.”

Eli’s house is a fine example of Finnish log construction with it’s hand hewn pine logs that were chinked with strips of pine and joints dovetailed. It’s amazing how cool the house stays during the hot days of summer, which leads you to believe it was warm in the winter. The doorways were as small as Eli was short. None of Eli’s buildings were painted, neither inside nor out.

The Wirtanen Pioneer Farm is a place that every young person and most older people should visit. The farm is one of the last existing examples of how to survive in case the machine (as we know it) stops. Yet, we are losing this monument to self-sufficiency. This is a monument to a time when man and nature were in unity. We are losing this object-lesson-in-the-woods that all should see. The farm is starting to turn back into the earth from which it was made.