Preface-Early Finnish Settlers-Reasons for Settling in Spencer


This booklet is the result of a talk concerning the Finnish residents of this area that I was asked to give at a meeting of the Spencer Historical Society. It was suggested that the considerable material collected for the address might be of interest to a larger audience if enlarged and published under the sponsorship of the Spencer Historical Society.

Much of the material for this account was given by the descendants of the first Finnish families to arrive in the Spencer area. As the daughter of one of these families, my own early recollections of life on a farm in Crumtown are included in this booklet.

A brief record is given of most of the families who settled in Spencer during the fifteen years after the arrival of the Pelto family in 1911. A few later exceptions are included.

Hopefully this booklet will help show the motivation that first brought the Finnish people to this community, the “sisu” or inner fortitude that helped them overcome the difficulties in their new surroundings and the contributions they have made to the economy and improvement of this community.

Lydia Ahola Mackie, 1979


Though it was the year 1911 when the first Finnish family settled in Spencer, they were not the first Finnish residents in the state or even in the area.

Finnish families were already established in New York City in the seventeenth century. According to official records, one Peterson Staeck of Turku, Finland owned a townhouse in New York City in 1660. Hans Peterson and Dirch Michelson were also listed among the Dutch settlement Finns. Miss Hoffman, of Finnish-Swedish descent and an early resident of Dutchess County, married one of the Roosevelt ancestors.

In the townships of Van Etten and Newfield there were Finnish families as early as 1909. John Lehtonen of Newfield became a real estate agent. He sent glowing advertisements to most of the Finnish language newspapers at a time when many families were ready and eager to own land of their own.

As early as 1910 a St. John’s Day (Juhannus) picnic was held on the lawn of the Herman Manninen farm in North Van Etten with six families enjoying this ancient Finnish holiday.

The first child of Finnish parentage born in the area was a girl named Lydia born to Herman and Katri Manninen in March, 1911


Joel and Katherine Pelto and their children, Edward, William, Lempi and Frank were the first Finnish family to settle in Spencer. In 1911 they moved to a farm on West Hill. The family came here from northern Minnesota where they had owned a homestead farm. Mr. Pelto and his older sons had supplemented the small farm income by working in the nearby lumber camps.

Joel Pelto had been lured here by Lehtonen’s advertisement in a Finnish newspaper describing several good farms for sale at bargain prices. He traveled to Spencer to see them and liked what he saw.

Compared with northern Minnesota’s colder climate, unclaimed land and distance from large markets, the prospects for a better livelihood in farming seemed much brighter in this beautiful area of New York State.

Soon after the Pelto family was settled on West Hill and farming operations were well under way, Joel and his eldest son Edward went into the real-estate business. There were many untenanted farms in the area which the owners were eager to sell. They advertised many bargain-priced farms they had for sale in the Finnish newspapers which were printed in every city with a sizable Finnish population. The property was described in the most glowing terms. It wasn’t long before more and more Finnish people came to find new homes in Spencer.

When the emigrants from Finland came to the United States, most of them were first engaged in occupations they had no intention of continuing for the rest of their lives. These included work in the mines, steel mills, lumber camps and heavy construction. Those who had worked as skilled craftsmen also found they had to seek other employment as industries became more mechanized and the need for their skills no longer existed.

The advertisements of low-cost farms which appeared in the Finnish newspapers were of great interest to many subscribers. Owning land of their own now seemed possible. Most of the emigrants had grown up on farms and were eager to return to the freedom of country life, dear to all Finns.

After the new arrivals to the Spencer area had purchased their farms and had become settled, many replied to inquiries of relatives and friends regarding available farms.

Very few of the first Finnish people who settled here, came to Spencer directly from Finland. Most had previously lived in other areas of the United States where they had relatives or friends who had helped them find their first employment. Fairly large Finnish colonies had been established much earlier over a widespread area. The northern Midwest, New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio and the Metropolitan New York area provided the first homes and employment in the New World for most of these emigrants. It was later that some of them came to find a new home in Spencer.

After their arrival here, many found the farms they had come to buy, though large in acreage, were depleted and very run-down. Some had been vacant for several years so the buildings had deteriorated noticeably. Farms that were occupied, many by elderly owners, had been sold because their children had left for better paying jobs elsewhere. The heavy farm work could no longer be managed without help.

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