Baraga County MIGenWeb

MIGenWeb Project 



By the Pupils of the Askel School under the direction of Elina Collected and Written Heikkinen School year 1927-1928


Askel, as the eastern shore of Otter Lake is called, is strictly a Finnish settlement. It has a population of only 219 people divided among 34 families, but its history is a remarkable story of wilderness in America. It is this story of How the wild woods were changed into a promising farming community and how the foreign element was Americanized in the short period of 38 years. The Story is here set forth as put together by the Eighth grade civics class of Askel school in 1928.

The First Settlers

The first settlers who lived at Otter Lake were the French and the Indians. there is no accurate information of their existence here as they left before any of the present settlers came. There were however, ruins of log cabins and old pine stumps to show that the Finnish people were not the first to penetrate into this wilderness. With the cutting of the soft wood trees the French left, having no intentions of making their homes here, and settled elsewhere. Later, the Finnish people met some of them occasionally and were told how they had lived in log cabins at Otter Lake when there were yet Indians there. There is said to be in Chassell, a very old French women who claims to have been born at Otter Lake. At the northeastern end of Otter Lake, there is a large beech supposed to have been planted by a women now living in Houghton.

It was early in 1890 that a number of woodcutters at Bootjack near Torch Lake, who had recently come from Finland, heard of a fresh water lake rich in fish somewhere up the Sturgeon, not very far from Chassell. At once, two of these, named Peter Tauriainen and Enock Pyykkonen lured by the tale of fish, set out to investigate. They rowed up Portage lake to Chassell end then up the Sturgeon River. After some time they came to the forks of the Otter and the Sturgeon, and not knowing which branch to take they decided to camp at the fork overnight. They spent a rather lonely night by a bonfire. There was a dark deep forest on all sides and they heard the howling of wolves. In the morning they rowed up the Sturgeon and not finding a lake, they came back and went Otter. Soon they came to the lake they were looking for. It was all they had expected and more. lying in a deep valley with dense forest around it and high hills and deep ravines on either side they found a very beautiful lake a bout 3 miles long and a mile wide. So pleased were they with its beauty, its abundance of fish, and its resemblance to the lake of Finland that they set back determined to get possession of the land near by. After some time they were pleased to find that the government was giving the land away as free homesteads to those who would make their homes there.

They filed their claims and on September 13, 1890 a band of five families set out. those who came with their families were Peter Tauriainen, John Sotaniemi, Andrew Heikkinen Sr., Joseph Karky and Enock Pyykkonen. Most of the women and children came in a boat while the men and boys followed along the shore with the cattle and one horse. Of the adults who came then, only three are living. they are Mr and Mrs John Sotaniemi and Mrs Herman Hakala (formerly Mrs Peter Lauriainen). Of the children who came, those who are living today are:

Of the children who came Andrew Heikkinen, Arvid Heikkinen, and Charles Pyykkonen are dead. Matt Tauriainen and Edwin Heikkinen have served in the World War.

The trip from Bootjack was slow and tedious. there was but one oat and in it were nineteen people plus the necessary provisions. A few men were in the boat to do the rowing. When the boat was well off on Portage Lake a severe storm arose. there was nothing to do but make for shore again. by this time the waves were so strong that the boat would have overturned had it not been for the skillful handling of the boat by Andrew Heikkinen. When close to the shore he sprang into the water and held the boat while the women and children, frightened and screaming, were carried to the shore. The party who was traveling by land, met them and thus they spent a cold, fearful night by a bonfire on Portage Lake opposite Chassell. It snowed during the night and the party undoubtedly suffered from cold.

The next day they set out again. the weather was nicer and they went slowly up the river and to Otter Lake. How the woods must have rung with the chatter of children and excited voices of the men and women! At the forks of the Otter and Sturgeon, those who had merely come to help with the moving, turned back. Thus the settlers were left in their new home. One of the party, Enock Pyykkonen, had built a rude log cabin on the eastern shore of the lake. (This side of the Lake is now called Askel.) to this cabin went the whole procession of settlers, with the exception of one hardy women, Mrs Joseph Karky, and her daughter Ellen, now Mrs Waino Blum, who spent the night at a bonfire on their claim. the first night was not pleasant for it rained and the water found its way into the house. Nevertheless, this was the beginning of a new life at Otter Lake. the house where they spent their first night has since been taken down and is now rebuilt as John Saari's barn.

Soon other log cabins went up. We may still see the ruins of Joseph Karky's house and of Andres Heikkinen's barn. The house built by Peter Taurianen has been taken down, and is now the poultry house of Job Hiltunen. John Sotaniemi still lives where he first built. Many of the old buildings are still standing on his farm. All are built of logs.

In October 1890, another family, that of Peter Pahikka came. In the summer of 1891 came two more--John Heikkinen and family and Peter Hyypio was the first to settle on the opposite shore of the lake which has since become Tapiola. John Heikkinen Jr was the first to settle in the vicinity of the present John a. Doelle school in 1910.

In 1891 a German, Jacob Baumgartner, from Portage Entry filed a claim at Otter Lake and lived on it for many years. He planted many fruit trees and his orchard developed into on e of the best at Otter Lake. He sold his claim to Jacob Saari, who lives on it now. Baumgartner was the only non-Finnish resident at Otter Lake. He helped to build the present school.


For a long time, the only means of travel to Otter lake was by means of boat. there were no roads except an old logging road along the Sturgeon River between Chassell and the "Fork". All the provisions were purchased in Chassell and brought up the river in a boat. Flour was purchased in barrels and other provisions likewise were taken in bulk.

All the homes were on the shore, or rather most were built just high enough up the hillside to be out of reach of floods. The woods were so thick that the house which were only a short distance away could not be seen on the lake. Whenever paths were cut, large piles of brush gathered.

The first work of the settlers was to clear the land. The boys and women helped and it was no easy task to wrest a living from the hillside. Later the families moved further up the hill where land was more level and the soil was better. Each family owned several heads of cattle and some had poultry. Mrs Herman Hakala (then Mrs. Peter Taurianen) had some geese. However, there was only one horse which Enock Pyykkonen had purchased from Sam Mawrance. Everyone used it by turns. Hardships and lack of convenience taught these settlers a lesson in cooperation which they could not soon forget.

The chief means of travel between neighbors was along the lake. When visiting a neighbor it was more convenient to get into a boat and row, then work ones way along the shore. Later paths or short cuts were made from one house to another.

In the winter the lake served well for travel. When more families came to Tapiola it was common to travel across the lake with horses and sleighs.

In this small band of settlers two religious fractions were represented. The Apostolic and Evangelic Lutheran Churches. As all were firm believers in God the Sabbath was well observed. The Apostolic Lutherans chose for their leader an old reverent man, Steven Savela, from Tapiola, who had come later. His son Olaf Savela now holds his place. Prayer meetings were held at the homes, each having its turn. The women dressed in plain clothing usually odd dark color, wore kerchiefs on their heads. (this custom still exists in many Finnish communities.) Until the schools came everything was done in strict accordance with Finnish custom. The Evangelic Lutherans had an ordained minister from Hancock who made visits after travel became easier. Sunday school was held at the various homes. There the parents taught the children to read Finnish.

In times of sickness and death everyone helped each other. Everyone shared his neighbors joys and afflictions. the first of the party to die was Joseph Karky in 1892. He was buried in a lot given for the purpose by his family in accordance with an agreement previously made by all, that whoever died first, his family should grant a lot of land for a cemetery. In 1893 the second death occurred. this time Mrs John Heikkinen died. She was buried in Chassell.

The first couple married at Otter Lake was Charles Pyykkonen and Eva Juntunen. Mrs Pyykkonen now lives in Elo. The first child born was Lydia Bartanen who now is Mrs. William Simila of Mowhawk. The second couple married was Job Hiltunen and Sophie Tauriainen. The if anyone had to go to town on business (as to get a marriage license) it was necessary to walk or ride to Chassell first and finish the trip by train. Such trips however were not frequent.

As there were no schools at first the old boys helped with the heavy work and hunted and trapped. The girls cared for the younger children. Very often the girls would wade along the shore and pull the younger children after them in a boat. Sometimes the girls hunted and trapped too. Often they would bring partridges home. Mrs. Blum told us that she and Mrs. Heikkinen once found a skunk in their trap when they were little girls.

The women did their share of the work too. They helped to clear the land, raise a family and provide food for the family. a common dish was fried fish, either fried or cooked with potatoes. Often it was the mother who supplied the fish for the meal. So full was the lake with fish that often the supper was put on to boil and then the mother and children would go and get the fish for supper. Just as naturally as going to market. Venison was also a common food.

The deer used to come to the lake to drink and swim. whenever a deer was sen on the lake, two or three boats would follow it until it became tired and then it would be caught. Sometimes women did this too. The necessity of keeping the wolf from the door made the settlers take their food which ever they could. Later, game wardens stopped this practice.

It was then that the early settlers struggled for existence at Otter Lake. their story is one long continuous struggle to secure a living from what God gave them, unchanged by hand of men. One of the three remaining said, not long ago, "If we were to move to Askel as it is now, we would have a snap of it. Now groceries are brought to our very door. In fact we only had money to get everything we would get almost all our wants at our door. When we first came here however, if we ran out of sugar and flour we had to take a sack and go to Chassell after it. Only necessity could make us do it."

One by one the families left the shore and built new homes and soon there was a road on the hill. Families soon moved near the county line between Houghton and Baraga counties. Here was the old Ontonagon Road along which coaches driven by oxen used to carry passengers and goods between L'Anse and the copper country, 50 years or so before. It was covered with small brush but has been opened for use again; between neighbors. Several families live near it. Old glass from telegraph poles may still be found. There is a story that a mail carrier on that road was eaten by wolves. In 1903 a bridge was built across the Sturgeon river and path was made to Arnheim. This gave the settlers access to the D.S.S. and railroad only four miles away. Later this road to Arnheim developed into a corduroy road. The travel was difficult in 1912. Since then the road has been repaired so cars can travel along it.

Many of the old settlers tell stories of trips in and out of Askel at that time. Mr John Naasko, who with Michael Michaelson purchased in 1901 the claim filed by Charles Keranen at the end of the lake commonly called "the bay" or "down the hill" told us several interesting stories. In about 1902 he, with Emil Filpus who also purchased land (Olaf Bartanen's land) and another man started out to Otter Lake to their newly bought land. It was impossible to come by way of Arnheim. They went to Keweenaw Bay and boarded the Mineral Range train which operated between Mass City and Keweenaw at that time. Somewhere along the track they got off, not knowing themselves where they were. They walked along and soon came to the Pelkie section house. There was no Pelkie at that time. They tramped and tramped through the wilderness, Mr Naasko leading the way. After, came Mr Filpus and his partner. Mr Filpus had to shoot as his partner was hard of hearing and thus Mr. Naasko was able to call them whenever he heard them go wrong. finally, after a very tiresome journey, they reached the upper end of Otter Lake, near their claims only to find that the flood there was also high. However, somehow they managed it, and finally got to their destinations. In July 1902 mr. Naasko brought himself a wife from the Copper County and came to live on his land. In the fall of the same year came Michael Michaelson. In the summer of 1906 Emil Filpus moved to his parents site with Mrs. Filpus.

Mr. Naasko gave us an interesting account of the making of the "Corduroy road" to Arnheim. The tamaracks which grew along either side of the road were cut and laid crosswise on the road. When walking on the road, the tamaracks would bob up and down in the mud and water and wet the unlucky traveler. It was always necessary to carry two pairs of shoes when going to town along this road. In 1912 this swamp was drained and now cars travel along it winter and summer.

In 1909 a new road was built ( the present road) alongside of the old one. It is along this road that we travel now. In about 1910 new families began to move into the Sturgeon River district and Askel had a neighboring community. New families came into Askel also. Their names and years in which they came are as follows:

Olaf Bartanen 1892
Henry Keranen 1906
Henry Anttonen 1906
Jacob Krum 1906
Herman Hanka ?
Michael Michaelson 1902
John Naasko 1902
Andrew Karna 1904
Andrew Onkalo 1903
Job Keranen 1906
Jacob Saari 1908
John Seppanen ?
John Saari 1909
Charles Beck 1909
Emil Filpus 1903
Jalmari Yaukkuri 1918
Albert Piekkola 1920
Adam Tepsa 1921

Of these Olaf Bartanen and John Seppanen moved away early. Of these other families here, the following are children of the settlers who came before 1900:

The following are grand children of the settlers who came here before 1900:

As far as we have been able to find out the following children of the settlers who came to Askel before 1900 and who left, are as follows:

Mrs Ivar Rajala Minn.
Mrs Matt Heikkila Tapiola
Mrs Hilda Heikkila Houghton
Charles Tauriainen Houghton
Emanuel Heikkinen Painsdale
John Karky Ohio
Charles Byykkonen Elo

It is interesting to note that only one of the first families who came to Askel moved away again. That was Enock Byykkonen. When he became too old to work he sold his farm and went to live with his children. His children also, moved away and are now living w\elsewhere. All the other families remained here and bought up their families here.

The first post office at Otter Lake was at Nelson's, in Tapiola. It was established in 1903. for a long time there was a grocery store in connection with the post office. Since 1908 Askel has had its own post office and mail comes by way of Arnheim.

In 1914 a township bridge was built across the Otter River and a road to Elo was constructed. In 1913 a road was built from Houghton to Tapiola and the John A. Doelle School was built. New farmers began to settle in Tapiola and since then these two communities have grown separately. Each community has its own activities entirely distinct from each other. Only the Apost. Lutherans still maintain the same church and minister.

Sometime in 1910 or 1911 there was a big forest fire which burned up all the good timber that was left in Askel. the whole country side was covered with smoke and flames. Everyone who was able tried to assist in putting out the fire.

In 1915 a telephone line was extended to Askel from Keweenaw Bay. Nick Hanks was the first to own a telephone. Arvo Hanka owned the first automobile and Peter Hiltunen the first tractor. Mrs John Naasko owned the first Maytag washer. Jacob Saaris had the first piano.

Thus our neighborhood has grown. today we find modern conveniences in our homes such as may be had in city homes. In summer our lake shore is crowed with an every increasing number of visitors Summer cottages are being built rapidly. Such a change 38 years have wrought.


For many years the Finnish people lived at Otter Lake with no mens of giving their children an education. At last, sometime in 1901, a meeting was called at Stephen Savela's for the purpose of discussing the prospects of a school. to this meeting came Superintendent Griffith, then Superintendent of schools in Portage Township. As none of the settlers spoke English is was necessary to use an interpreter. Albert Karinen was secured for this purpose. As a result of this school meeting it was decided to establish a school in Tapiola. The children from Askel were to attend school there by boat in summer and across the ice in winter. Mr. William T. Niemi of Calumet was chosen as the first teacher. School was held at the home of Jeremias Peterson, the first one to settle on the hill in Tapiola. Mr. Niemi taught for two years. He was succeeded by Miss. Helmi Warren who now lives in Detroit.

For three years the children attended school thus but the settlers at Askel became dissatisfied with this plan. They said it was dangerous to send the children across the lake to school alone as a sudden storm might come when the children were on the lake. For this reason they had constantly brought their children back and forth. Now they asked for a school and teacher at Askel. Their wish was granted, and for a time the children from Tapiola attended school in Askel. School was held upstairs of Andrew Heikkinen's house (a quarter of a mile north-east from the present school site) and the first teacher was their former teacher from Tapiola William T. Niemi. He was a young man who was struggling for a doctor's degree. He later practiced medicine but died many years ago.

The first school children were indeed a motley group. Many of them were almost full grown young men and women who attended school in hopes o learning the English language. many of them are now farmers at Askel and parents of the children in school today. They tell many jokes and anecdotes of the first school days here. It was necessary then to speak both English and Finnish in school as that was the only way the children could learn.

The teacher who taught in the old school were William t. Neimi, Harry Christopher and Doremus Davis. As far as we have been able to find out. Mr Davis is a business man in Battle Creek. Mr Davis visited us the other summer with his brother who is Principal of the Dollar Bay School. for one term school was held in an old long house across the road from the present school house. This log cabin has been torn down and now the boys play baseball there.

The present school was built in 1907. At that time it was considered a great improvement over the old buildings. The new school consisted of a schoolroom downstairs and two room teacherage upstairs. In 1921 it was necessary to hire another teacher and one of the rooms upstairs was changed into a room for the Primary grades. The teachers who have taught in this school are as follows:

Miss Minne C. Ala 1907-1908
Miss Maud Schannack 1908-1909
Miss Amanda Hoyhtya 1910-1914
Miss Lydia Myrene 1914-1915
Miss Amanda Hoyhtys 1915-1916
Miss Fannie Skyttal 1916-1918
Miss Lempi Anderson 1918-1919
Miss Sigrid Hakola 1919-1922
Miss Ida Saari 1921-1922
Miss Sophia Martti 1922-1924
Miss Florence Liimatta 1922-1924
Miss Ethlyn Tulppo 1924-1925
Miss Lydia Kotilainen 1924-1925
Miss Ester Savela 1925-1927
Miss Milia Heikkinen 1927-1928
Miss Elina Heikkinen 1927-1928

Our school was built under the direction of supt. John A. Doelle. he succeeded Supt. Comstock, who in turn followed Supt. Griffith. Mr Doelle visited us often. He spent week ends at Askel and trapped and hunted with the boys. It was Mr. Doelle who encouraged the boys and girls to go on to High school. Other superintendents that we have had, are:

A. O. Goodale 1919-1922
John E. Erickson 1922-1925
Glenn K. Kelly 1925-

The Askel school has graduated 43 pupils from the eight grade. The first to graduate was Olga Tauriainen (now Mrs John Hakala) in 1909. Her daughter , Ida, is among the eight grade graduates fro this spring. Following is a list of the pupils who have received eight grade diplomas from Askel School:

Olga Tauriainen 1909
Peter Hiltunen 1910
Henry Byykkonen 1910
Nelma Sotaniemi 1913 (dead)
Mary Filpus 1915
Milga Heikkinen 1915
Elina Heikkinen 1915
Hilia Moilanen 1915
Fred Karky 1915
Charles Beck 1915
John Onkalo 1916
Hilia Keranen 1916
Edward Karky 1916 (dead)
Tyyne Keranen 1918
Charles Filpus 1918
Walfred Naasko 1918
Saima Onkalo 1918
Martha Beck 1918
Esther Karky 1918
Mayme Keranen 1922
Eino Filpus 1922
John Heikkinen 1922
Edward Laitila 1922
William Moilanen 1922
Edward Naasko 1922
Signe Onkalo 1922
Bernhart Saari 1922
Alma Naasko 1923
Lillian Moilanen 1923
Wilbert Saari 1924
Frannie Hiltunen 1924
Helmi Moilanen 1925
Ethel Onkalo 1925
Ether Naasko 1925
Laila Piekkola 1925
Ruth Karky 1926
Impi Keranen 1926
Hilma V. Moilanen 1927
Impi Moilanen 1927
Olavi Saari 1927
Clarence Piekkola 1927
Edwin Onkalo 1927
Of these pupils the following have graduated from High School:

The following attended High School but did not finish:

Miss Milia D. Heikkinen, our primary grade teacher belonged to the eight grade class of 1922 but finished at the Central School in Houghton.

This competes our school history, and the history of Askel. It has taken us several months of hard work to gather these details but we have enjoyed seeking this information. We ask out r readers to kindly over look our mistakes and to take this as the best in out ability.

We thank our Superintendent, Glenn K. Kelly for the privilege of having this typewritten.

The Eight Grade Civics Class of 1928:

Contributed by: Arne Beck

Copyrighted 1996 All Rights Reserved Rose Edwards

NOTE: Otter Lake is actually in Houghton County , Portage Township and is also named Tapiola. From Michigan Place Names by Walter Romig.