Thursday, January 1, 2015

From Finland to Folly Cove, 1903

A one-per-decade series of glimpses, 1860-1960

The Seppala family of Cape Ann raised twelve children on the one-acre Sunnyside Farm at Folly Cove. Father had come over from Finland first; then Mother and their two youngsters, one of whom, Hilma, wrote down her recollections years later as a married woman. Family photos are contributed by Zenas and Merry Seppala, and Sandra Seppala Jamieson. Additional photos from the Hale/Clements  legacy of the Sandy Bay Historical Association.

Hilma Seppala Sauter's Story

In the summer of 1902 my father Samuel Seppala came to Folly Cove to visit his sister Ulriika, wife of Matti Williams, intending to stay for only a short time. He left my mother Alexandra, my brother Heino and me with a housekeeper at his five-room home in Teuva, Finland.  He also left his saw mill and grist mill business in the care of his partner.

Alexandra's parents Herman and Maria Varsamaki
Matti Williams had arrived on foot from Boston twenty years earlier to take a job in the quarries. When Company officials couldn't understand his Finnish name Maenpaa they called him Williams, after his father's first name. Matti became one of the first Finnish home owners of that period.  He eventually operated a dairy and sauna business on his one-acre site at the head of Folly Cove.
Father  slept in an attic bedroom with seven other men during his stay. Opposite in another large room lived a couple with five children.  There were as many as forty children on the property at one time!  Practically all the men worked for the Rockport Granite Company. 

As Father’s visit to Folly Cove continued, more and more he wanted to stay in this country.  Mother  was anxious to join him. On July 2, 1903 at age twenty-two, with Heino and me she left the Seppala home for Kristiina, a seaport on the west coast of Finland.  Her own mother was driving the horse-drawn wagon. She must have had a heavy heart seeing her loved ones leave for a strange land, perhaps never to see them again.

Ellis Island immigrants
National Park Service photo
We arrived in Hull, England after five days at sea and crossed to Liverpool by train. There we were put on the steamship "Campania" for New York though our booking was for the "Lucania" to Boston. After nine days we  landed at Ellis Island. We boarded a train to Boston, transferred to North Station, and continued to either Gloucester or Rockport where we found the electric street car to Folly Cove. Father was waiting to greet us. I wish I had been older to experience the happiness of their reunion!

Postcard courtesy of Elana Pistenmaa Brink
It is amazing now to think that mother, who did not know a word of English, could make such a trip with two young children and arrive safely at her destination of 1236 Washington Street, Folly Cove, Gloucester, Massachusetts, U. S. A. One can only say it speaks well for the know-how of the authorities involved in that great immigration era in our nation's history.

After Mother's arrival at Folly Cove with its humming activity, she was at first overwhelmed by it all. However, after a quiet period (and a good cry) one day by herself sitting on the rocks at Folly Cove beach at the foot of the Williams' land, she looked at the beautiful nature around her, the ocean, the sky, the cliffs of Folly Point, and realizing the soothing beauty all around her she suddenly said to herself "This is it." And she never cried again!

Samuel and Alexandra Seppala, 1927
Hilma (back row, center) was born in Finland,
the others at home in Folly Cove
She made many new friends and entered into the busy life of the immigrant settlement. Coffee pots were always brewing, and everyone helped one another with a mutual understanding of each other's problems.

Folly Cove c. 1925
W. D. Hoyt Sr. photo
There were so many Finnish children to play with that most of us older children knew no English (myself included) when we entered school. When I, many years later, asked my first grade teacher how she ever coped with so many of us, she said, "I knew you all came from good families, and you learned fast."

Seppala horse team moving stones from beach
Father worked in the quarries up to 1919, when he bought the Williams property from Ulriika, after her husband's death. He gradually went from stone work into a dairy and sauna business as did Matti Williams before him. As time went on the nineteen-room house was occupied more and more by the Seppalas, with eleven children in the family, and became even more of a Seppala homestead when Mother had the other fourteen room house demolished in 1945. After father's death in 1943, the dairy business was sold to Dr. Babson Farm in Riverdale.
Samuel Seppala and son driving cows to pasture,
Gloucester/Rockport Town Line
Sandra Seppala Jamieson
2014 interview

My father Lauri grew up at Sunnyside Farm, delivering milk before school. They used to take the cows to graze in the adjacent meadow owned by the Taylors across a little bridge over the brook that flows into the Cove.  They cut hay in the big fields out on Folly Point. Eventually they had to add a milk room to the barn when pasteurization became required.

Lauri Seppala 1923
 Finnish was the primary language at home. The house was heated by stoves in the kitchen and parlor. There were chamber pots in the house and an eight-holer outhouse over the brook that ran down to the Cove. Pastor Ronka, the Finnish minister, was a tenant in the early days.

Uno Seppala, Richard Seppala, Marjorie Wheeler, Martha Koski,
Vera Seppala, Hilda Ross, c. 1933
After Grandfather died Grandmother - Mummu - stayed on. My father was in the Coast Guard. My unmarried uncles still lived there like a tenement house, working at the Tool Company. Mummu ran a sauna every Saturday. George Demetrios and others patronized it. There would be great philosophical discussions in this run-down little building in Folly Cove.

Alexandra at Vera's wedding August 24, 1947
Everyone went to visit Mummu on Sundays. Soon after this photo was taken health problems necessitated a leg amputation. She carried on at home for many years with the help of Hilma and Henry. Eventually she lost a second leg. She went into Den Mar Nursing Home in 1966 and passed away very quickly.


  1. Excellent! Imagine that eight hole outhouse trying to get approved today!

    William Taylor

  2. Mukavaa luettavaa! I visit Rockport often and knew some of the Finnish heritage there, so this was an interesting read! Kiitos.
    Katja Nevanperä Maravelias

  3. Thanks a million! I am trying to trace my grandparent's time in Rockport 1900-1906 and there memoirs help a lot. Is there someone who might be interested to exchange more info about the Finns in Cape Ann around 1900.

  4. This is wonderful! My grandmother was Aili Seppala, daughter of Samuel and Alexandra. My grandfather was Arne Ronka, son of Pastor Ronka, who was a border at the Folly Cove Sunnyside Farm. So my great aunt is Hilma Seppala Sauter. This account was so informative and helpful in piecing together some details of how my great-grandparents found their way to Rockport. My sister and I will travel to Finland for the first time this summer and we look forward to visiting the area that our ancestors lived. This blog is fabulous!

  5. Wonderful history!! I'm Katie Atkinson's brother (not to be confused with my Uncle David Ronka), so I have the same ancestral relationships she details. I live on the southern coast of Maine (Kittery Point), and my bedroom window looks out over the ocean south toward Gloucester, which is barely visible on a clear day. Folly Cove and Pepperrell Cove (where I live) face each other, and I often think of the rich Finnish roots across the waters that separate the two coves. I visit Rockport once or twice a year to visit the Seppala and Ronka grave sites and to throw rocks into the water at the Folly. Thank you for this blog post!!