The Wirtanen Farm Fall Festival always takes me back in time, the attraction of such yearly events, a chance to renew acquaintances and make new ones and to reminisce about the old days.
It is billed as a chance to “experience old world serenity,” surely a welcome break from the hurried lifestyle that is too often the modern norm. And thanks to people like Darlene Saumer, the president of the group called Friends of Wirtanen Pioneer Farm, formed nearly 20 years ago, and the dedicated members of the group, the event happens the second Saturday every September. Darlene’s son Jayson and Tom Rukavina had set about saving the farm as a historical site, keeping it from being sold to a private party, and bravo to them.
Darlene says that the Wirtanen Farm “has always been a passion of mine,” and I say that’s good. Because the Wirtanen Farm is surely a piece of history of the Markham community worth saving.
It’s a place along Highway 4, the Old Vermilion Trail, and where you find the Whiteface Reservoir, the Markham Cemetery, and the Colvin Town Hall, and where there used to be Weiberg’s store, where my mother and I would go to buy gas and groceries. My father would take me to Whiteface, where he would fish off the shoreline. And when we would drive down Highway 4, I’d watch for the fire tower, long since torn down, and I’d see the sign pointing to Comstock, a stream where he’d catch brook trout in the spring.
Thirty-some years ago my brother and I went out to the Wirtanen Farm. Mr. Wirtanen had died, and I believe the neighbors, the Pekkarinens, who had cared for him in his declining years, were taking care of the farm. It was an impressive sight, with all the buildings made of hand-hewn logs by one man who had immigrated from Finland in the early 1900s and trekked way up north to start a new life.
What a tragedy it would have been to see the old farm and all its relics sold to a private party, perhaps someone with a lot of money and a desire to develop it as a retreat for the wealthy. But because people like the Saumers were determined to not let that happen, the Pioneer Farm has been preserved for all to enjoy.
So next Saturday take a drive down the Old Vermilion Trail, where Eli Wirtanen trekked from Duluth to homestead land in Markham, and go to the Pioneer Farm. There will be music by Art Lehtonen and more, book signings by Dennis Esler and more, baby animals, horse-drawn carriage rides, crafters and fresh bakery. There’s no admission charge, but those wishing to make donations are most welcome to do so, to preserve that Wirtanen Farm for years to come.
As Darlene would say in gratitude, “Kiitos!”