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150-year-old sauna being reconstructed for FinnFest

September 29, 2012
By KURT HAUGLIE , Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - Saunas are an important part of Finnish culture and history, and Hancock-based artist Mary Wright thought having an authentic 150-year-old sauna as part of next year's FinnFest would be a good idea.

Thursday afternoon, construction was begun on a sauna moved from private property in Hancock to the Finlandia University Quincy Green.

Builder Steven Long said Wright asked him to help with the dismantling and reconstruction of the sauna made from cedar timbers. Most of the logs for the building were salvaged, but some of it will have to be fabricated new.

"The roof I have to build, but I have to make it authentic," he said.

Also taking part in the reconstruction was Keith Halls, who said the sauna was originally constructed up on Quincy Hill for the use of Finnish copper miners in the 19th century. It was moved about 15 years ago to the property of Muriel Runavara, who donated it for reconstruction.

Halls said the building was called a smoke sauna because a fire was built in its center to provide the heat, but it also produced smoke.

Wayne Stordahl, who is an engineer and volunteered to help build the sauna, said he's providing practical advice.

"I'm just kind of doing the logic of it," he said.

Some of the bottom logs from the structure rotted, and Stordahl said new ones will have to be made from logs.

"We're missing two rows of logs," he said.

The sauna will be for display during FinnFest in June, and Stordahl said he believes it will be moved to a permanent location somewhere in Hancock after that.

Wright also enlisted the help of ethnographer and historian Richard Vidutis of Alexandria, Va., who said he did his doctoral dissertation in the 1980s on Finnish architecture and construction, particularly in the Copper Country.

Vidutis said he plans to do a book of photographs of Finnish structures in the Copper Country.

"It really should be a world heritage area," he said.

Although they may not be understood as such by a casual viewer, Vidutis said there are still many Finnish saunas standing in the Copper Country.



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