Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Hirvi Homes of Finn Hollow, Fairport

Up until a couple years ago I’d never heard the term Finn Hollow. As associated with the little blue-collar town of Fairport Harbor, Lake County, Ohio, Finn Hollow seems to have been a name recently resurrected from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My mother had never heard it either, and she spent much of her childhood growing up in Fairport, the town where her parents, aunts, and uncles had all grown up, too.

My great-great-grandfather, Wilhelm Heikkinpoika Hirvi (1866-1949), didn't grow up in Fairport, but he was one of the men who built Finn Hollow there. He was born in Ylistaro, Heippolan Kyla, Finland, and immigrated to the USA, arriving on March 18, 1884, at the age of seventeen. It’s probable that he went to Ashtabula, Ashtabula County, Ohio, for a while, which had a large population of Finnish immigrants. But my cousin Kenneth J. Quiggle* (born 1944) reports that Wilhelm first went to Burton, Geauga County, Ohio. (I have Shanower relatives still living in Burton.) As many Finnish immigrants did, Wilhelm may have been working on the New Central Railroad that went to nearby Chardon, Ohio. But that’s speculation on my part.

Somewhere along the way Wilhelm Hirvi's name was Americanized to William "Bill" Hervey. On September 11, 1885, he and twenty-two other Finnish immigrants—many from Ashtabula—moved to Fairport Harbor on the east bank of the Grand River where it meets Lake Erie. There they established the area of Fairport known as Finn Hollow or “alanko.”

Finn Hollow included ten houses built by those Finnish immigrants next to the Grand River on land above the docks where many of them worked. The land belonged to the Pennsylvania and Lake Erie Dock Company. The PLE allowed the men and their families to live there with the understanding that the land could be reclaimed by the company. So the houses were built with the knowledge that one day it might be necessary to move them.

In the early twentieth century, that day came. Nine of the houses were moved to locations elsewhere in Fairport. But for some reason Wilhelm Hirvi’s house was not moved. I suspect it was either not on the portion of land that the PLE intended to use or else it was not actually on PLE land. In any case, it’s still there at 116 Fourth Street in Fairport. The other houses still survive, too, although not in their original Finn Hollow locations.

[Update, August 2013: A family member reports that Wilhelm Hirvi's house wasn't moved because it was the only one of the Finn Hollow houses that had a basement.]

Wilhelm Hirvi and Wilhelmina Oberg Hirvi's Finn Hollow home in recent days, still in its original position at 116 Fourth Street, Fairport Harbor, Ohio. This photo is courtesy of my second cousin once removed Lee Silvi (born 1952), great-grandson of Wilhelm and Wilhelmina through their daughter Lillian Justina Hirvi Silvi (1901-1964), and is used with his permission. Photo copyright © 2012 Lee Silvi. All rights reserved.

Wilhelm Hirvi was naturalized on March 26, 1895, in Fairport Harbor. Wilhelm worked on the PLE docks. He would enter the holds of ships carrying iron ore and shovel the ore into buckets, which were hoisted out and the ore loaded into railway cars. He worked his way up to gang foreman, driving the men on the docks so hard that they called him “Wild Bill” and hated him. Brutal work and unforgiving attitudes of his fellow workers may have been contributing factors to why he drank.

On March 15, 1888, he married Wilhelmina Oberg (1865-1945), another Finnish immigrant to Fairport by way of Ashtabula. She, like Wilhelm, had been born in Ylistaro, Finland. I have no idea whether they knew each other as kids in Finland, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

Wilhelm and Wilhelmina had seven children, six who survived to adulthood. Their eldest, John (1888-1918), was born October 31, only seven and a half months after his parents’ marriage, so it looks as though he was conceived out of wedlock. That would have been scandalous at the time, though hardly uncommon. I suspect it was a primary reason for his parents’ marriage, probably just after Wilhelmina realized she was pregnant. Great-great-uncle John died at age thirty during 1918’s worldwide flu epidemic. Wilhelm and Wilhelmina's second child was my great-grandmother Wilhelmina Elizabeth “Minnie” Hirvi Stuuri (1890-1946).

One of Wilhelm’s older brothers, Johan Heikki Hirvi (1860-1935), also emigrated from Finland and ended up in Finn Hollow in Fairport Harbor. I don't know whether he arrived in the USA before Wilhelm, afterward, or whether they traveled together. Johan Heikki's name was Americanized to John Henry Hervey and he was called Henry. In 1891 when the Fairport Fire Department was established, Henry Hervey was among the first group of firemen. This great-great-great-uncle of mine also lived in Finn Hollow in one of the nine Finn Hollow homes that were moved. Its current address is 221 Fourth Street in Fairport.

Wilhelm retired from the docks in 1933. He served several terms on the Fairport village council. On July 10, 1949, he died at the Painesville, Lake County, Ohio, home of his daughter Sigrid Maria Hirvi Ollila Youppi (1897-1989) and her second husband Frank Youppi. Wilhelm's funeral took place at Suomi Zion Lutheran Church in Fairport where he was a charter member. That’s the church that all my mother’s Fairport family have attended since they helped to establish it. You can see an old photo of the church in one of my earlier blog posts here.

Sometime about the mid-1940s Wilhelm Hirvi recorded a song on a home-made record. You can listen to it right here. I’m afraid the sound isn’t very good, especially for the first six or seven seconds. The whole thing isn’t very long—only 48 seconds. Wilhelm sang in Finnish, but even if you can speak the language, I doubt you’ll be able to distinguish the words. If you recognize the song, please let me know the title in the comments section at the end of this post. Whether anyone finds it listenable or not, I’m just glad this recording of my great-great-grandfather, a Finnish immigrant, survives.

Click Here to Listen to Wilhelm Hirvi sing.
Depending on your audio player you may need to click the little PLAY arrow.

* Kenneth J. Quiggle is my second cousin once removed through my maternal grandfather’s family, the Hietanens. Ken’s grandfather Forrest Quiggle (died 1961) married my great-great-aunt Aliisa Elviira “Ella” Hietanen (1894-1950). Ken could also be considered my second cousin twice removed along my maternal grandmother’s Hirvi/Hervey line, too, if you take two marriages of one woman into account. June Megley (1924-2007) married my first cousin three times removed Richard Henry Hervey (1917-1962). June Megley Hervey’s second husband was my first cousin twice removed Kenneth Grant Quiggle (1920-1986), uncle of Kenneth J. Quiggle.


  1. I just recently moved to Fairport Harbor from Cleveland. My daughter and I walked up Fifth Street and down Sixth Street today. I was looking at the houses and I saw several plaques which read "A Finn Hollow Home"

    I asked several people what that meant, even a very elderly gentleman, and no one knew. I said, "I guess I'll have to google it!"
    That is so great how you know your family's history. Thank you for sharing. I sorta had guessed that it might be because of the early Finn settler's. I thought maybe they had named Fairport Finn Hollow.

  2. I think this the song you are looking for. An old Finnish religious song. By the way, my grandfather was living in your town a long time ago.

  3. I'm sure that's it, Anonymous. "Tiedän Paikan Armahan." The YouTube link you provided is a beautiful rendition. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing! This was very interesting as I just saw a home for sale described as a Finn Hollow home. I live in Fairport now and my great grandparents came to the area from Finland. Surnames Wirtanen & Lintala.