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Esko book hits the pages of history

Community namesake Alex Esko, his wife Eva and family pose in front of their house just west of the Midway River in the early 1890s. A native of Finland, Alex came to the U.S. in 1880, settled in Thomson and became a railroad land agent. In 1919 he built a general store at the intersection of today's Thomson Road and Highway 61. The site became known as Esko's Corner, the name by which the community was known until the first post office was established in 1935 and named Esko. Photo Courtesy of Esko Histo...1 / 3
The west side of Esko's town center is captured on film in the early 1940s from a position atop the high school. In the foreground is a Standard gas station operated by Joe Davidson. Next to it is Juntti's Store and just to the west is the Arrowhead Co-op Creamery. Across Highway 61, at the right is Moses Service Station, flanked on the west by Hank's Cafe and the original Esko Co-op Store. Photo courtesy of Esko Historical Society2 / 3
Before Esko had a name, early sports teams were known as "Lincoln," for Lincoln High School, as indicated by the "LHS" on the ball. Superintendent A.L. Winterquist, the first coach, later wrote, "We went to games at Cromwell, Barnum and Moose Lake in the old Model T Ford truck. Sometimes we were sick from carbon monoxide gas and sometimes we were stuck in snow drifts." Team members in 1923 are (front row, from left) Edwin Fredrickson, Nestor Lahti and Charles Mannila and (back row, from left) coach Winte...3 / 3

Davis Helberg, chairman of the Esko History Book Committee, heaved a big sigh of relief as the group's lengthy labor of love made its trip to the printers at last. What was to have been a comparatively simple two-year project had taken on a life of its own.

"After many individuals worked on gathering information, interviewing living local historians, researching, writing, editing, condensing, and re-writing again and again for over five years, this news is very exciting!" he commented.

The long-promised, long-awaited community history book, called "Esko's Corner, An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township," is expected to be available locally by late December -- "We're keeping our fingers crossed that it might be here in time for Christmas," said Helberg, "but we can't make any promises."

At least one township resident is more than ready for that to happen. Pete Radosevich, of Eskomo Pies, has already pledged to sell 100 copies of the book at his restaurant and possibly hold a book launching event there as well. Many others are eager to get their hands on the book, too, since it is, after all, their story.

The idea of compiling the rich history of Thomson Township into a book took root at the Esko Historical Society's first Esko Heritage Day in 2007. Presenters there offered a wealth of interesting material, which prompted some attendees to urge the society to capture the community's story in book form.

In 2008, a steering committee was organized to shepherd the book project into reality. A group of dedicated committee members was soon sifting through government records, historical archives, regional libraries and numerous family journals and letters. More than 100 interviews were conducted with past and present area residents. Among those conducting interviews was the late Arvid Konu.

In developing stories about the history of the area, Konu said he made countless telephone calls and trips all over the area to verify facts and information. Konu alone wrote some 25 articles about the early days in Thomson Township prior to his death, including tales about the people who came there and some of the stories they told. They're all in the historical archives at the Esko Historical Society and many of them will be included in the upcoming book.

"There's enough history there for two books at least," he once said. "Some of it even goes as far back as the Indian days. They had some villages in Thomson Township but we don't even know where they were buried. It's so hard to reach back into history that's a hundred years old."

Though Konu didn't live long enough to see the book published, he earlier commented he was proud and humbled to have been a part of the effort and the group contributing to it.

"These guys have worked so hard to dig deep and gone to many lengths to unearth the stories of the early loggers, the early roads....." he said. "Usually they've found the story, but sometimes it takes as long as a year or more to find out the answer to one question, it's that hard. In those early days, they didn't have good communication."

Helberg said there was considerable debate over what to call the book. For a long time, the book's working title was "A Place Called Esko," subtitled "A History of Thomson Township." At various points in time, however, the committee leaned toward other titles, such as "The Valley of the Midway" (though some pointed out that nearly half of the township's watershed is outside the Midway River's influence), "Esko: The Sauna Suburb" (which they decided could be deemed exclusionary since not all the residents are of Finnish descent), and even "Let's Go, Esko!" (thought to be too frivolous by some, or too limited considering its connection with sports).

The book was eventually titled "Esko's Corner," (the name by which the community was originally known), along with the subtitle, "An Illustrated History of Esko and Thomson Township."

The writing process for the book was completed in spring 2013, followed by the book's design by Tony Dierckins of Duluth, final editing, proofreading and indexing. The manuscript and images were shipped to the printer, Bang Printing of Brainerd, Minn., in early November. Now, all that's left is the waiting, which has the committee and members of the community sitting on pins and needles, a bit like expectant parents.

The book itself is indeed substantial -- 400 pages, complete with hard cover and dust jacket and including 160 photos and nine maps.

"It just might be the biggest book on the planet ever written about a small township," said Helberg with a laugh, "but then Esko has never been bashful about extolling its virtues!"

Follow, Facebook (Esko History Book Project) and area newspapers for information about the book-launching and other special events. Helberg said because of the community's generous donations, "We've been able to hold the price at $25. Books of this size and quality usually go for at least $40. All proceeds will go to the Esko Historical Society."