|Barn built by John Mattila. Photo by Dena Sanford in Montana The Magazine of Western History, Winter 2013|
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Finnish immigrant Gust Heikkila homesteaded along the Little Belt Creek coulee in 1902. Soon other Finnish settlers homesteaded the area, calling it Korpivaara, meaning “dangerous wilderness,” for its remote wooded surroundings. Here the Heikkilas raised eleven children, expanded their holdings, and were among the first to shift from farming to ranching. The skills of Gust and local Finnish builders Victor Mattila and Matt Maki reveal an outstanding folk vernacular building style that transferred the Finnish farmstead to a New World setting. The men showcased their traditional skills, building a sauna, residence, and other structures using Old World tools like the broadaxe and awl. The result is a classic Finnish farm with log buildings around an open courtyard. In 1938, the sons of Victor Mattila, who helped build the homestead, bought the property from the Heikkalas. The brothers, trained in woodworking by carpenter Matt Maki, expanded some of the buildings and also built new ones.
The result is American in design but Finnish in construction. The 1938 barn, in particular, represents a masterful blending of the two cultures by second-generation Finnish builders. This unusual homestead, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one interesting example of building by Montana’s diverse European homesteaders.