Chapel Court lot plans showing names of lot owners (Norfolk County Deeds)

By the early 1900s, the Finns began arriving in a steady stream and settling in Norwood. In February of 1904, eighteen local Finns decided to organize a labor society, this group of interested Finns created the Norwood Finnish American Labor Alliance Imatra No. 29, becoming a branch of a similar group in Quincy. The group soon decided their political ideologies fit better the Finnish Workingman’s organization’s socialist ideals. They withdrew from Imatra and in 1905 changed their name to The Finnish Workingman’s Association – called INTO. By 1906, INTO decided to begin the process of having their own building for meetings, as they had been meeting in various places in the neighborhood. By 1905, they had purchased land on the top of Chapel Court and built a small structure – very reminiscent of New England Cape Cod style homes. From 1907 to 1912 the group grew to 43 men and 36 women. Six years in (1912), they had out grown the building and decided to add on a large addition to better serve a growing Finn community in Swedeville. By 1917, their membership had grown to over 300 people and they had to enlarge their facility again! The entire cost of all of these projects were funded and constructed by the Finns in Swedeville. When finally completed, the building boasted a large meeting space, a stage and a 10,000-volume library. Although there were political differences among Norwood Finns, which caused an ideological split in the 1920s, the main objectives of Finn Hall was to support Finnish culture.

The American Finnish Workingman’s Association (INTO) was a socialist organization. All members bought shares in the organization. As the membership in INTO grew in Norwood, the organization was able to expand. First, they bought the old Swedish Congregational Church on Savin Avenue and turned it into a Cooperative Store. With the success of the store, INTO bought about 40 acres of land in North Walpole, (today – on Old Fisher Street, just off of Main Street). A good portion of the Walpole property became a dairy, with pastures, barns, milking houses and a bottling plant. Some of the property became a recreational area. Here local Finns held picnics and celebrations well into the early 1950s, when the dairy was no longer feasible and it was sold.

Finn Hall. (Norwood Historical Society collection)

Finn Hall was the social center of the Norwood’s Finnish community. Naturalization classes were offered. Children had classes in the Finnish language, as well as in the Finnish culture, even though it was part of their home life. The women formed a club before Finn Hall was built.  They had a sewing circle and an exercise group. Finn Hall had a large stage on the main floor of the building. Here many different performing groups held concerts, readings, lectures and plays for friends and families. They had several musical programs, which included a choir that was directed by Sylvia Wiik and several different band programs for both children and adults. They took so much pride in their theatre club that they hired a professional director to lead them. Once a month, on Saturday night, dances were held at Finn Hall. This was a family affair, open to adults, teens and children, it was an evening the entire family looked forward to. Then there were the sports teams, for all ages and abilities. Yritys was their Sports Club. INTO provided the equipment and sports clothing as well as organized travel to competitions, and they hired coaches if needed. Finn Hall had both varsity and intermural basketball teams, they had a wrestling program, a track team and a calisthenics program. Finns were world-class competitors. Finns consider themselves stubborn, and this stubbornness leads to dedication to become the very best at whatever they put their mind to. Several Finns from Norwood won championships in their sporting categories; John Maki captured the light-weight wrestling World Championship belt, Viktor Kuusela and Anton Birch won multiple medals in New England Amateur Athletic Association wrestling competitions. In track and field, Norwood athletes were fierce competitors, the list is long, but some of those who took home medals in local competitions. Some of the standouts were runners, Eino Heikkila, Red Heino, and Unto Sandell, and in long distance running was Lauri Palonen, who ran the Boston Marathon.

Finn Hall circa 1990. (Source: MACRIS database)

Finn Hall closed its doors in the late 1950s, and the property was sold in May of 1959 to the American Legion. It must have been a sad day in Swedeville when Finn Hall closed, but the social comradely it created over its fifty-five years of existence, continued in the community. Several groups formed and met in local homes – One of these groups was Club 37 (after #37 Chapel Court). If the Finns had a function, they used Runeburg Hall on Wilson Street. Another social group of Finns that continued to meet long after Finn Hall closed was US Girls. This was a social group of women that began meeting in Junior High and continued to meet well into their eighties.

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Around 2010 the original Finn Hall was razed. The new building is now four private condominium townhomes.

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