The Wiik house soon after it was built. (Courtesy of Barbara Wiik Brierley)
Grandfather Frank Neimi with grandson Richard Wiik. (Courtesy of Barbara Wiik Brierley)

Melville Avenue is a dead end street, with approximately ten houses on it. At the very end is the only triple-decker in Swedeville – John Wiik built it in 1915. At that time South Norwood was being developed. Triple-deckers are one of South Norwood’s unique features and Wiik must have liked the concept and decided to build one too. Each apartment had  three rooms, plus a kitchen with a pantry, and a bathroom. In each kitchen, John had long soapstone sinks installed, a feature the house still retained as late as 2010. Originally the building was heated with a coal furnace. Coal would have been delivered down a coal chute directly into the basement, and someone would have had to shovel the coal into the furnace several times a day to ensure consistent heat. Also in the basement was a loom to make rag rugs on. Finnish women were adept at repurposing just about everything! Anything made out of fabric that had become too worn to use, was cut into strips, which were then woven into a rug. Swedeville women had “cutting bees,” where they prepared the fabric to be woven, then they could come to the Wiik’s house and rent time on the loom to make their rugs, at a price of .50 cents a week.

The Wiik house as it appears today (photo LLKearney)

John Wiik married Pauliina Hormisto in 1908, they lived in the second floor apartment, and rented out the first and third floor apartments. John and Paulina raised three sons in this house (they had a daughter who died in infancy). Over the years, John Wiik rented to many people, but one of his last tenants was the family of Frank and Irene Niemi. The Niemis moved into the Melville Avenue apartment in the early 1930s, having lived in several other apartments in Swedeville over the last twenty years. The Niemis had one daughter, Sylvia, who became Urho Wiik’s wife. Urho and Sylvia, knew one another before Sylvia’s family moved into the Wiik’s apartment, they were close in age, had the same circle of friends, and their children say they had their first date the night Urho escorted Sylvia home from a dance at Finn Hall. When Urho and Sylvia married, they stayed here and raised his family in the house.

The play area (large rock) at the end of Mellville Avenue. (photo LLKearney)

Urho and Sylvia became the parents of four children, who were lucky enough to grow up here, not just because both sets of their grandparents lived in the other apartments, but because Swedeville had so much to offer for a kid. For starters there were a lot of children living in this neighborhood, so one could always find a playmate. Melville Avenue was a safe street to grow-up on, as the only cars that traveled it belonged to the neighbors. At the very end of the road (next to the Wiiks house) is a large piece of rock ledge, which was the neighborhood kids playground. It served as a fort, a jungle gym, or whatever imaginary things the kids dreamed up. In fact, the rock was such a neighborhood attraction that people (both local and visitors from far away places) often posed for pictures in front of it!. Just to the left of the rock was a cut through path to Cedar Street, which was the fastest way to school. When kids came home from school they changed from their “school clothes” into their “play clothes” and went out to play, knowing their mother’s expected them home when the street lights came on. In the winter, Melville Avenue was everyone’s favorite sledding hill. Melville was one of the last roads plowed, so the children could spend a good part of a snow day safely sledding down the street. Urho Wiik bragged, to the amazement of his kids, that when he was a child, he was able to sled the length of the street and turn the corner onto Savin! The Wiik family owned the triple-decker for almost 100 years. Today, the property continues to be an apartment building. The new owner modernized it, and appears to have altered the floor plan and added a fourth apartment in the attic.

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