Authentic Finnish sauna to be dedicated in Kaleva

An authentic Finnish sauna is now part of the Bottle House Museum in Kaleva. (News Advocate file photo)

An authentic Finnish sauna is now part of the Bottle House Museum in Kaleva. (News Advocate file photo)

KALEVA — In search of a new life, Finnish settlers called Kaleva home nearly a century ago.

Oftentimes, the first objective for a family was to build a traditional Finnish sauna on this new land. Many lived in these structures while they constructed more permanent homes and, afterward, the sauna continued to be used for health, bathing and even birthing.

In the spirit of preserving Kaleva’s Finnish heritage, an authentic Finnish sauna now sits beside the village’s famed Bottle House Museum, located at 14551 Wuoksi Ave. in the village. The project was made possible by the hard work of the Kaleva Historical Society and local support.

 

On Saturday, all are welcome to attend an official dedication of this piece of history, which will be held at 1 p.m. at the site. The event will feature music, food and tours of the sauna.

“It’s basically to celebrate preserving the tradition of the sauna,” said Cindy Asiala of the Kaleva Historical Society. “We have hundreds of visitors a year (come through the Bottle House) and, especially if they know about Finnish culture, people will ask if there are any saunas still in operation around here.

“It was such an important custom to the Finns,” she added. “A few are still around, but most of them now are just storage areas and very few people who have moved in even know that (those structures) were at one time bath houses.”

In November, the demonstration sauna was transported and permanently placed at the Bottle House, which itself is a listed landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

Local builder Sam Bontrager used material from the area to construct the sauna and shares the hope that Kaleva could once again embrace the Finnish custom.

“Sam builds things out of logs that he harvests around the area and became so interested in the project, he actually built himself one,” Asiala said. “He’s building more to sell, thinking the idea might catch on.

“We’re hoping it will too, with anyone who loves Kaleva or is connected to Finnish culture.”

A sauna is a small room or building used as a hot-air or steam bath for cleaning and refreshing the body, both for physical and mental relaxation. In Finnish culture, it is a place to also relax with friends and family.

“Ours is completely authentic and we have signage to go along with it, telling about the sauna and how it was important in the culture,” Asiala said. “During the Bottle House’s open hours, (the sauna) will be designed to self-tour.”

After Saturday’s dedication, the sauna will be open for viewing during the museum’s open hours which are from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays now through August, and from noon to p.m. on Saturdays in September and October.

To finance the majority of the project’s $10,000 price tag, the Kaleva Historical Society raised money through its typical donors as well as a crowd funding campaign. The Finlandia Foundation also granted $2,500.

Bontrager, the builder of the sauna, made a considerable in-kind contribution to cover the cost of his work.

“This project started two years ago with donations from members of the historical society,” Asiala said, “and here we are: it’s done and beautiful. And now people can have a true experience of what it was like to step into a Finnish sauna.”

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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