The history of Heinola began in 1908 – with a dairy.
About five miles south of New York Mills, at the point where four townships meet – Newton, Deer Creek, Otto and Leaf Lake – the farmers of the region decided to establish a joint dairy. Across from the dairy two Finns, Herman Arola and Jacob Tumberg, set up a general store in Matti Heinonen’s home. Taking its name from the store, the whole village got the name Heinola.
Almost at the same time, J. Mursu opened another store in Heinola, and a third followed, which later became the Jetenberg cafeteria. Still later, this cafeteria was owned by John J. Hagel, from whom the local Workers’ Society bought the property for use as their hall.
The dairy was incorporated as the Clover Leaf Co-op Creamery Association and it served to shorten the trip to market for many farmers. The nearby stores made it easy for them to do their shopping at the same time. With a ready market for milk, it was profitable to increase the size of herds. This led to an expansion of pasturelands, and to increase the quantity of milk, clover and corn were planted. Barns grew larger and farmhouses bigger.
In this fashion, dairy affected the daily lives of Heinola’s farmers and made the region into a prospering Finnish farming community.
The Heinola Farmers Cooperative Mercantile Association was founded in 1911. Two years before that, the Heinola Telephone Company had been started. At first the company served only the immediate area of Heinola, but in 1921 it purchased from James Dooley the New York Mills Telephone Company, which became the headquarters of the larger company. Heinola also had the distinction of having its own baseball team, first organized in 1902.
As roads and transportation improved, people started going to the larger towns so businesses in small towns like Heinola began to close their doors. The last business to close was a gas station that was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Louis Anderson. They also carried a few grocery items for the convenience of the area people. They dropped the grocery line about 1965 and the gas business was closed completely about 1972.
Today, only a few private homes remain.
Information for this article was taken from the East Otter Tail History Books and “The History of the Finns in Minnesota,” both searchable online at www.HistoryMuseumEOT.org.