|ONLY A SIGN...|
|...AND MEMORIES ARE LEFT|
|THE RAPIDS ABOVE BIG ROCK|
As you head north from Washburn towards Bayfield on Hwy 13 you will cross the beautiful Sioux River and then immediately come to the intersection with Friendly Valley Road. The beach and the Big Lake are visible to the east. A turn to the west will take you along the flat stretches of the Sioux and across the 1928 bridge over the Little Sioux River where it joins the big river. There are a few houses along the way and a farm field or two, and then the road turns and proceeds up a steep, forested bluff. At the top of the bluff Big Rock Road intersects with Friendly Valley Road. Turn south, and the road will proceed a mile or two to the Big Rock on the Sioux, where the river cascades down deep ravines on frothing rapids worthy of the Rockies, where the spring migrations of Steelhead trout struggle to reach their spawning beds. At the dead end intersection of Friendly Valley Road and Big Rock Road there is a simple wooden sign that reads, ‘The Finn Settlement… 1904…Thanks For The Memories…Your Sons and Daughters.” The log homes, barns, the meeting hall, are all gone now, only a century later. The late winter snow seems to emphasize the ghostly outline of a building site here and there, or maybe it is just my imagination. I have often stopped here and tried to picture what the settlement of over six hundred souls must have looked like, wood smoke curling from chimneys, children and dogs running between houses and outbuildings…all gone in a mere tick of time’s great clock. The Finns settled and farmed the sandy stumpage of the great logging era, worked in the woods, the sawmills, on the railroads, and like other immigrants from all over Northern Europe, hard-scrabbled at whatever they could to feed and clothe their families and, literally, keep the wolf from the door. They walked the half dozen miles to Washburn, fording the river at the Big Rock, and fished the deep place in the Sioux River still called the Finn hole.
There is yet a hobby farm or two nearby, but mostly the relentless woods have returned; maple, oak, white pine, poplar…and the wolves. Continue another mile or two west on Friendly Valley Road and you enter the virtual wilderness of the Barrens. Human presence comes and goes across endless time, but the trees and the waters, the animals and the birds, always return as man departs, in nature’s endless ebb and flow.
As we sat there I wondered what our Wisconsin forebears, of Finn or of whatever other extraction, would think of their progeny today. Would they consider us worthy descendants of pioneers… or greedy, selfish, undisciplined children, grossly unworthy of the freedom and bounty they so desperately tried to bequeath us?
As we surveyed the lonely Settlement site today, two deer, winter’s survivors, bounded across the road and then stood looking at us curiously, perhaps pondering, in their primitive but prescient little brains, what the hell we actually were. The Wisconsin Department of Administration reports that $350,000 dollars worth of damage was done to the capital building and grounds in the past two weeks of labor union protests.