From “Ely since 1888” As written by my Grandfather Gust Johan Helpakka
Elias H. (Helpakka, Finnish spelling) Helbacka was born 21 June 1863, and Anna Kaisa
(Katherine) Kaatiala, born 03 January 1864, were married in 1885 in Lapua Finland and
had three children.
Father decided to immigrate to America to avoid being drafted into the Russian Army. He first
worked in the copper mines in Ishpeming, Michigan and later moved to Bessemer, Michigan
where he worked in the iron mines.
He moved to Ely in 1890, following the flow of work in the mines. In Ely, he got a job
working underground at Chandler Mines. He later opened a saloon where Contel is now
located, but sold out around 1895 and went back to Finland, one of several trips, to try to
persuade his wife and children to come to America. He was unable to convince them to
leave Finland and so returned via ship once again to continue his work in Ely.
On 14 July 1898 he obtained his citizenship papers. At this time he made a move to Butte
Montana and worked in the mines there fir a period of time. He then went to Canada where
he took the Northern Pacific Railroad to the East coast and boarded another boat to Finland
to make another attempt to bring his family to America. This time he succeeded, and his wife
and children moved to Ely, Minnesota in approximately 1902 to live at 115 West Sheridan
Street. He bought them a new house in which his youngest son, Gust still resides today.
Elias and Anna Kaisa had four children: Victor, born 18 August 1885 who married Ida Kangas
and had three children; Sofia, born 24 August 1887 who married Jacob Hill and had one
daughter; Tynne, born 14 May 1897 (her twin died at birth), married Joe Domich and had
five children; and Gust, born 17 February 1903 (the only child born in Ely) who married Lulu
Kultala and had three children.
In 1907Captain Toms at the Chandler Mines picked out six or seven men to go to Ely, Nevada
to open the mines there since there was no work here. (An interesting side note is that Ely,
Nevada took its name from those Elyites who pioneered mining in this remote area of Nevada).
My father was among those who went. They stayed there about a year, until the mine was
operating well, then returned to Ely where Father went back to work at the Chandler Mine.
Our family had two cows which provided plenty of milk for the family, and we even sold
milk to our neighbors. We made our own butter and had a potato garden.
The only winter access to Ely in those days was by railroad as there were no plowed roads.
Horses were the only other mode of transportation. A sever blizzard hit one winter and the
railroad was unable to get through for three days and all the stores ran short in supplies.
Three trains a day used to come to Ely. The High Ball (a freight train) came in about 7 am
every morning and left at 4 pm. The passenger train would leave at 8 am and arrive at 12
noon and leave at 1 pm for Duluth, then return at 8 pm.
The kids loved the wooden sidewalks in Ely because they would crawl underneath then
regularly and collect the loose change people lost. The whole town used to take their
sleighs and slide down Camp Street (where the Catholic Church is located) to Chandler
location. We used to have a lot of fun with a bobsled Dad made for us kids which held
four riders. In 1912 Long Lake (now Shagawa) froze over early and everyone would be
out there ice skating. Many a good time was had in Ely in those days just doing the
simple things in life.
My dad homesteaded property north if Cedar Lake, up the Cloquet line,
and the lake property came to be known as Helbacka Lake.