By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN Many may be wondering at this point, “What is the tercentenary marker?”
Some of the students at Cokato Elementary School know exactly what it is, since it is located in an area they often play.
The tercentenary marker is a brick monument with a brass plate located under the Maple tree on the second terrace in the southwest corner of Peterson Park.
It marks the 300th anniversary, celebrated in 1938, of the first permanent Swedish and Finnish settlement in North America.
During the July 1 storm, part of the tree was destroyed, and the rest of it is rotten, so it must be removed. A new tree will be planted, and the marker will be moved.
The marker will stay in Peterson Park, but will be placed in a more visible location, possible the northwest corner between the sidewalk and landscape garden.
The tercentenary celebration in Cokato
A centennial is 100 years, a bicentennial is 200 years, and a tercentenary is 300 years.
The Cokato Enterprise in 1938 reported that “the (tercentenary) celebration will commemorate the day 300 years ago when a ship landed at the mouth of the Delaware River, bringing the first Swedish and Finnish settlers to America.”
The marker, and the celebration around it June 12, 1938, was a very big affair in Cokato, taking place from noon and lasting well into the evening.
“Several thousand persons thronged Cokato Sunday to attend the fete commemorating the 300th anniversary,” reported the Enterprise Enterprise newspaper.
Celebrations were held throughout the US, coinciding with the Swedish celebration of the tercentenary. A National Finnish Delaware Tercentenary committee was formed, along with a local committee with members from Cokato, Annandale, Dassel, and Kingston, reported the Enterprise.
Several prominent people came to speak at the celebration, including Governor Elmer Benson, as chairman of the state legislative committee for the Delaware Tercentenary committee.
“Governor Benson was well-received by the large audience that heard the state’s chief executive extol the early pioneers of Finnish nationality,” read the Enterprise.
Benson also paid tribute to the nation of Finland for its progress in solving social and economic problems, and its leadership in the cooperative movement.
“The governor then went on to plead for world peace, urging all voters warn government officers that the nation is unwilling to go to war,” the Enterprise reported.
Benson dedicated the memorial, which was presented by William Onkka of Cokato as a representative of the Finnish Tercentenary Committee. R.M. Peterson accepted the memorial on behalf of the park committee and the village of Cokato.
The monument reads:
“This tree dedicated to the future generations of Americans in memory of Finnish and Swedish pioneers who together established the first permanent settlement in the Delaware River Valley in the year 1638.
“This memorial presented to the Village of Cokato, French Lake, Dassel, Kingston, Minnesota, and officially dedicated on the occasion of the American Finnish Delaware Tercentenary celebration held here on June 12, 1938.”
The stone base for the memorial was constructed by Charles Ruut. He was a well-known stonemason who also created the commemorative marker at Temperance Corner, north of Cokato, according to museum director Mike Worcester.
Throughout the day, there were several speakers and musical numbers, all commemorating and celebrating people of Finnish descent.
Dr. J.O. Christianson, from the University of Minnesota agricultural college, spoke of the progress of the American people since the first Finns and Swedes landed in Delaware.
Finnish consul in Duluth, E.A. Aaltio gave two speeches in Finnish, and Dr. John Wargelin, former president of Suomi College in Hancock, MI, also gave two speeches, one in English and the other in Finnish.
Wargelin wrote the English version of the book on John Morton by S. Ilmonen. Morton was a descendant of the Finnish settlers on the Delaware River and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Some of the musical acts throughout the day included the Minneapolis chorus, led by Mrs. V.A. Luttio and dressed in native Finnish attire; and the local choir, under the direction of Mrs. Vernon Barberg.
A Finnish folk dance was performed by young boys and girls from French Lake dressed in Finnish costumes under the direction of Miss Hazel Lampi.
The day concluded with the showing of Finnish films.
The Cokato business community pulled together to welcome visitors to the Delaware Tercentenary celebration, making available 1,000 copies of a special edition of the Cokato Enterprise.
Several copies were sent to the consul headquarters in Finland by Aaltio.
“Cokato community is particularly interested in the Delaware Tercentenary because practically its entire population is made of Swedish and Finnish residents,” reported the special edition.
It noted that the population of Cokato was 1,200, making it the second largest village in Wright County.
“While both the Swedish and Finnish people are interested in the Tercentenary observance, the celebration Sunday is sponsored by the Finnish people and it is fitting that attention be called to the Finnish angle of Cokato’s early history,” the Enterprise reported.
The article went on to note several of the early settlers of Finnish descent to the Cokato area, and how prosperous the Finnish people who populate the area have been.