Changing Sugar Island: A Study of Twentieth-Century Finnish American Settlement, Part 3

This is the third post of three in series called Changing Sugar Island: A Study of Twentieth-Century Finnish American Settlement. Look for the other two posts in the menu above.

In 1938, Finnish Americans owned 83 of the 309 homes on Sugar Island. The Finns had a higher rate of homeownership than other residents. Even though the Finnish-born represented 22% of the Sugar Island population at the time, they owned 27% of all the homes on the island. If you just include heads of households in the count, 23% of the heads of households on Sugar Island who owned their homes were Finnish in 1920, according to the census. That percentage increased to 36% in 1930 (dropping a bit to 34% in 1940). Moreover, Finns represented just 2% of all home renters on the island in 1920, 3.5% in 1930, and 6% in 1940. Taken together, these statistics demonstrate the economic success many Finnish families found on Sugar Island.

As I mentioned in our previous posts, the series of maps, charts, and visualizations presented here were derived from data collected by the Works Progress Administration’s Rural Property Inventory, property records, and census data. The maps are interactive, so you can zoom in/out and filter what is displayed.

The map below visualizes every home that was inventoried on Sugar Island by the WPA in 1938 (click here for the full-screen view). Each colored circle represents a plot of land with a building on it, and the size of the circle represents the number of rooms in the building. You can see the name of the plot owner, their birthplace, the type of building or home, the condition, the number of rooms, the number of stories, the type of floor in the home, if there was also a garage on the property, the size of the property, and how many acres were used for farming.

The 1938 WPA inventory categorized homes into three types, depending on its architecture and usage: “single house,” “bungalow,” and “cabin.” Single houses made up the majority of homes, followed by bungalows, which was a popular style for vacation homes in the 1910s and 1920s. The 167 single houses had an average of 4.3 rooms. Most of the thirty-two cabins on the island were one room, and all but six were built in the 1930s. More than half of the cabins appear to have been owned by vacationers or folks that were not permanent residents. Thirty-eight of ninety-one bungalows were owned by the same kind of people.

Although the WPA inventory does not indicate the individual who built each home, it does indicate when the homes were built. Finnish-owned homes were newer on average than non-Finnish homes (and in better condition). Seventy-seven (63 of 82) of Finnish-owned homes were built after 1920 (there is no date listed for six of the Finnish homes). Fourteen were constructed before 1920 (there is no date listed for six of the Finnish homes). For some of those older homes, it seems that their construction dates are estimates (which is why many of the homes are listed as being built in 1900 or 1910).

The visualization below shows the birthplace of homeowners along the amount of homes constructed in a given year (scroll up/down and left/right). Notice the surge of Finnish homes in the 1920s (click here for full screen).



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