THE MARKER IN PETERSON PARK


One day, an instructor at Cokato Elementary e-mailed us with a question: "So what is the deal with the marker in Peterson Park." Right now, many readers may be asking themselves "what marker?" Easy to understand thanks to its less-than traveled locale.

Nestled in the southeast quadrant, under the shade of a large maple tree, sits a small brick marker with a brass plate. Inscribed on that plate are the words:
This tree is dedicated to the future generations of Americans in memory of Finnish and Swedish pioineers who together established the first permanent settlement in the Deleware River Valley in the year 1638.

This memorial presented to the Village of Cokato by the Finnish-Americans of the communities of Cokato, French Lake, Dassel, Kingston, Minnesota and officially dedicated on the occasion of the American Finnish Deleware Tercentary celebration held here on June 12, 1938.

Celebrating significant milestones in our community's, state's, or nation's history is not uncommon. We do that all the time. This celebration though, has largely passed into history (literally). So what was the reason for the placing of this memorial? A good place to begin is the word tercentary. A centennial is 100 years. Sesquicentennial is 150 years. Bicentennial is 200 years. Tercentary is 300 years.

In 1638, a passenger ship from Europe landed at the mouth of the Deleware River. On board that ship were immigrants from Sweden and Finland. At the time, Finland was a grand duchy of Sweden.

Three hundred years later, Finns and Swedes across the nation marked this occasion. Across the state, celebrations took place in many communities. One of the largest was in Cokato on Sunday, June 12, 1938.

The Cokato Enterprise reported that "[s]everal thousand persons thronged to Cokato" to attend the celebration in Peterson Park.

While the crowd counts cannot be verefied, an impressive array of visiting luminaries took part, including: Minnesota Governor Elmer Benson; Finnish Counsel E. A. Aaltio, Duluth; Dr. John Wargelin, past president of Suomi College; and Dr. J. O. Christianson, University of Minnesota. All the speakers paid tribute to those early pioineers and their determination to make a new life in North America.

William Onkka, representing the local tercentary committee, presented the marker to the city, with Richard Peterson accepting on their behalf.

Charles Ruut constructed the stone base for the marker. Ruut, a well-know stonemason, would eleven years later create the commemorative marker that sits at Temperance Corner, north of Cokato.

Persons interested in learning more about the local tercentary celebration should contact the museum.

This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of In The Midst Of.  ©2003, Cokato Historical Society.

[Editors note: In the summer of 2012, the marker was moved to the northwest corner of the park after a storm brought down the tree referened in the article. The marker is still considered an important part of the park's features.]