The Sauna

If there was not a sauna, then it was not a real Finnish community.  Fortunately for Newport Finns did create their own saunas, and “an 8 by 10 foot structure was sufficient, and was divided into two parts, a dressing room and a steam room. The heart of the sauna was the firebox, the kiuas…”[1] This was how the Finns stayed clean, by creating saunas to sweat out the grime on their bodies. These early saunas did not have any electricity, so it had to be powered by wood. Water had to be brought to the saunas by hand. The Finns tended to be poor so, “If there was no money, doors and latches had to be scrounged: discarded parts of furnaces, boilers, kitchen ranges could be found in someone’s back yard, or at the town dump.”[2] Occasionally the parts could be built, but for the most part these saunas had to be built with whatever was available. Surprisingly, these saunas did not look particularly hard-scrabbled.

Disclaimer: This sauna was not built in Newport. Photo credit goes to Aaron W. Hautala, 2010.

The Saunas tended to be well kept and clean and made out of birch wood. The saunas were divided into three benches, with each bench allowing a Finn to ascend higher into the steam that is rising from the fire after it has been doused with water. Many Finns used only the first two benches but, “If you were truly manly, you went up to the third tier and sat in a cloud of intensely hot steam. Now, if you were really serious about removing the grime from your body you began beat you body with a vihta (long ends of birch branches, arranged like a broom.)”[3] The reason saunas were so important was because it was the primary way that Finns managed to clean themselves. Showering was still a new concept at the beginning of the 20th century, and The Finns did not have access to these showers at first. Saunas were part of establish Finnish culture, so they brought them over to the United States, and of course Newport.

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[1] Turpeinen, 16.

[2] Turpeinen, 16.

[3] Turpeinen, 17.