The history of Rajala forestry and milling operations in Minnesota dates back to the fateful decision in 1902 by Ivar and Anna Rajala to leave Kankampaa, Finland for the new world. It is no wonder that they found their way to northern Minnesota, homesteading in the Bigfork Valley east of Effie. The woods and water must have seemed much like home. They set out to clear the land and build their homestead, and thus the logging and milling began.
Anna gave birth to a daughter and seven sons. With that many mouths to feed, the children needed to work, and work they did. Rajala logging went into action, working the remaining but still significant forest which the previous generation of big loggers and sawmillers had left behind for the next virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Over the decades the Rajala Brothers became a significant force in the woods and landed a contract with Minnesota & Ontario Paper Co. in International Falls to harvest a large tract east of Effie. This tract soon became known as "Rajala Camp", which became one of the last permanent logging camps in Minnesota. M&O consumed the pulpwood for paper, but Rajala Brothers were responsible for marketing the large sawlogs to sawmills. The big sawmills were long gone, so the brothers began sawing lumber themselves with portable mills in the woods.
When the opportunity arose to acquire an existing sawmill in Bigfork, built on the banks of the Bigfork River by John Larson in 1902, the brothers jumped at it. Today the Rajala Mill in Bigfork is the longest running sawmill in the lake states, operating continuously for 117 years.
The Rajala's made continuous improvements in the logging and sawmill operations over many decades, fueled by a steady demand for quality lumber and pulpwood and chips for numerous paper mills. The Twin Cities, Chicago, and St. Louis were major markets for the fabulous White Pine, Red Pine, and Hardwoods sawn in Bigfork.
But the forest was changing fast. As the large tracts of big timber became smaller and scattered, the need and opportunity to utilize the new forest that grew back became clear. The Rajala's continually retooled the Bigfork mill and diversified with new kiln drying operations and a sawmill in nearby Deer River.
Over the next 3 generations, world lumber and pulp markets changed drastically, and the Rajala organizations changed with them. Art Rajala's sons Dean, Jack, and Randy, realized that the cherished White Pine was not growing back on its own. Jack led the effort to begin the back breaking work of "Bringing Back The White Pine" which he chronicled in a book by the same name. 4th generation daughters and sons picked up and continued the work, led by Jack's son John. The Minnesota Timber & Millwork brand was crafted to embody the restoration forestry, milling, and marketing of White Pine and all of the species of natural wood native to Minnesota's Great North Woods.
A fifth generation of Rajala's is active in support of the family legacy, with each of Jack's grandchildren tending to groves of White Pine they planted with their grandfather at the family's Wolf Lake Camp.
5 Generations. A Good Start.
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