Demonstrating Pride of Place: A Tale of Three Towns

Kaleva Art Gallery

Generally, one can fairly quickly determine the strength of community pride shortly after entering a city or town. This is especially true in small town, where there are fewer opportunities to make first or lasting impression due to its relative size.

Sadly, many small towns across America are struggling economically, financially, and socially. The same is true here in Michigan, particularly those situated inland without a shoreline attribute. That is why when you come across a small town that has gone the extra mile to make a favorable impression, it stays with you. Kaleva, Michigan is just such a town.

Finnish Sauna at the Bottle House Museum

Kaleva (population 470 in 2010) stands out even more so when viewed in comparison to it’s closest neighbors – Copenmish and Thompsonville. Several weeks ago I visited all three towns for the first time and came away with vastly different first impressions.

Given it’s location adjacent to the popular Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, I was expecting Thompsonville (population 441 in 2010) to be humming. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The town was quite depressing, with the only viable businesses being the post office, a restaurant, and a gun shop. Nowhere did see signs of progress or growth. More often, the visual images were of decay and decline.

Copenmish (population 194 in 2010) was marginally better in the fact there was an impressive park and trail on the south side. Otherwise, it was rather forlorn. The post office and an antique/resale store we’re about it downtown. After the sad state these two towns, my hopes for what I might discover in Kaleva were lowered by a couple of notches.

Bottle House Museum in Kaleva

As is evident from the photos interspersed throughout this blogpost, Kaleva was a very pleasant and enjoyable surprise. Founded in 1900 by Finnish immigrants, the town’s name is taken from an epic Finnish poem, entitled Kalevala, where Kelava means and refers to “the good place.” Based on what I observed, that sentiment is true. In addition, all the street in the original village plat have Finnish names from the poem. The pride of place and of the town’s Finnish heritage/culture were clearly evident throughout Kaleva by its residents, business community, and local government and/or nonprofit organizations.

Kaleva Depot Museum

Unlike Thompsonville and Copenmish, Kaleva has a functioning downtown with a post office, art gallery, two museums, a bank, and a park with a sculpture trail. The bottle house and depot museums, art gallery, and park/sculpture trail are all excellent tourist draws and well worth a visit on a day trip. The village has an impressive library and a wayside park featuring traditional Finnish architecture.

Yes, there are challenges facing Kaleva, but the building blocks are there. In addition, homes and businesses throughout are largely in good condition, with little in the way of blight or decay, particularly when compared to the aforementioned towns.

Lutheran Church with Finnish-style architecture

Particularly impressive is the fact that in 2010, residents of Kaleva decided their community needed some sprucing up and began a concerted effort to do so with a Kaleva Beautification Team. Prior to this, in 1998 Project Kaleva began a concerted effort to preserve and protect many aspects of the town’s unique cultural heritage and promote community pride. Any village, town, or city could learn well from Kaleva’s outstanding examples of demonstrating pride of place. Kudos to all those involved!

Interested in the topic of pride of place? Here’s a visual link to a book on the topic that’s available on Amazon.


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This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, art, branding, cities, commerce, culture, downtown, economic development, economic gardening, entertainment, entrepreneurship, geography, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, placemaking, planning, spatial design, third places, tourism, trails, Travel, urban planning, walking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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