When Harlem was Manhattan’s “Finntown”

Harlem has been overwhelmingly African-American for much of the last century. That didn’t stop other ethnic groups from carving out neighborhoods there—such as Little Italy on First Avenue and El Barrio east of Lexington Avenue.

But Finnish immigrants in Harlem? In the 1920s to 1940s, up to 9,000 Finnish residents called it home.

“In Manhattan the Finns concentrated between 120th and 130 Streets near Madison Avenue,” states a website on Finnish migration, which feature a fascinating map pointing out where Harlem’s Finnish social halls and businesses were once located. “The Finns in Harlem were mainly house maids, carpenters, and other construction workers as well as some tailors.”

This Finntown faded away in part because many Finns relocated to Brooklyn’s Sunset Park—home to an estimated 40,000 residents of Finnish or Norwegian descent in the 1940s and 1950s.

So what’s left of Harlem’s Finntown? Very little. Of all its once-mighty Socialist clubs, labor organizations, and cooperative restaurants, at least one remnant still stands: the headquarters for the Finnish Workers Educational Alliance (above) at Fifth Avenue and 127th Street.

It’s been turned into luxury apartments.

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6 Responses to “When Harlem was Manhattan’s “Finntown””

  1. petey Says:

    very timely, i’m about 100 pages into gill’s book ‘harlem.’

    also, there’s a map – name escapes me – from the early 20th c. of manhattan ethnic groups with attention to leftist organizations, i think the finns and other now-surprising groups (such as french) were marked there. crikey now this’ll bug me until i can locate it.

  2. Lynn Says:

    “Harlem” is one of my all time favorite books. I feel fortunate to have met the Author when he was here doing a book signing. Now reading “Terrible Honesty” by Ann Douglas – same subject with a different slant.

  3. fivepointsguy Says:

    Many Finns and Norweigians settled in Bay Ridge as well.

  4. A Harlem park named after two famous hoarders | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] in the 1880s, Homer and Langley resided in a once-elegant brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street since 1909 with their well-off parents, a physician and a former opera […]

  5. A Harlem Park Named After Two Famous Hoarders Says:

    […] in the 1880s, Homer and Langley resided in a once-elegant brownstone at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street since 1909 with their well-off parents, a physician and a former opera […]

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