Esko is a small place in northeastern Minnesota between the cities of Duluth, about 10 miles to the east, and Cloquet, about five miles to the west. It’s less than a 20-minute drive on Interstate 35 to go “over the hill” and then down about 600 feet to the western tip of Lake Superior.
Settled primarily by Finnish immigrants between the 1870s and early 1900s, the community (meaning the hamlet of Esko and greater Thomson Township) continues to have a strong Finnish presence, but the majority of today’s residents are of varied ethnic and cultural origins. Once a state leader in dairy farming, the township has seen its barnyards, hayfields and cow paths give way to housing developments, hobby farms and paved roads.
But while it has some commonality with other bedroom suburbs—far more residents have jobs in Duluth and Cloquet than within the community — Esko still has its own rustic character. Fishing boats, snowmobiles and four-wheelers line rural driveways; deer-hunting and ice-fishing are almost sanctified rituals; many folks harvest and cut their own firewood; a high percentage of homes have outdoor or indoor saunas.
It’s also a scenic place. Nearly half the township lies within the valley of the Midway River, running from northeast to southwest. Part of the western boundary is marked by the shoreline of the St. Louis River. Part of the southern boundary is adjacent to Jay Cooke State Park, where the sometimes turbulent St. Louis River tumbles through nearly 10,000 acres of dense forest and jagged ravines on its urgent course to the Duluth-Superior Harbor and, ultimately, mighty Lake Superior.
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