Finnish descendant of early Mullica Hill resident pays a visit

Vuorinen points out the similarities between his ancestor Eric Mullica's house and its Finnish counterpart.
Vuorinen points out the similarities between his ancestor Eric Mullica's house and its Finnish counterpart. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 03, 2011

For 90 years, Asko Vuorinen's ancestors lived in a stately, red farmhouse atop the hill, 400 miles north of Helsinki, Finland, that they called Mulikka.

"The original house dated back to 1564, and it is said that nearly everyone from the area goes back to Antti Mulikka, who came there, far inland, and built the house," Vuorinen said.

In time, Vuorinen discovered that Antti Mulikka's great-grandson Eric was banished by the Swedish government to the colony of New Sweden, where he built a house similar to the original farmhouse. An amateur historian, Vuorinen researched the Mulikkas and, over the weekend, after a trip to Washington to deliver a talk to an engineering convention, went to see the "new" Mulikka house in the Gloucester County village that bears its name, Mullica Hill.

"It's something old to us, but to him it may seem not quite so old," said Lisa Rysinger, president of the Mullica Hill Historical Society, who was overjoyed to take Vuorinen and his wife, Sinikka, on a tour Saturday afternoon of his presumed ancestor's house, still standing at 20 N. Main St., in Mullica Hill's historic district.

Rysinger said the Vuorinens' visit was fortuitous, as it coincided with the Historical Society's 40th anniversary celebration, so - voilĂ ! - the historical society had its best meeting speaker ever Saturday evening.

Vuorinen, 65, is a retired designer of nuclear and gas-fired power plants from Espoo, a city of 250,000 outside the Finnish capital of Helsinki. He has written books on engineering and Finnish history, and he said his trip to see the Eric Mullica house was a must while he was in America.

The Mullica Hill house is basically brick, with wood floors and ceilings and some decorative wood siding. It has two small expansions - one each to the north and south - built over the last century, but the inner main house is quite large for having been built in 1704 by a man who was essentially a criminal in his native land. Vuorinen said that in Finland, most old houses are made of wood.

Vuorinen said Eric Mullica - no one is certain when the Finnish spelling was changed - and other Finns clear-cut and burned forests in staking their claims and building their homes, which was illegal under Swedish law.

"Their choice was jail or to come to what would be America," Vuorinen said. "Most Swedes didn't want to come here, so they sent the Finns to settle it for them."

He said that because in Finland, Eric Mullica had lived so far inland, he probably was not bothered by living several miles away from the more inhabited sections of New Sweden. The family amassed more than 600 acres of farmland and was probably prosperous enough to build the original house, which has three floors, including two bedrooms - a real luxury - on the top floor.

Lou Manzo, mayor of Harrison Township, of which Mullica Hill is a part, went along for the tour Saturday and, though of Italian descent himself, was happy to finally have a proper Finnish visitor.

"Maybe we can capitalize on the Finnish tourist trade, and since his name ended with a vowel, I'm betting he had some Italian in him," Manzo joked. He also found common ground in sports with his newfound friend, Vuorinen. "I got involved in politics after coaching my kids' sports and he was a coach, too, so we had lots to talk about."

In fact, Vuorinen was the youth ice hockey coach of perhaps the best Finnish player ever, Teemu Selanne, who has scored 637 goals for the National Hockey League's Anaheim Ducks and other teams.

"When he comes home, I now coach a ladies ice hockey team, and I have to have him take many photos with them," said Vuorinen, who was taping every corner of the house with his video camera.

The house has been a residential and commercial property pretty much continuously for its 307 years, Rysinger said. It was recently home to Debra's Dolls for 12 years and was an antiques store for several decades before. It is now for sale.

Vuorinen said he was eager to go back to the original Mulikka Hill to compare the two houses now that he has seen his ancestor's 18th-century copy.

"It is always wonderful to see what is past, what your ancestors have done. It is humbling," Vuorinen said.


Contact Robert Strauss at rsethstrauss@verizon.net

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