Located on the Sand Bay of Rainy Lake, a large freshwater lake on the border between the United States and Canada, Finstad’s Auto Marine Shop was built to serve sport and commercial fisherman and seasonal tourists. Fishing tourism forms an important part of the local economy and Rainy Lake, one of Minnesota’s more than 11,842 lakes over ten acres in size, is known for its walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, crappie, and largemouth and smallmouth bass. Fishing cabins dot the islands in the lake and its shoreline, and many local businesses cater to tourists, including hotels, lodges, and boatworks, like Finstad’s in Ranier.
In 1911, Jim Dionne built the boatworks and later sold the business to George Finstad in 1924. The one-and-three-quarter-story rectangular building is made of concrete block. A gabled-roof runs the length of the building and is broken at one point by a cross gable. Windows, mainly six-over-six sash, are varied in groups, single and multiple, and are placed irregularly on the building. A large double doorway faces an alley (now Finstad’s Lane). The interior contains a shop area on the ground floor, with machines used to perform boat maintenance, and living space on the second level.
The Village of Ranier, which was platted in 1907, had an advantageous location near the Duluth Winnipeg and Pacific Railroad (across the river) and the paper mills of International Falls, Minnesota, and Ft. Francis, Ontario. The village became the main access point to Rainy Lake on the American shores. Finstad’s served not only the commercial fisherman, tourists, and other seasonal guests in the summer, providing repairs and parts, but also offered boat storage in the winter. Running east-west along the north side of the building is a marine railway with a movable platform that led from the bay across the alley to the boat yard.
Though no longer an active business, Finstad’s Auto Marine Shop is open to the public for tours.
Gimmestad, Dennis, “Finstad’s Auto Marine Shop,” Koochiching County, Minnesota. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1982. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.